The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.
Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on an updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.
In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.
Bruce Caldwell, 2B/3B, St. Louis (Profile)
Last year’s second-overall pick and current member of Double-A Corpus Christi, shortstop Alex Bregman, received considerable attention this past Monday for recording a two-homer game against Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate Springfield. Of note, however, is that another, much less celebrated infielder also produced two home runs during that same contest. Bruce Caldwell, is who. And both those homers were to the opposite field. And, in both cases, Caldwell was facing actual major-leaguer Lance McCullers*. Selected by St. Louis out of Spartanburg Methodist (Junior) College in the 15th round of the 2012 draft, the 24-year-old Caldwell possesses what’s referred to technically as “absolutely no pedigree.” But he also recorded a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and three home runs over the first 27 plate appearances of the current season. And his professional track record isn’t without signs of offensive promise.
Here’s video footage of Caldwell’s home runs from earlier in the week:
Junior Guerra, RHP, Milwaukee (Profile)
The right-handed Guerra was a fixture among the Fringe Five last year — and would have been a fixture even harder had he not spent the bulk of June as a member of the Chicago White Sox’ 25-man roster. Used sparingly (just three times) at the major-league level, Guerra was a revelation in the minors, producing a strikeout rate above 30% in 83.1 innings between Double- and Triple-A — this, one notes, after having been signed by Chicago out of the Italian League as a 30-year-old. Guerra possesses a more impressive repertoire than one might expect based on his itinerant career, including a fastball that sat at 94 mph in the majors and a splitter that serves as an out pitch. Given the combination offered by Guerra both of success and also relative anonymity, it’s not surprising that Milwaukee — which club dedicated its offseason to acquiring an array of compelling fringe prospects — emerged to claim him off waivers. Guerra has been promising for Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate already, producing strikeout and walk rates of 32.6% and 6.5 %, respectively, across two starts and 13.0 innings.
Here’s some film of Guerra throwing what are probably splitters this past week for what are definitely swinging strikes:
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
As was the case with a couple players in 2013 — Marcus Semien, for example, and also Mookie Betts — Sherman Johnson emerged in 2015 as more or less a permanent resident of the Fringe Five, appearing within 11 of last year’s 20 installments of this same, dumb weekly exercise and finishing (tied with two others) atop the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard. Unlike Betts and Semien, however — who both appeared on at least one top-100 list during the following offseason — the 25-year-old Johnson’s name remains woefully absent from those same rankings. Nevertheless, he continues to perform like a player who could become a major-league regular without much trouble. His first week of the 2016 season represents almost a precise facsimile of his career to date. In 22 plate appearances with Angels Double-A affiliate Arkansas, Johnson produced an equal number of walks and strikeouts (4:4) plus also above-average power numbers (.222 ISO) while starting five games at second base.
Tim Locastro, 2B/SS, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Locastro first appeared among the Five last year not merely on the strength of his statistical indicators or physical tools — although both merit attention — but also on the improbability of that performance and those tools within the context of his college pedigree. Regard: the 23-year-old Locastro is a product of Ithaca College, a school most well known for being not Cornell and second-most well known for providing a strong liberal-arts education among the leafy woods of New York state’s Southern Tier. What Ithaca isn’t known for is producing great professional ballplayers. That said, Locastro has exhibited some persuasive credentials. He makes contact, steals bases, and occupies a place towards the most difficult end of the defensive spectrum. And he demonstrated all those same skills during the first week of the season, striking out just three times over his first 27 plate appearances while posting a 1-for-1 stolen-base record and making all his defensive starts at either second base or shortstop.
Aaron Wilkerson, RHP, Boston (Profile)
It’s possible to make rough projections for a player’s career WAR — or his probability of reaching the majors at all — based on the slot within the amateur draft at which he’s selected. A top-five pick produces roughly eight wins over the course of his career, for example; a pick in the 40s, usually fewer than two. Applying this sort of methodology to Aaron Wilkerson’s career is problematic, however — on account, that is, of how he wasn’t drafted at all. A product of NAIA school Cumberland University, Wilkerson has survived a Tommy John procedure and no fewer than three independent leagues en route to his current job with Double-A Portland in the Boston system. The 26-year-old Wilkerson has been excellent in affiliated ball, recording strikeout and walk rates of 26.9% and 6.7%, respectively. He’s been definitively old for his levels, but also hasn’t succeeded merely by polish. Consider: the fastballs in the video below were recorded at 92 and 94 mph. The start to his 2016 campaign has been as good as possible: over two starts and 10.2 innings, Wilkerson has produced a 17:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 39 total batters.
Here’s footage from Wilkerson’s season debut at Philadelphia affiliate Reading:
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Bubby Derby, RHP, Milwaukee (High-A Florida State League)
Pedro Fernandez, RHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League)
Edison Frias, RHP, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Nathan Orf, 2B/3B, Milwaukee (Double-A Southern League)
Brandon Trinkwon, 2B/3B, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Texas League)
Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are the top-10 the players to have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season (which is to say, today). For mostly arbitrary reasons, players are assessed three points for each week they’ve appeared among the Fringe Five; a single point, for each week among the Next Five.
|4||Aaron Wilkerson||Red Sox||RHP||1||0||3|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.