The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

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 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.


Greg Allen, CF, Cleveland (Profile)
While all the prospects who appear among the Five feature some manner of promising statistical profile, that’s not the only criterion for inclusion here. As noted in the introduction to this post, the author also utilizes scouting reports and his own fallible intuition. Allen appears here today due both to the strength of his statistical indicators and also the scouting reports. But he appears here most expressly because something about his name and performance and skill set resonate within the author.

These sort of stirrings oughtn’t be ignored. Writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self-Reliance”:

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

It isn’t the author’s intention to let some dumb stranger say with masterly good sense to-morrow what I have thought and felt the whole time — namely, that the most likely outcome for Greg Allen is to become an average major leaguer. For that reason, Greg Allen appears here among the Five.

For other reasons, here’s video footage of Greg Allen recently homering:

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Cotton was a fixture within this weekly exercise last year, ultimately finishing tied — with Detroit’s Matt Boyd and the Angels’ Sherman Johnson — atop the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard, of which one finds the newest iteration at the bottom of this post. The 24-year-old right-hander has appeared with less frequency to begin the 2016 campaign. That’s less an assessment of his natural ability, though, and more a product of the manner in which he’s been deployed. After recording starts in his first four appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City, Cotton was then relegated to the bullpen for roughly three weeks, not returning to a starting role until this past Monday. That was exceptional by any standard. Against 17 batters over 5.0 innings versus Houston’s Triple-A affiliate, Cotton produced a 10:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while conceding just a lone hit, in the form of a first-inning home run by Jon Singleton (box).

In the second inning, Cotton struck out the side. What follows is video footage of the final pitch from each of those at-bats.

Yandy Diaz, 3B, Cleveland (Profile)
With this appearance, Diaz has now been included among the Five proper in each of the past three seasons. Nor is it a mystery as to why he continues to appear here. Like a number of the most promising fringe types, Diaz makes contact at an above-average rate and also produces strong walk rates and also is capable of occupying a position towards the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum. Like a number of fringe types, Diaz also has some obvious flaws, too. Or one flaw, really, which is a lack of impressive tools.

Of those tools, the one most relevant to Diaz’s future is power. Given the rest of his profile, were Diaz to record even a .100 ISO as a major leaguer, that would likely be sufficient to render him an average player. Diaz has exhibited positive signs where power is concerned. Between July 30 and August 14 of last year, for example, Diaz produced five homers over just 62 total plate appearances, posting a .333 ISO during that interval. Recently, he’s demonstrated the same sort of power on contact while still preserving his control of the plate. Regard: in 27 plate appearances since last Friday, Diaz has recorded not only a 2:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio but also four doubles, a triple, and two home runs. The result: a .440 ISO during that impressive stretch.

C.J. Hinojosa, SS, San Francisco (Profile)
Extreme run environments have a tendency to create problems when attempting to discuss a prospect’s strengths or weaknesses by way of his statistical outcomes. As of yesterday afternoon, for example, the 21-year-old Hinojosa had recorded a batting line of .346/.432/.513 in 185 plate appearances for the organization’s High-A club in San Jose. Which, that’s superficially an impressive batting line. But San Jose is also a member of the California League, which league was responsible for the third-highest OPS in affiliated baseball last year and the third-highest OPS in 2014 and the second-highest OPS in 2013. For obvious reasons, it’s not unusual to find that a prospect is unable to reproduce his Cal League performances at higher levels.

The University of Texas product is excelling in other ways, though, that (a) aren’t influenced by the thin air of the American West and (b) probably are more predictive of future success. As of Thursday, for example, Hinojosa had produced a walk- and strikeout-rate differential of precisely 0 points — which distinction suggests he’s controlling the strike zone very well. The average Cal League batter has produced a mark of -12.8 points this year (8.9% walk and 21.7% strikeout rate, respectively) — which actually represents one of the lowest figures in affiliated baseball this season. Last year, the league’s batters recorded a collective -14.0 as a group — the worst such mark in all affiliated baseball in 2015. Meanwhile, his .168 isolated-power figure remains roughly 30 points better than league average.

Recently, Hinojosa recorded a sacrifice fly that produced not one but two runs, which has less to do with Hinojosa than his teammate Johneshwy Fargas, who scored from second, but nevertheless appears below for everyone’s pleasure.

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Whatever his other virtues, Italian polymath and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wasn’t a particularly great poet. How does one reach such a conclusion? By purchasing Primo Levi’s Collected Poems in 1997, reading it, and discovering that it’s not particularly great. Of course, there’s a difference between being a great poet and writing a great poem. One can do the latter by accident, which perhaps explains the existence of Levi’s poem “Monday”.

Here’s the full text of it, from the aformentioned Collected Poems:

Is there anything sadder than a train
That leaves when it’s supposed to,
That has only one voice,
Only one route?
There’s nothing sadder.

Except perhaps a cart horse
Shut between two shafts
And unable even to look sideways.
Its whole life is walking.

And a man? Isn’t a man sad?
If he lives in solitude a long time,
If he believes time has run its course,
A man is a sad thing too.

Levi appears to suggest that a lack of variety or spontaneity — such as the sort represented here by a train that’s punctual to a fault or a horse relegated to menial labor — marks a sort of death of the mind. A reader of the Fringe Five might suggest, likewise, that the author’s decision to include Sherman Johnson every week exhibits the death of that author’s mind. On the other hand, one could argue cogently the exact opposite point, as well. How they’d do it isn’t entirely clear. But this is roughly the whole plot of Aristophanes’ The Clouds.

The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

Joan Gregorio, RHP, San Francisco (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Yohander Mendez, LHP, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Peter Mooney, 2B/SS, Miami (Double-A Southern League)
Nathan Orf, 2B/3B, Milwaukee (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Garrett Stubbs, C, Houston (High-A California 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.

Fringe Five Scoreboard, 2016
1 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 8 0 24
2 Tim Locastro Dodgers 2B/SS 3 2 11
3 Jaime Schultz Rays RHP 3 1 10
4 Aaron Wilkerson Red Sox RHP 2 1 7
Chih-Wei Hu Rays RHP 2 1 7
Edison Frias Astros RHP 2 1 7
Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 2 1 7
Joan Gregorio Giants RHP 2 1 7
9 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs SS 2 0 6
10 Chesny Young Cubs 2B 1 2 5
Greg Allen Indians CF 1 2 5
Willians Astudillo Braves C 1 2 5
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B 1 2 5

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Spa City
7 years ago

Carson, I agree with you that Sherman Johnson’s skill set is impressive, that he has been consistently productive at all levels in the minor leagues, and that he has everything it would take to be at least an interesting major league baseball player…

But I ask you this – Where would the Angels possibly find room for Mr. Johnson in their lineup? They have the legendary Johnny Giavotella. the great Yunel Escobar, and perennial All-Star Brendan Ryan clogging the system.

You could not possibly be suggesting that Sherman Johnson has any path to an infield role in Los Angeles of Anaheim.