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)
Allen debuted among the Five proper last week as a result not merely of his promising statistical indicators and strong collection of tools, but also for the manner in which his profile, in its entirely, caused — and continues to cause — the present author’s intuitive faculties to become illuminated. Certain readers might suggest that the author is working here merely on the promise of a “hunch.” This is impossible, of course: a brief examination of the literature reveals that the only demographic capable of channeling “hunches” are hard-boiled television police detectives burdened with the responsibility of bringing the plot of a weekly procedural show to its final act. No, what the author has experienced more closely resembles certain of the qualities described by F.C. Happold in Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology in the chapter regarding characteristics of mystical states. Whatever the precise vehicle, one finds that Allen’s past week has been excellent. Over his last 32 plate appearances, the 23-year-old center fielder has produced a a 6:5 walk-to-strikeout ratio, nearly a .200 isolated-power mark, and a 4-for-4 stolen-base record.

Yandy Diaz, 3B, Cleveland (Profile)
Diaz’s career in affiliated baseball has been marked by a combination of above-average contact skills and plate discipline. In his first two full seasons, he produced positive walk- and strikeout-rate differentials — first in the High-A Carolina League in 2014 and then in the Double-A Eastern League last year. What else he did, though, was fail to cross even the .100-ISO threshold in either of those campaigns. Which, that’s not a death sentence, necessarily. There are certainly examples of players who’ve possessed both superior control of the plate and also some physicality (Diaz is listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds) who’ve learned later to translate that potential into game power. But regarding the question of if/when that moment would occur for Diaz — there was no obvious answer.

Perhaps there’s never an obvious answer. But there are suggestions now, at least, that Diaz is learning to create more runs on contact. Consider: in 74 plate appearances since a mid-May promotion to Triple-A, he’s recorded a .242 isolated-power mark — a figure nearly three times higher than the one he produced between 2014 and -15. Nor does the increase of power appear to have been accompanied by an equal and opposite decay in his contact skills. During that same Triple-A sample, Diaz has recorded a 16.2% strikeout rate — which is to say, about four points better than the International League average. Encouraging, that, for a player receiving his first extended exposure at a new level.

Chad Green, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Originally selected by Detroit out of Louisville in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, the right-handed Green was acquired by the Yankees in the trade that sent left-handed reliever Justin Wilson to Detroit. Green has ascended through the professional ranks slowly — almost certainly a product, that, of his pedigree and not his performance. Because, with regard to the latter, he’s been excellent. In 355 innings across four levels, Green has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 22% and 6%, respectively, while more or less preserving those marks with each promotion.

Indeed, he’s maintained similar figures this year at Triple-A (24.3% K, 7.2% BB in 56.0 IP, all as a starter) and, recently, over the course of his major-league debut. Facing Arizona on May 16, Green produced a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 23 batters over 4.0 innings (box) while producing an average fastball velocity of roughly 95 mph. That start certainly wasn’t without its flaws — Green conceded eight hits (including two homers) and four earned runs — but it’s also an improbable and encouraging outcome for a pitcher who spent his age-23 season in the Low-A Midwest League. Moreover, Green has been excellent since that debut, producing an 18:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over three starts and 18.0 innings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, while conceding runs at a much less torrid pace.

Here are the final two pitches of a strikeout Green recorded against Paul Goldschmidt, both of which (i.e. which pitches) seem to feature changeup-like action, even if PITCHf/x reported no changeups during Green’s start:

Joan Gregorio, RHP, San Francisco (Profile)
This represents Gregorio’s third appearance among the Five proper this year — and occurs as a result of consecutive starts in which he’s recorded exactly eight strikeouts for Giants affiliate Sacramento. In three starts and 15.0 innings now at Triple-A — his first three starts ever at that level — Gregorio has produced strikeout and walk rates of 33.3% and 8.3%, respectively. That 25-point differential between his strikeout and walk rates would represent the single-best mark among qualified Triple-A pitchers, ahead of Julio Urias (24.3 points) and Jameson Taillon (23.3). The strengths remain the same for Gregorio: size, velocity, and a strong breaking ball. As do the weaknesses — namely, an underdeveloped changeup and possibly troublesome mechanics.

Here’s video footage of a breaking ball from Gregorio’s most recent start, in which footage Gregorio succeeds in rendering a batter’s mechanics possibly troublesome, as well.

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Roughly 100 plate appearances into his Triple-A career now, Sherman Johnson’s numbers don’t look particularly strong. The 19.2% strikeout rate he’s recorded would represent the highest mark of his career at any level; the 6.1% walk rate, meanwhile, the lowest. For a player whose offensive value is tied largely to his control of the plate this isn’t what one might call “the most positive of developments.” Please regard what happens, however, when dividing those 100-ish plate appearances into two distinct halves:

Sherman Johnson’s Triple-A Career
Dates PA BB% K%
5/3 to 5/15 49 6.1% 24.5%
5/19 to 6/2 50 6.0% 14.0%

Since the middle of May, Johnson has produced a strikeout rate of 14.0%, or about 10 points lower than the one he recorded over the first half. In a sample of even just 50 plate appearances that almost certainly indicates something lower than a 20% true-talent mark — and something possibly as low as 13%. There are, naturally, a number of variables at work here. But it’s almost certain that one of them is Johnson’s actual ability expressing itself. Nor is that surprising, on account of he radiates pure light from inside his being.

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

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pittsburgh (Triple-A International League)
C.J. Hinojosa, SS, San Francisco (High-A California League)
Richie Martin, SS, Oakland (High-A California League)
Tyler Viza, RHP, Philadelphia (High-A Florida State 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
Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 9 0 27
2 Tim Locastro Dodgers 2B/SS 3 2 11
3 Jaime Schultz Rays RHP 3 1 10
Joan Gregorio Giants RHP 3 1 10
5 Greg Allen Indians CF 2 2 8
Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 2 2 8
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B 2 2 8
8 Aaron Wilkerson Red Sox RHP 2 1 7
Chih-Wei Hu Rays RHP 2 1 7
Edison Frias Astros RHP 2 1 7





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

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Alice Cooper
6 years ago

Chad Kuhl is pitching at the same level, 2 years younger, has better run prevention numbers and nearly equal K-BB% to Chad Green, but he can’t get a mention in the next 5.

This makes me sad.

Alice Cooper
6 years ago
Reply to  Alice Cooper

He’s on the same team as Adam Frazier, mind you, so someone has to be watching their box scores…

Spa City
6 years ago
Reply to  Alice Cooper

Kuhl has a K/BB rate better than 5/1 for the year at AAA. He has been doing so while limiting HR. That type of performance by a pitcher who has never been a highly-regarded prospect tends to generate Fringe 5 interest.

Kuhl is a sinkerball pitcher with decent but not great velocity. He generates ground balls, and he limits HRs. His K% is up (still not great) and his BB% is down (it was decent before but is absurdly low now). His problem is a lack of secondary and tertiary offerings.

My guess is that due to his limited repertoire, he will be more of a bullpen option. If so, his velocity could reach the mid-90s, and his K% could climb.

Kuhl has gone from a non-prospect to a legitimate candidate for a bullpen role, or even a 5th starter. Carson would do well to include him in a near-future Fringe 5 list… before he reaches the majors.

Just my $.02.