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)
Between last Friday (the day on which the previous edition of the Five was published) and yesterday afternoon (when the author composed the bulk of the present document), Allen produced a line that was simultaneously promising and underwhelming. Promising like this: over 17 plate appearances, Allen recorded a 3:3 walk-to-strikeout ratio while also reaching base twice by means of a hit-by-pitch. Which is to say, even before accounting for batted balls, Allen had already reached base on 29% of his plate appearances. Unfortunately, after accounting for batted balls, his numbers didn’t improve by much. One hit over 10 official at-bats led to a slash line of .100/.400/.100 for Allen. So far as outcomes are concerend, that’s not great. But outcomes at High-A are much less important than the process by which they’re produced. And Allen’s process is marked by a variety of skills, including contact and discipline and speed and defense and modest power. Whatever the process, it led to a very impressive outcome on Thursday night. Batting leadoff against the Cubs’ High-A affiliate, Allen recorded four hits — including a double and home run — in five plate appearances (box).
Matt Cooper, RHP, Chicago AL (Profile)
In certain cases, the presence among the Five of a prospect is equivalent to a full professional endorsement by the author of that prospect’s future. Were I to possess a reputation, for example, I would stake it on the likelihood of Sherman Johnson producing a few two-win seasons in the majors. In other cases, a fringe-type minor leaguer has sufficiently overwhelmed competition that, regardless of his major-league prospects, he demands recognition. White Sox right-hander Matt Cooper belongs (for the time being, at least) to the latter camp. Selected out of Hawaii by the White Sox in the 16th round of the 2014 draft, Cooper has produced the best strikeout and walk numbers among all qualified pitchers at High-A or above this year, recording rates of 32.3% and 6.3%, respectively, over 12 starts and 72.2 innings. Age is a concern: Cooper is fewer than four months from his 25th birthday. It’s uncommon for a player that age to fashion much of a major-league career. That said, Cooper appears also to possess more arm speed than one might suppose given the pedigree, sitting in the low 90s according to Future Sox.
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
This represents Cotton’s third appearance among the Five in 2016 and second consecutive appearance since having returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City’s rotation at the end of May. That return has been marked by excellence. Regard: over four starts and 21.0 innings, Cotton has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 32.9% and 8.5%, respectively. His ERA (5.32) remains both (a) unappealing and also (b) almost wholly unrepresentative of his future run-prevention numbers.
Those interested in viewing representative examples of Cotton’s entire repertoire might consider turning their attention to the first inning of Thursday’s start. Cotton struck out the side, retiring the second and third batters on three pitches each. And in the case of both those latter strikeouts, Cotton used his fastball, curveball, and changeup, in that order.
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Having already exhibited signs of mounting comfort with Triple-A competition, Johnson produced probably his best week at that level since the last edition of this column. Regard: in 23 plate appearances between last Friday and this Thursday afternoon, the 25-year-old second baseman recorded two each of walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Players who produce strikeout rates below 10% and isolated-slugging figures of .300 or better don’t exist in modern baseball, but all the players who approach those thresholds are wildly successful batters. Like Nolan Arenado, for example. And Jose Bautista. And Edwin Encarnacion. Is the author suggesting that Sherman Johnson will immediately join that triumvirate atop the leaderboards following his promotion to the majors? No, of course not. Or probably not, at least. Almost certainly not. Probably not. But maybe. But probably not. But maybe.
Aaron Wilkerson, RHP, Boston (Profile)
Wilkerson appeared among the Five in consecutive weeks back in April on the strength of an impressive run of three starts at Double-A Portland to begin the season. Even that particular stretch of success was improbable: a product of NAIA school Cumberland University, Wilkerson had survived a Tommy John procedure and no fewer than three independent leagues up to that point. That’s an atypical path to being named the Eastern League’s player of the week. And it’s also why, when Wilkerson experience some difficulty following a one-start promotion to Triple-A, it seemed possible that he was just a 27-year-old who’d reached his competitive ceiling. That particular assessment seems less possible after Wilkerson’s most recent three starts, however. Following a return to Triple-A on May 28, Wilkerson has now produced an 18:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 54 batters in 13.1 innings for Pawtucket.
Here’s video from his most recent appearance (in relief, actually) of Wilkerson inducing two swinging strikes on similar sorts of high, low-90s fastballs:
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Chance Adams, RHP, New York AL (High-A Florida State League)
Yohander Mendez, LHP, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Jaime Schultz, RHP, Tampa Bay (Triple-A International League)
Garrett Stubbs, C, Houston (High-A California League)
Tyler Wade, 2B/SS, New York AL (Double-A Eastern 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.
|6||Aaron Wilkerson||Red Sox||RHP||3||1||10|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.