The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly exercise (introduced in April) wherein the author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own heart to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to this exercise, of course, is a working definition of fringe. Currently, for the purposes of this column, it’s any prospect who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists. (A slightly more robust meditation on the idea of fringe can be found here.)

Two players retain their place this week among the Five: young Philadelphia third-base prospect Maikel Franco and Cardinals Double-A outfielder Mike O’Neill.

Departing from the Five proper — mostly for reasons that concern the author’s Whim — are Cubs shortstop prospect Arismendy Alcantara, Mets right-hander (the recently promoted) Rafael Montero, and Washington left-hander Robbie Ray.

Replacing that triumvirate are well-educated Mets pitching prospect Matthew Bowman, Pirates right-hander (and also recently promoted) Nick Kingham, and Athletics first-base prospect Max Muncy — about all of whom one can learn more via technicolor prose in this week’s installment of the Fringe Five, below.

Matthew Bowman, RHP, New York NL (Profile)
Because, for the purposes of compiling the Five, the author typically limits his attention to the three highest levels of minor-league ball, the 22-year-old Bowman has only recently become “eligible” for this column, as it were. After recording a 26:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30.2 innings in the Class-A Sally League, Bowman has now pitched 44.0 innings in the High-A Florida State League and posted strikeout and walk figures (47:9 K:BB) among the league’s best. Nor do Bowman’s excellent numbers represent all that is Rich and Compelling so far as his CV is concerned. Bowman is also an alumnus (or, at least, near-alumnus) of shockingly prestigious Princeton University. Furthermore, he’s found considerable success by utilizing mechanics which resemble those belonging to a certain undersized Giants right-hander.

To wit (from this longer feature):

Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (Profile)
In four games since the last edition of the Five, Franco posted even better figures than those which had earned him a place here in each of the previous two weeks. Over 19 plate appearances for High-A Clearwater of the Florida State League, Franco recorded a 3:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio while hitting three home runs — nor do those totals include the home run Franco added last (Tuesday) night, either. By the author’s likely flawed methodology, Franco’s 15 home runs and 20:39 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 283 plate appearances appear to be almost equivalent in terms of what might be called “true-talent production” as very celebrated (and recently promoted) Twins prospect Miguel Sano’s 16 home runs and 29:61 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 243 plate appearances. Franco’s home park has likely benefited his home-run figures, but his season is impressive even with the adjustments — especially relative to his prospect status at the beginning of the year.

Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh (Profile)
After recording more or less the best regressed pitching numbers among Florida State League starters, the 21-year-old Kingham earned a promotion to Double-A Altoona last week. In his debut against Yankees affiliate the Trenton Thunder, Kingham posted a 7:2 strikeout-to-walk in 5.2 innings, conceding just four hits and also zero runs. In that start, Kingham sat at ca. 92 mph with his fastball while also throwing a curveball and occasional changeup.

The curveball was likely Kingham’s most effective pitch during that Saturday start. Here’s a video made by the author, documenting the pitch over and over via painful slow-motion footage:

Max Muncy, 1B, Oakland (Profile)
It’s very possible — owing to how he’s not entirely young (22) relative to the level and also because of his positional limitations and also because of the inflated run-scoring environment of his park — it’s very possible that Muncy won’t appear among the Five again in the near future. That said, his season deserves some attention. Utilizing the flawed methodology cited above with regard to Maikel Franco, Muncy — who’s recorded 18 home runs and a 49:46 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 326 plate appearances — has produced the best regressed offensive line by some margin among California League Batters. In fact, were he to have hit just half as many home runs, he’d still have the top regressed line among all Cal League batters aged 22 or less.

Shall we watch footage of Muncy hitting a home run in early June? Indeed, it appears so:

Mike O’Neill, COF, St. Louis (Profile)
Including Tuesday’s night’s game at home versus Rockies Double-A affiliate Tulsa, O’Neill has recorded 38 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout. What else he’s done during those 38 plate appearances is walk six times, hit a home run, and slash .313/.421/.469 despite a relatively ordinary .290 BABIP. For the season now, O’Neill has a 48:17 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 288 plate appearances, for walk and strikeout rates of 16.7% and 5.9%, respectively.

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

Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Chicago NL (Double-A Southern League)
Wilmer Flores, 2B, New York NL (Triple-Pacific Coast League)
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Robbie Ray, LHP, Washington (High-A Carolina League)
Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Triple-A International League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are all the players to have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season. 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.

Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 9 0 27
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 7 2 23
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 3 12
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 2 4 10
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 3 0 9
Chase Anderson Diamondbacks RHP 2 2 8
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 2 1 7
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Cubs 2B 1 3 6
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 2 5
Nicholas Kingham Pirates RHP 1 2 5
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 1 1 4
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 1 0 3
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 1 1
Chris Heston Giants RHP 0 1 1
Clayton Blackburn Giants RHP 0 1 1
Garin Cecchini Red Sox 3B 0 1 1
Greg Garcia Cardinals SS 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Zach Walters Nationals SS 0 1 1

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

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Nice job on this, C-Train.