The Fringe Five is a weekly exercise (introduced two weeks ago) 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.
“Excuse me, sir, but what precisely do you mean by fringe?” a decidedly polite reader might ask. To which query the author would respond: “Currently, a fringe prospect is one who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists.” And to which the author would continue responding as follows: “There is more discussion of the definition of fringe here.”
Since last week’s edition, there have been two changes to The Five — one promotion and one demotion. With his call-up to the Yankees 25-man roster, second baseman Corban Joseph has become ineligible for inclusion here, per the author’s mostly arbitrary rules governing the matter. Meanwhile, despite the obvious charms of his changeup, Arizona right-hander Chase Anderson’s recent difficulties with Reno have compelled the author to include him (i.e. Anderson) merely among the Next Five.
Those caveats made, let’s proceed to this week’s Fringe Five.
Chad Bettis, RHP, Colorado (Profile)
The 24-year-old Bettis missed all of 2012 to a shoulder injury, but was impressive the season before that in the High-A California League, striking out 184 batters in just 169.2 innings while posting a 2.73 FIP. Bettis has returned to form, basically, as a member of Colorado’s Double-A affiliate, the Tulsa Drillers, recording a 30:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26.2 innings over five starts. As Marc Hulet notes, he was particularly impressive in his April 24th outing, during which he struck out 11 of 25 batters faced.
Bettis sat in the mid-90s with his fastball during that start, while also showing a slider with impressive vertical, almost splitter-esque, movement.
Like this one, from the first inning, to strike out Rolando Gomez:
And like this second one, also from the first inning, to Matt Long:
Wilmer Flores, 2B/3B, New York NL (Profile)
There’s only one player in the Pacific Coast League who’s both (a) the same age as/younger than Flores and also (b) exhibiting more promising offensive indicators: baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect, Jurickson Profar (89 PA, 2 HR, 15 BB, 15 K). Baseball’s second- or third-overall prospect, Oscar Taveras, is both (a) the same age as Flores and also (b) posting very similar offensive indicators so far. Here’s Taveras, for example: 71 PA, 2 HR, 4 BB, 7 K. And now here’s Flores: 101 PA, 1 HR, 8 BB, 8 K. In any case, he remains an above-average hitter at Triple-A in his age-21 season.
Mike O’Neill, COF, St. Louis (Profile)
Since the last edition of The Fringe Five, Cardinals minor-league outfielder Mike O’Neill has posted a .633 OBP in 30 plate appearances. Partly responsible for that is O’Neill’s manifestly absurd .550 BABIP over that same stretch. Equally responsible, though, is the 8:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio O’Neill has recorded. Surprisingly, those plate-discipline figures actually represent a decline for O’Neill, who carried a 21:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio into play for Double-A Springfield on Tuesday.
Marcus Semien, SS, Chicago AL (Profile)
Along with Wilmer Flores (above), Semien is the only player to appear among the Fringe Five for each of this column’s first three weeks. Unlike Flores, however, Semien wasn’t an acclaimed signing, nor has he appeared on top-100 prospect lists previous to this season. This past week, Semien continued to demonstrate control of the strike zone, posting a 3:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 30 plate appearances. His future defensive home remains uncertain. As of Tuesday, he’d started six consecutive games at second base — which six games were preceded by three consecutive starts at shortstop.
Burch Smith, RHP, San Diego (Profile)
Smith represents a perfect storm of fringe prospectdom not in that he’s piloted a fishing vessel into an historically powerful weather event, but rather because he’s combined above-average performance with above-average stuff this season, even after being left off of several notable top-100 prospect lists. In his most recent start, on April 28, he struck out a third of the 21 Double-A Midland batters he faced while walking just one. Jason Cole of Baseball Prospectus was in attendance and reported that the right-hander “flashed plus command of a dominant fastball that sits between 93-96 mph and reaches up to 98.”
Smith recorded three strikeouts in the first inning of that game — all swinging, all on fastballs. Here’s footage of those strikeouts.
First, to Chad Oberacker:
And then to D’Arby Myers:
And, finally, to Anthony Aliotti:
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Chase Anderson, RHP, Arizona (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Nicholas Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh (High-A Florida State League)
Max Muncy, 1B, Oakland (High-A California League)
Victor Payano, LHP, (High-A Carolina League)
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Southern League)
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.