The Fringe Five has been a weekly exercise (introduced last April) conducted by the author this year with a view to identifying the most compelling of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers excluded from three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists — Baseball America‘s, ESPN prospect writer Keith Law‘s, and also FanGraphs prospect writer Marc Hulet’s — and then the respective mid-season updates of each. Every week during the minor-league season, the author submitted the names of five “compelling” minor leaguers, each name attended by a brief summary of that prospect’s most relevant credentials.
Generally speaking, compelling in this context meant that the prospect in question possessed some combination of the following:
1. Notable fielding-independent stats; and
2. The ability to play on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum; and
3. Youth relative to minor-league level; and
4. A curious biographical or statistical profile.
With minor-league regular seasons having all been completed, the author presents here a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2014.
The author’s process for selecting the Five each week was relatively consistent over the course of the season, and is summarized as follows:
1. Calculate (using the SCOUT methodology explained poorly here), for each minor league at the High-A level and above, the regressed defense-independent production of all the players (both hitters and pitchers) in that league.
2. Select, from those minor-league hitting and pitching leaderboards, an assortment of rookie-eligible players who both (a) have been productive relative to age and level and position and also (b) were absent from the three preseason top-prospect lists named above — with an emphasis on recent performance.
3. Read scouting reports on and watch video of the players present on that shorter list of notables.
4. Select five players for Fringe Five. Select five more for Next Five — i.e. players upon whom the author might potentially become fixated.
The author is mostly quoting himself when he states that, central to the exercise, has 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) was any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from all three of the aforementioned notable preseason top-prospect lists and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on the midseason prospect lists produced by those same notable sources or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft were also be excluded from eligibility.
Why use those top-100 lists as a determinative factor? For a number of reasons, probably, but mostly because (a) the players who are absent from those lists are likely to receive less coverage/attention than those present on them, and also because (b) the likelihood of a top-100 prospect developing into a productive major leaguer is already small enough, such that the one realistically ought to expect almost nothing from players absent from those same kind of lists.
Also, there’s a final, and perhaps most relevant, consideration — namely, one of ease, as the top-100 lists are readily accessible, while other, more nuanced means of designating fringe prospects would almost certainly require some manner of tedium.
Over the course of the season, each edition of the Five concluded with a scoreboard of sorts. For each appearance among the Fringe Five proper, a player was assigned three points; among the Next Five, one point. Players who had graduated to the major leagues were ineligible — unless they’d then returned to the minor leagues having recorded fewer than 50 career innings or 130 career at-bats, in which case they remained eligible.
Here is the final and complete iteration of the Fringe Five Scoreboard for 2014:
|1||Taylor Cole||Blue Jays||RHP||6||3||21|
|14||Daniel Norris||Blue Jays||LHP||4||0||12|
|23||Francellis Montas||White Sox||RHP||2||0||6|
|30||Cody Kukuk||Red Sox||LHP||1||1||4|
|36||Brian Johnson||Red Sox||LHP||0||3||3|
|40||Dwight Smith||Blue Jays||OF||1||0||3|
|48||Steven Wright||Red Sox||RHP||1||0||3|
|56||Tommy La Stella||Braves||2B||0||2||2|
|68||James Dykstra||White Sox||RHP||0||1||1|
• In the end, 79 prospects appeared at some point on the 20 editions of the Fringe Five this season — nearly 30 more than last year’s count of 50 exactly. The highest score among all eligible prospects this season was Toronto right-hander Taylor Cole‘s figure of 21 — only about half of Marcus Semien’s mark of 40 from last year. Indeed, Cole’s score would have placed him only fifth on last season’s scoreboard, behind Semien (40), Mike O’Neill (37), Danny Salazar (29), and Wilmer Flores (27). Why the disparity, I can’t say for sure, except perhaps to note that I probably valued recent performance more highly this year than last, creating more turnover.
• What is the significance of Cole’s place atop the leaderboard? Is he the most compelling fringe prospect in the minors? Perhaps. He certainly had a fantastic season at High-A Dunedin this year, recording strikeout and walk rates there of 31.6% and 7.2%, respectively, over 132.0 innings and the third-highest overall strikeout rate (30.3%) among all prospects — behind other Toronto prospect Daniel Norris (32.5%) and Pittsburgh’s Tyler Glasnow (31.9%) — at High-A or above. His less excellent performance with Double-A New Hampshire (17.9% K, 12.5% BB over two starts and 12.1 innings) can’t be ignored, but he’s exhibited reasonable fastball velocity and an above-average changeup that ought to allow him success at the next-highest level.
• As for others, Houston left-hander Thomas Shirley is a bit of mystery. After throwing 95 mph and exhibiting a plus changeup at Double-A San Antonio, he found Triple-A more challenging, eventually assuming a relief role even though the changeup really should allow him to neutralize right-handed batters. San Diego infielder Jace Peterson was pretty miserable at the majors, but conquered both Double- and Triple-A pretty handily in his first exposure to either. Among those players omitted from even a mid-season list, Detroit shortstop Dixon Machado is probably most likely to appear on a top-100 prospect list soon. He controls the strike zone and plays plus defense at short, according to reports.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.