The Fringe Five has been a weekly regular-season exercise (introduced two Aprils ago) conducted by the author this year with a view to identifying the most compelling of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers excluded from Kiley McDaniel’s preseason top-200 prospect list and also absent from the midseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Keith Law, John Sickels, and McDaniel himself. 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 regressed 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 2015.
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, for each minor league at the High-A level and above, the regressed lines 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 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. Consult own fallible intuition.
5. 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 been 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 the aforementioned notable prospect lists and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft were also excluded from eligibility.
Why use prospect lists like McDaniel’s as 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 even the 100th-best prospect in any given season 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-prospect 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 2015:
|4||Jose De Leon||Dodgers||RHP||7||1||22|
|13||Junior Guerra||White Sox||RHP||4||1||13|
|43||Adam Engel||White Sox||OF||0||2||2|
• In the end, 66 prospects appeared at some point on the 20 editions of the Fringe Five this season — that is, 13 fewer than last year’s total and 16 more than 2014’s count of 50 exactly. The highest score among all eligible prospects this season was the sum of 25, shared by three players: Detroit left-hander Matt Boyd, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jharel Cotton, and Los Angeles Angels second baseman Sherman Johnson. A number of other players (such as Minnesota outfielder Max Kepler, for example, and Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes) would have earned more points, were it not for lacking eligibility in one or more weeks.
• What’s the significance of appearing atop or near the top of this arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard? What ought one to expect from the triumvirate of Boyd, Cotton, and Johnson beyond the sort of careers generally produced by players omitted from prospect lists? What’s the track record of players who’ve appeared here previously? “Yes” is the answer to all these questions. Indeed, there are no conclusive results for this exercise, specifically. Players such as Mookie Betts, Wilmer Flores, and Danny Salazar — all of whom appeared near the top of the inaugural Scoreboard — have developed into something better than what one might have otherwise assumed at one point. Very disciplined Cardinals outfielder Mike O’Neill, on the other hand, has not. Generally speaking, however, the idea has been to identify players whose skills typically translate well to the majors, even while their tools are just as typically undervalued.
• Regarding the performance of previous notable fringe players, the author will soon publish, if not a comprehensive examination, then at least a haphazard review of the the Fringe Five champions of the last two years — not unlike the sort he produced last year around this same time of September.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.