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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 definition of the word fringe. The author recognizes that the word has different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of this column, however — and for reasons discussed more thoroughly in a recent edition of the Five — the author has considered eligible for the Five any prospect who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists.

That said, it should also be noted that in cases where the collective enthusiasm regarding a player’s talent becomes very fevered — like how the enthusiasm collectively right now for Philadelphia third-base prospect Maikel Franco is very fevered, for example — that will likely affect said player’s likelihood of appearing among the Five, given that the purpose of the series, at some level, is to identify prospects who are demonstrating promise above what one might expect given their current reputations within the prospect community.

With that said, here are this week’s Fringe Five:

Chad Bettis, RHP, Colorado (Profile)
Bettis appeared among the Five — either Fringe or Next, one or the other — three times in May, but was forced to the disabled list in that same month with an oblique injury. He returned on July 3rd, however, and has now made four starts for Double-A Tulsa. He’s been excellent, as well, recording a 23:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20.0 innings. There’s little doubt about the quality of Bettis’s arm speed: he’s known for sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and also throwing an excellent slider. For that reason, it’s encouraging to find that, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, he maintained his 95 mph fastball into later innings recently.

Here’s an example of Bettis’s slider from the right-hander’s July 14th start against Royals affiliate Northwest Arkansas:

Bettis Fletcher Slider SS Real

And here’s footage from that same game of what is likely Bettis’s changeup, a pitch about which analysts have expressed concern, but which looks excellent here:

Bettis Franco Maybe CH SS K

Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston (Profile)
Partly because of his own sloth, but also partly because there’s some value in dealing only with players who are within proximity of the majors, the author considers for inclusion among the Five prospects at High-A or above exclusively. Accordingly, Betts, who began the season with Class-A Greenville, has spent the majority of the year outside of the scope of this column. He was excellent in the Sally League, however, recording walk and strikeout rates of 17.1% and 11.8%, respectively — and also eight home runs — in 340 plate appearances. Nor have his rates deteriorated considerably following his promotion to the High-A Carolina League earlier this month. In 51 plate appearances, Betts has posted a 2:3 walk-to-strikeout ratio and two home runs. Furthermore, he’s now 24-for-26 on stolen-base attempts between both levels. Nor is any of this to consider his second-base defense, which multiple sources suggest has the potential to be above average.

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Profile)
This week marks Salazar’s sixth among the Fringe Five proper, the best mark among pitchers by a margin of two. His excellent major-league debut nearly two weeks ago only served to strengthen the case for Salazar’s promise at that level. Nor did he relent upon his return to the minors: Salazar struck out four and walked none of the 12 batters he faced over 3.0 innings in a split-start with a rehabbing Zach McAllister on July 18th (box).

Here’s footage from that appearance of Salazar throwing what is likely his excellent split-changeup to Philadelphia minor-leaguer Steve Susdorf for a strikeout:

Sal Sus Split

And then, two batters later, here’s Salazar throwing a fastball recorded at (it appeared) 98 mph on the stadium gun — in this case, to strike out Leandro Castro.

Sal Castro FA

Marcus Semien, MI, Chicago AL (Profile)
The author gave some thought this week to producing a special edition of the present column called instead The Fringe One: The Most Compelling Fringe Prospect in Baseball. The “one” in question would have been Semien, who continues to exhibit much in the way of offensive proficiency with Birmingham, recording two home runs and four walks and no strikeouts, for example, in 21 plate appearances since last week’s edition of the Five. With a 71:61 walk-to-strikeout ratio now and 12 home runs in 441 plate appearances, the University of California product presently owns the best regressed defense-independent batting line in the Double-A Southern League, according to the author’s likely flawed method for producing same.

Here’s potentially unhelpful footage of Semien hitting two home runs on Monday against Dodgers affiliate Chattanooga:

And here’s an animated GIF of the latter home run, to better facilitate the reader’s ability to make observations on Semien’s swing mechanics:

Semien HR

Danny Winkler, RHP, Colorado (Profile)
Originally a 20th-round pick out of Central Florida in 2011, Winkler has been among those players most eligible for inclusion among the Five this season who, for one reason or another, have never made an appearance. The right-hander was excellent once again, though, in his most recent start, recording an 8:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 23 batters over 6.0 innings while facing Dodgers California League affiliate Rancho Cucamonga (box). The 23-year-old’s total of 140 strikeouts is the best such mark among all minor-league pitchers, and his 30.2% strikeout rate is second to Rangers prospect Neil Ramirez among all qualifiers at High-A or above. Of some concern is the paucity of information available regarding precisely what Winkler throws and how hard he throws it. Of some other concern is also Winkler’s age (again, 23) relative to the level. That’s less important for pitchers, generally, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the higher minor-league levels help to sort out those pitchers who survive predominantly on deception.

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

Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Edwin Escobar, LHP, San Francisco (Double-A Eastern League)
Mike O’Neill, OF, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Robbie Ray, LHP, Washington (Double-A Eastern League)
Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast 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 10 3 33
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 7 6 27
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 8 3 27
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 6 5 23
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 6 1 19
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 3 2 11
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 3 1 10
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 2 2 8
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Nick Kingham Pirates RHP 1 5 8
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 2 1 7
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 4 7
Cody Martin Atlanta RHP 2 0 6
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Astros 2B 1 3 6
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 1 2 5
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 1 0 3
Eddie Butler Rockies RHP 1 0 3
Mookie Betts Red Sox 2B 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Edwin Escobar Giants RHP 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
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
John Murphy Yankees C 0 1 1
Josh Vitters Cubs 3B 0 1 1
Nick Delmonico Orioles CIF 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1