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:

Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Seattle (Profile)
Of Choi, readers will first note probably that his given name (Ji-Man) holds many possibilities in the way of amusing sobriquets — or, perhaps just one amusing one that can used frequently. Upon further inspection, however, that same reader might note something more germane to Choi’s status as a ballplayer — namely that he (i.e. Choi) has precisely zero stats for 2011. “Whither Ji-Man?” the cry goes round — or did, one assumes, for the duration of that lonely season. “Rehabbing from a back injury,” appears to be the concise answer. Regardless of what happened two seasons ago, the present one (i.e. season) has been rather an excellent one for Choi. Beginning the year with High-A High Desert, Choi recorded walk and strikeout rates of 12.8% and 15.6%, respectively, while also hitting seven home runs in 211 plate appearances there. Following an early June promotion, the 22-year-old has been even more impressive with Double-A Jackson, posting a 14.1% walk and just 13.0% strikeout rate in nearly as many plate appearances (184), while hitting more home runs (eight) than in his Cal League stint while playing in a less robust park and league run environment.

Of Choi, here’s not particularly helpful footage of him hitting a grand slam at the end of July:

And here’s an animated GIF from that same video of Choi making merry at the conclusion of his home-run trot:

Choi Fake

Edwin Escobar, LHP, San Francisco (Profile)
After appearing thricely within the Next Five portion of this weekly column, the left-handed Escobar makes his debut here among the Five proper on the strength of an ever more impressive record at Double-A Richmond. After recording a 92:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74.2 innings with San Jose of the High-A California League, Escobar has more or less preserved his rates following an early July promotion to his present Eastern League club, with whom he’s posted a a 32:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over five starts and 31.0 innings. Originally signed for $350 thousand out of Venezuela by Texas in 2008, Escobar was traded to San Francisco before the 2010 season in a relatively minor deal at the time. Still just 21, however, Escobar might very well become relevant at the major-league level at some point. According to Chris Martinez of Bay City Ball, Escobar sat in the low-90s during a mid-April start.

Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis (Profile)
As Jeff Sullivan recently noted with regard to Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, it’s not particularly common for hitters to make contact with great frequency (as does Beltre) while also demonstrating power on contact with great frequency (as does Beltre, also). While it’s unwise, probably, to draw very strong comparisons between an accomplished major leaguer and Double-A prospect, it’s also probably fair to say that Piscotty at least has the makings of both skills (again, if not to the extent that Beltre possesses them). After recording walk and strikeout rates of 6.8% and 10.2%, respectively, in 264 High-A plate appearances — and hitting nine home runs at that level — Piscotty has actually improved his rates following a mid-June promotion to the Double-A Texas League. The 22-year-old has posted a 10.5% walk and 8.4% strikeout rate in 95 plate appearances — and hit three home runs — for Springfield there. Physically, Piscotty is listed at 6-foot-3 and has a strong frame that appears capable of holding even more muscle.

Here’s footage from this season, courtesy Baseball Instinct, of Piscotty recording multiple plate appearances:

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Profile)
Scheduled to start tonight (Wednesday) for Cleveland, Salazar spent the past week again with Triple-A Columbus, thus making him eligible — by the totally arbitrary rules drafted by the author — for this edition of the Five. Like nearly all of his appearances with Columbus, Salazar’s most recent appearance with Columbus was entirely impressive. Over 5.0 innings, the 23-year-old needed only 52 pitches to record an 8:0 strikeout-to-walk against 16 batters (box). At some point, even if he does return to the minors, it will be difficult to continue to designate Salazar as a fringe sort of prospect. For the moment, however, he merits more attention.

Marcus Semien, MI, Chicago AL (Profile)
After much consultation of this weekly column, one assumes — in which Semien has been a fixture all season — the Chicago White Sox finally relented this past week, condescending to promote the infielder to Charlotte of the International League. While the 22-year-old failed to scale the same heights in his first week of Triple-A ball as he had at Double-A, that was never likely to happen, on account of how conspicuously frenzied those same heights were. Semien performed ably enough, however, recording a 1:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 24 plate appearances. Despite having played shortstop and second base almost equally with Birmingham — and third base about half as often as either — Semien has started at shortstop exclusively with his new club, a fact which is perhaps significant, but also perhaps not.

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

Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston (High-A Carolina League)
Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado (Double-A Texas League)
Ty Kelly, IF, Seattle (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Juan Oramas, LHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Danny Winkler, RHP, Colorado (High-A California 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.

Name Team POS FF NF PTS
Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 4 34
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 9 6 33
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 8 5 29
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 8 3 27
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
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 3 2 11
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 3 2 11
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 3 1 10
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
Mookie Betts Red Sox 2B 2 1 7
Cody Martin Atlanta RHP 2 0 6
Edwin Escobar Giants RHP 1 3 6
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Astros 2B 1 3 6
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 1 3 6
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 1 3 6
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Eddie Butler Rockies RHP 1 1 4
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Ji-Man Choi Mariners 1B 1 0 3
Zachary Petrick Cardinals RHP 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 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
Juan Oramas San Diego LHP 0 1 1
Nick Delmonico Brewers CIF 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1
Ty Kelly Mariners IF 0 1 1



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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


26 Responses to “The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects”

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  1. Jeff says:

    The fact that this post was not headlined by the news of Corey Kluber going to the DL absolutely shocks me. Will the Society meet in his absence, perhaps to correspond to the work of Mr. Salazar? Or will the Society be forced into some kind of moratorium? The level of existential crisis this may cause is horrifying.

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  2. jarjets89 says:

    Erik Johnson needs some love in the next edition Carson!

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  3. rusty says:

    Danny Winkler *also* just got promoted to AA Tulsa!

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  4. J. Cross says:

    I think Danny Salazar is the Indians best pitcher right now. Why is he in AAA??

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  5. Patrick says:

    Any thoughts on Kelly Dugan? He’s really impressed with his move to the OF in Reading, future as a major leaguer?

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  6. Wobatus says:

    I nominate Josmil Pinto.

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  7. mike says:

    Carson, any reason why you’ve left out Brian Flynn in recent weeks? He’s been exceptionally good at AAA.

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  8. tz says:

    Carson, I love the running list, but can you also please add a sortable column for WACK (Wins Above Corey Kluber)?

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  9. Ji-Man Choi needs lots of developmental work before he’s got an MLB-quality bat flip. Cleveland ought to hire Hideki Matsui as a roving bat-flip instructor.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Bat flippancy notwithstanding, I’m clad to see Choi Ji-man getting some love. As a hitter, he looks like the real thing, but due to his developmental trajectory he’s been undeservedly far off the prospect radar nationally to this point.

      Choi was an international sign as a teenager—but from a place, Korea, whose prospects get little coverage and less interest. Any wild-swinging Dominican 16-year-old can get ink and videos if some tout happened to see him, but guys from The Other Way Round are met with silence. He was drafted as a catcher; but his back blew up on him. Surgery got him back on his feet, but ended his future at that position. I’d be interested to hear how he’s doing defensively at 1B, but even the Mariners uber nerds can’t seem to find interest sufficient to give him a paragraph somewhere. The thind is, the dude HITS. And walks. His numbers weren’t eye-popping last year, but he was in the offense-deflating Midwest league and getting into the swing after a year’s enforce, career-threatening layoff. He started well this year, but it was the Cali League, and everyone, quite wisely, withheld any determination on his numbers. Choi isn’t young for AA, but he’s doing what he should be doing: punishing strikes. Seems to produce better than many listed far higher, though that’s mostly about projectibility perhaps. I’d really love to hear more on him, though.

      I don’t want to say ‘Mariners 1bman of the future,’ we have to see how he adjusts to advanced off-speed stuff. But Choi could go from a fringe intriguer to a more than useful starter in the majors as early as a year from now. Justin Smoak is a low bar to get over, and everything about Choi suggests a higher ceiling if he can keep adjusting. Don’t be surprised if Choi is getting regular PT in Seattle by the end of 2014.

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  10. Zen Madman says:

    I feel I should post in celebration of Wilmer Flores, fourth place on the fringe five leaderboard, graduating to the majors and getting his first 2 hits and 3 RBIs today.

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