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:

Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston (Profile)
If Mookie Betts were literally on fire, that would both (a) be terrible and (b) require the immediate attention of emergency services. Fortunately — for all of us, for Betts himself — he’s just figuratively on fire. By way of illustration, consider: in 28 plate appearances since last week’s edition of the Five, Betts has recorded two home runs, a 6:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and six stolen bases on as many attempts. Overall, Betts has posted walk and strikeout rates of 10.6% and 11.4%, respectively, four home runs, and a 100% success rate on his 15 stolen-base attempts over 32 games and 132 plate appearances — this, from what appears to the 11th-youngest player in the High-A Carolina league.

Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado (Profile)
One would be excused, based on Butler’s performance in the Futures Game last month, for assuming that the right-hander had recorded a strikeout rate in the minor leagues of either 100% or pretty close to 100%. In fact, that appears not to be the case, at all, despite a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and excellent changeup. Butler struck out actually fewer than a quarter of batters faced through High-A. Following a recent promotion to Double-A, however, the 22-year-old seems intent on addressing this situation. Through two starts with Tulsa now, Butler has recorded a 12:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against just 34 batters in 10.0 innings.

Here’s footage of Butler’s changeup from his Double-A debut — in this case, against catcher Mitch Canham of Kansas City affiliate Northwest Arkansas:

Butler Canham CH SS K

Edwin Escobar, LHP, San Francisco (Profile)
Owing to family obligations, the present author was unable to attend Escobar’s most recent start a mere 15 minutes away in Manchester, NH, against Toronto affiliate the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. A compelling argument against filial piety, that. Escobar’s defense-independent performance in that game (4.0 IP, 20 TBF, 4 K, 1 BB) was entirely fine. It’s illustrative of Escobar’s record thus far with Richmond, however, that the author would have considered his New Hampshire appearance a disappointment. Over six starts now, the 21-year-old left-hander has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 25.7% and 4.3%, respectively, in 35.0 innings — this, after pitching excellently in the California League to begin the season.

Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis (Profile)
Tuesday, whilst examining in some depth a pair of San Francisco prospects, the author took the (likely inadvisable) liberty of attempting to identify player-seasons from the last 10 years that might most resemble Future Joe Panik’s major-league line. Today (Wednesday), the author proposes to perform a similar (and equally irresponsible) exercise with Piscotty. Regarding the outfielder, who has generally been young relative to his levels, one finds that he’s recorded (a) minor-league walk rates in the range of 7-10%, (b) strikeout rates of ca. 9% to 11%, and (c) isolated power figures of about .140 to .190.

What follows is a table of all the major-league batters (sorted by wRC+) from the past five years who’ve produced numbers within the ranges noted above:

Name Team Season PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP wRC+ Def* WAR WAR600
Yadier Molina Cardinals 2012 563 8.0% 9.8% .315 .373 .501 .186 .316 139 20.3 6.2 6.6
Nick Markakis Orioles 2012 471 8.9% 10.8% .298 .363 .471 .174 .310 125 -13.6 1.5 1.9
Carlos Lee Astros 2011 653 9.0% 9.2% .275 .342 .446 .171 .279 115 2.5 2.9 2.7
Norichika Aoki Brewers 2012 588 7.3% 9.4% .288 .355 .433 .144 .304 114 -5.7 2.5 2.6
Dustin Pedroia Red Sox 2012 623 7.7% 9.6% .290 .347 .449 .160 .300 113 11.7 4.3 4.1
Chase Utley Phillies 2011 454 8.6% 10.4% .259 .344 .425 .166 .269 112 10.7 3.8 5.0
Shane Victorino Phillies 2009 694 8.6% 10.2% .292 .358 .445 .153 .315 112 -3.9 3.4 2.9
Ian Kinsler Rangers 2013 415 8.7% 9.2% .266 .338 .411 .145 .269 102 1.0 1.5 2.2
Melky Cabrera Yankees 2009 540 8.0% 10.9% .274 .336 .416 .142 .288 94 0.9 1.4 1.6
Average – – – – – – 556 8.3% 9.9% .284 .351 .444 .160 .294 114 2.7 3.1 3.3

As in that Tuesday post, the defensive figure here (Def) isn’t merely UZR, but also includes WAR’s positional adjustment. For a right-fielder, that’s -7.5 runs over the course of a season. For a third baseman (i.e. Piscotty’s original position), it’s +2.5 runs. It wouldn’t be surprising to find that Piscotty, posts a true-talent defensive figure of something like -5 runs — or something like what Norichika Aoki and Shane Victorino recorded in 2012 and -09, respectively.

Marcus Semien, MI, Chicago AL (Profile)
The list of players younger than Semien in the Triple-A International League is rather a short one, and is populated largely by players (Xander Bogaerts, Nick Castellanos, Jameson Taillon) whose names have appeared on top-prospect lists for multiple years now. Since his promotion to that level/league at the beginning of August, Semien has recorded defense-indepedent marks (54 PA, 2 HR, 5 BB, 9 K) that suggest slightly above-average production, according to SCOUT, the author’s likely flawed and poorly regressed metric. After making numerous starts at second, third, and short with Double-A Birmingham, Semien has played shortstop exclusively with Charlotte now.

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

Ryan Brett, 2B, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Seattle (Double-A Southern League)
C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago NL (High-A Florida State League)
Mike O’Neill, OF, St. Louis (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Juan Oramas, LHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas 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
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 10 6 36
Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 5 35
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
Mookie Betts Red Sox 2B 3 1 10
Edwin Escobar Giants RHP 2 3 9
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 2 3 9
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Nicholas Kingham Pirates RHP 1 5 8
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 2 1 7
Eddie Butler Rockies RHP 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 3 6
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Ji-Man Choi Mariners 1B 1 1 4
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Zachary Petrick Cardinals RHP 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Juan Oramas San Diego LHP 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
C.J. Edwards Cubs RHP 0 1 1
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
Ryan Brett Rays 2B 0 1 1
Ty Kelly Mariners IF 0 1 1


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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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