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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced last April by the present author, wherein that same ridiculous 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 the exercise, of course, is 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) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 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 amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

*In this case, those produced by Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, and our own Marc Hulet.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Josh Hader, LHP, Houston (Profile)
Among three or four pitchers from within the Houston system who both (a) are eligible for the Fringe Five and also (b) produced impressive season debuts over the past week, the left-handed Hader’s was the most impressive. Making a start for High-A Lancaster, the 20-year-old Hader recorded a 10:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against just 17 batters over 4.0 innings on Saturday (box). No footage exists of the game, nor does there appear to be much discussion of his repertoire from that game, in particular. A very thorough examination of both his present and possible future talent did appear at SB Nation site The Crawfish Boxes this past December. A very general summary of that piece: Hader, until that point, had exhibited more in the way of potential than present ability. Hader’s debut is perhaps an indication of Hader realizing some of that potential.

Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Profile)
Kral, like a couple of other players in this edition of the Five, appears here this week on account largely of a Steamer projection which, when prorated to a full major-league season, places him among baseball’s top-10 rookie-eligible players by that measure. Surprise, was the author’s reaction upon making that particular discovery — largely on account of how Kral’s name isn’t invoked so often as Xander Bogaerts‘, for example, the player ranked just ahead of Kral. In part, the 25-year-old’s value is derived from a competent all-around offensive approach; in part, from the positional adjustment he receives for catching. He hasn’t done much of the latter yet this season, owing to the presence of teammate and other catcher, the well-regarded Austin Hedges. He also hasn’t done much of playing, in general, having recorded just five plate appearances total through Tuesday.

Jace Peterson, SS, San Diego (Profile)
A recent study by the author reveals that, since 2005, prospects who’ve been designated by Baseball America as possessing the best hit tool, plate discipline, and defensive skills (at the prospects’ relevant position) within their respective organizations have almost uniformly developed into above-average major leaguers. San Diego shortstop prospect Jace Peterson was recognized for possessing the best of all three those tools this offseason — and, unlike the other two players matching the same criteria in the most recent Prospect Handbook (Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor and Philadelphia’s J.P. Crawford), Peterson was absent from BA’s (and Marc Hulet’s and Keith Law’s) top-100 lists. Since 2005, only Michael Bourn has previously met those same, very specific criteria.

In conclusion, here is Peterson hitting his first and very far home run of the season:

Peterson HR 2

Cameron Rupp, C, Philadelphia (Profile)
There’s a distinct possibility that Cameron Rupp — who has produced serviceable but not particularly notable minor-league numbers during his previous four years as professional — there’s a distinct possibility that he will appear on zero future editions of the Fringe Five. For this reason, is why: it’s rare that a player both dramatically improves his control of the strike zone and power on contact in his age-25 season. In the first week of his season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, however, Rupp has produced more or less the best fielding-independent numbers of any minor leaguer between High- and Triple-A. In 16 plate appearances, the former third-round pick out of Texas has recorded a 6:3 walk-to-strikeout ratio while also hitting four home runs. Or, that same thing rephrased: in 10 of his 16 plate appearances, Rupp has either walked or homered. The recipient of three September starts with the Phils last year, Rupp would appear to be a candidate for promotion at such a time as Carlos Ruiz is injured.

Aaron West, RHP, Houston (Profile)
West’s name was first invoked in these electronic pages last fall in an examination of five pitchers who’d produced notable major-league-equivalent figures. Among them was the Houston prospect whose line in the High-A California League translated to something like this: 108.2 IP, 18.1% K, 4.8% BB, 3.81 kwERA, 1.7 WAR. Impressive, that — in particular for a pitcher absent not only from the notable top-100 lists, but also Baseball America’s top-30 organizational list. The lack of enthusiasm for West is a product, probably, both of his lack of pedigree (he was selected in the 17th round of the 2012 draft) and an ERA (5.22) inflated by batted-ball outcomes. While having been reported as touching 98 mph at points last season, his fastball was considerably more subdued during his season debut with Double-A Corpus Christi, over the course of which he sat at more like 91 mph. Still, the results from that appearance resembled those he recorded over much of 2013. To wit: 4.0 IP, 13 TBF, 2 K, 1 BB.

Regarding West’s secondary pitches, here’s an example of a better curveball against Tulsa’s Taylor Featherston:

West Featherston CU SS K

And a changeup — in this case, to Tyler Massey:

West Massey CH SS

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

Billy Burns, OF, Oakland (Double-A Texas League)
Edwar Cabrera, LHP, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta (Triple-A International League)
Chris Taylor, SS, Seattle (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.

Name Team POS FF NF PTS
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Jace Peterson Padres SS 1 0 3
Josh Hader Astros LHP 1 0 3
Robert Kral Padres C 1 0 3
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Chris Taylor Mariners SS 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Tommy La Stella Braves 2B 0 1 1