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)
With the promotion this past week of San Diego prospect Jace Peterson to the majors (which transaction renders him unavailable for the Five) and the demotion, for largely arbitrary reasons, of other San Diego prospect Robert Kral to the Next Five, Houston left-hander Josh Hader now has the distinction of having been the only player to appear in all four editions of this weekly column in 2014. One hopes that this isn’t the highest of his achievements. One hopes, as well, that Hader appears in a televised game at some point this season, thus providing footage which might then be rendered into GIF form and embedded into a post not unlike the present one. In his most recent and not-televised game, Hader produced the following, very excellent line (box): 3.0 IP, 9 TBF, 6 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0 H.

Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Given his performance thus far in 2014, it’s difficult — at this point, at least — to conceive of a scenario in which Lively is omitted from midseason top-prospect lists. Over five starts and 29.0 innings, the right-hander has recorded a 40:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while conceding just a single home run in the typically very offensive High-A California League. As he was omitted from preseason top-100 lists, however, Lively is entirely eligible for the Five right now. Regarding the 22-year-old, here’s a fact: he was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft by the Reds out of the University of Central Florida. Here’s another fact: he recorded strikeout and walk rates of 33.6% and 8.2%, respectively, over 37.0 innings last year — against probably a lot of younger hitters, however, in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. According to a recent report by MiLB.com’s Ashley Marshall, Lively “sat between 89-94 mph with his fastball and 83-85 mph with his changeup” during a recent start against Stockton.

Here’s an example of Lively’s fastball from a more recent start — in this case, against Giants prospect Brian Ragira:

Lively FA Ragira

And here’s a slider from later in that same plate appearance to strike Ragira out:

Lively SL Ragira

And here’s a slower version of that slider, for some reason:

Lively SL Ragira Slow

Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (Profile)
For reasons that won’t be explored at any length here, but which probably merit the attention of a trained professional, the author is the sort of person who’s predisposed to favoring those who either (a) possess some manner of affiliation with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (b) bear conspicuously Italian names (sur- and otherwise), or (c) have attended not lesser, but greater, Ivy League universities. To the extent that Saugus native and Columbia graduate Dario Pizzano is well-acquitted by all three of these criteria, the author is then predisposed to favoring him. One notes that Pizzano’s virtues don’t stop there, however: the outfielder has recorded a 17:12 walk-to-strikeout ratio (along with a home run) in 103 plate appearances with Seattle’s High-A California League affiliate — this, after having produced a positive walk-and-strikeout differential last season, as well, in the Midwest League. Because he’s currently playing in his age-23 season and also confined to a corner-outfield spot, the reasons for his omission from top-100 prospect lists are clear. His control of the strike zone and compelling biographical data, however, merit attention.

Jose Ramirez, 2B/SS, Cleveland (Profile)
Some probably wrong math by the author reveals that, in the Triple-A International League, only four players (Dan Johnson, Jesus Aguilar, J.D. Martinez, and Roberto Perez) have produced a more impressive regressed, defense-independent batting line than Jose Ramirez. All of them, one notes, are at least three years older than Ramirez. Ignoring BABIP entirely is ultimately poor form. After a month of plate appearances, however, a batter’s defense-independent numbers are starting to become reliable, whereas his batted-ball profile is still very much subject to the vagaries of randomness. Regardless of all that, what is clear at the moment is that Jose Ramirez (a) is merely 21 years old and (b) has produced one of Triple-A’s most promising offensive lines thus far. Since last week’s edition of the Five, he’s recorded a 3:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio and a homer in 29 plate appearances, giving him walk and strikeout rates of 8.6% and 7.6%, respectively — plus also four home runs — in 105 plate appearances this season.

Thomas Shirley, LHP, Houston (Profile)
There are times when it’s appropriate to discuss Thomas Shirley at some length. There are other times when it’s perhaps more appropriate to drink Marsala with some people from Sicily. This appears to be the former of those times. With regard to Shirley, however, one can say conclusively that he (a) has recorded one start since making his debut on last week’s edition of the Five and (b) produced a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 22 batters over 6.0 innings in same (box).

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

Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Stephen Landazuri, RHP, Seattle (Double-A Southern League)
Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland (High-A California League)
Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Cincinnati (High-A California League)
Roberto Perez, C, Cleveland (Triple-A International 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
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 0 12
Robert Kral Padres C 3 1 10
Jace Peterson Padres SS 3 0 9
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/SS 2 0 6
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 2 0 6
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Ben Lively Reds RHP 1 1 4
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 1 0 3
Tsuyoshi Wada Cubs LHP 1 0 3
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 0 2 2
Tommy La Stella Braves 2B 0 2 2
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 0 1 1
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Billy McKinney Athletics OF 0 1 1
Brett Eibner Royals OF 0 1 1
Chris Taylor Mariners SS 0 1 1
Darnell Sweeney Dodgers MI 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 0 1 1
Roberto Perez Indians C 0 1 1
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 0 1 1
Stephen Landazuri Mariners RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Tyler Goeddel Rays 3B 0 1 1



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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


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

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  1. T dogg says:

    Glad to see another edition of the Marcus Semien Memorial Scoreboard.

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  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    The Astros are doing mighty impressively on this leaderboard. My Nationals, not so much.

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    • RunTeddyRun says:

      Ohmigosh, you’re a Nats fan? I never knew that! I am honored to include possibly the most distinguished Fan/NotGraphs commenter among my team-supporting cohort.

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  3. LaLoosh says:

    Robert Kral is 6 for 32, oh and 25 yo.

    This column continues to be FG’s little oddity. Again, nice idea, strange execution. If there were just some objective criteria here….

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    • John Stamos says:

      “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.”

      So not performance based, like you are asking for. Really you just have a problem with the premise of the update which you admitted to was a nice idea.

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      • SlickRick says:

        What?!? …players receiving less notoriety than their talents or “performance” would otherwise warrant. Of course it’s performance based ya numbskull. It’s not based on hat size. This is about players outperforming their recognition (players who’ve flown under the prospect radar). The issue is that the performance part of this seems largely arbitrary. We could all name at least a half dozen players who’d fit this vague criteria.

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    • pobothecat says:

      Objective criteria: boo! Helping me find Danny Salazar: yay!

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    • Catoblepas says:

      There are countless top-100 lists that aim to do exactly that, and another one would not add much of anything to the conversation. If you don’t want whimsy, you can feel free to not read this, or to make your own “Firmly-Entrenched-in-the-Minds-of-most-to-all-Prospect-Evaluators Five” and send it to Jeff for the Community blog.

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  4. John Stamos says:

    Do you think the Astros’ Lancaster rotation project is having a large inflation effect on their starters? Their current plan of start skipping (which they employed last year with Foltynewicz) where they only start half their games is at the very least different, and perhaps having a slight bullpen bump to their numbers. All speculation on my part, but noticing Hader and Shirley here, and Foltynewicz success last year, paints me a bit more skeptical of the conclusive results. Then again, perhaps this is a great way to teach young arms and provide opportunity while limiting innings and pitches. We shall see when they come to Houston, I suppose.

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  5. The Humber Games says:

    One might say his fastball is…lively?

    Harharhar

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  6. Dreamin says:

    I seem to remember Chase Anderson being a fairly regular feature on here last year, yet nary a mention this year. Despite what I would call a fairly interesting start, is there something about him that makes him less worthy this year?

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  7. Cicero says:

    Danny Winkler appeared on this list several times last year, and is pitching even better this year, I know CC will bring the Winkler love eventually

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  8. jdbolick says:

    I have to agree that the Kral obsession has stopped being amusing. It was fine to include him in the initial list because of his shocking Oliver projection, but he’s been terrible this season and continuing to mention him at all makes this list appear to be a joke rather than a genuine attempt to identify underappreciated prospects.

    If readers want a legitimate name, take a look at Preston Tucker, an outfielder in the Astros organization. He’s 7th in wRC+ among AA batters with at least 100 plate appearances, and has produced an outstanding statistical profile throughout his minor league career. I haven’t seen any other prospect analyst tout him at all, which I find rather bizarre since he could be Houston’s starting left fielder by next season and hit pretty high in the order.

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  9. GIF Mon says:

    GIFs Cistulli…Gotta have more GIFs

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  10. Shankbone says:

    Ben Lively ain’t no fringe, he’s headed for AA with a quickness and a whole lot of top 50 noise! Great pick for the Reds.

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  11. Noah Baron says:

    I feel like Jake DeGrom has to be on here at some point.

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  12. Balthazar says:

    Good to see Stephen Landazuri in the rangefinder here. I don’t know how he’s doing it, quite, but if those pretty numbers of his hang around until July He’ll be the Man Who Came in from the Fringe. He always been a guy who could pitch, may have seen a jump in his stuff, and is scorching AA thus far.

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