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.

*****

Andrew Aplin, OF, Houston (Profile)
Research by the present author — largely aided, that research, by standing on the shoulders of the giants at Baseball America — suggests that prospects who demonstrate (a) the ability to hit for average and (b) excellent plate discipline and (c) promising defensive skills at a difficult position become, almost without exception, above-average major leaguers. Former fifth-round pick Andrew Aplin, despite exhibiting little in the way of what is frequently called a “carrying tool,” nevertheless matches that profile. The 23-year-old has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 16.9% and 11.6%, respectively, with Double-A Corpus Christi. Furthermore, Baseball America wrote of Aplin this offseason in their annual Prospect Handbook that “he’s an above-average center fielder, despite average speed, thanks to great reads and jumps.” In conclusion, Aplin is a candidate to become a surprisingly good professional baseballer.

For the enjoyment of the masses, here’s largely unrepresentative video of Aplin hitting a home run, a thing he’s unlikely to do with much frequency:

Aplin HR

Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
A challenge in life — perhaps the challenge — is remaining constantly aware that everything is amazing. For one even to read these words requires an improbable and beautiful concert performed simultaneously by the human intellect and the technology that said intellect has produced. Likewise, the challenge with Ben Lively this year so far is not taking for granted his accomplishment in the High-A California League. Omitted from the notable top-100 lists which the author uses as his guide for this weekly feature, Lively has produced strikeout and walk rates now of 35.3% and 2.9%, respectively, through 48.2 innings while also conceding just a single home run in a league where pitchers have allowed 0.8 of them every nine innings. Since his appearance last week among the Five, Lively has continued terrorizing opposing batters, recording a 13:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 13.0 innings — exceptional, that, because it represents probably his worst week of the season.

Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland (Profile)
Because he’s recorded only a .219/.341/.401 slash line in the California League, McKinney will likely not have received overwhelming attention thus far — which, that’s understandable. Of probably greater relevance to his possible future as a real-live major-leaguer, however, are the fact that (a) he’s produced one of that same league’s best defense-independent batting lines and also (b) he’s only 19 (i.e. nearly four years younger than the Cal League’s average age) and also (c) he continues to play center field regularly. Over 164 plate appearances now, McKinney has posted walk and strikeout rates of 15.2% and 19.5%, respectively, while also hitting six home runs. What’s particularly notable about McKinney is the extent to which he appears capable of adapting his approach. Over 73 plate appearances between April 3 and 18, for example, he hit six home runs but produced a relatively unimpressive 6:17 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In the 91 plate appearances since then, however, McKinney has recorded precisely zero home runs, but a much improved 19:15 walk-to-strikeout figure.

No MiLB.TV game footage appears to exist of him thus far this season; however, one does find this video (courtesy Big League Futures) of McKinney homering to a Shania Twain song:

Wes Parsons, RHP, Atlanta (Profile)
There’s some difficulty, over the first month or so of the season, in locating very recent scouting reports for the minor leagues’ less celebrated prospects. As such, an idiot Paris-based weblogger is compelled to base his assessments of fringe-type pitchers almost entirely on either the defense-independent numbers they’ve produced or the projections which are produced for them by Steamer or ZiPS or whatever. By mid-May, however, such an imbecile might more readily draw his absurd conclusions from a combination both of performance and also the tools which have facilitated that performance. Parsons, for his part, is well-acquitted by both critera. Over 32.2 innings in the High-A Carolina League, the right-hander has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 28.2% and 5.2%, respectively — among the league’s best marks, those. Moreover, not only has he continued to demonstrate both above-average fastball velocity and an effective slider, but there are indications that the changeup has also become an important pitch for the formerly undrafted free agent.

Regard this excerpt from a recent piece by Damien Sordelett of the News Advance in Lynchburg, Virgina:

“The changeup was actually my best off-speed pitch. I was really working that off the fastball, which got stronger through the innings,” Parsons said. “The slider was there. The slider early in the game was a little wild, but throughout the game it got stronger. The changeup was there.”

Recent footage of Parsons appears non-extant; however here he is throwing a slider for a swinging-strike last year to Raul Mondesi the Younger:

Parsons SL Mondesi 2

And doing that same thing in slow motion, too:

Parsons SL Mondesi 2 Slow

Michael Reed, OF, Milwaukee (Profile)
A fact about Michael Reed is that, relative to his league (the Florida State one, in this case), he’s produced one of the best defense-independent offensive lines among all minor-league batters at High-A or above, having posted walk and strikeout rates of 23.3% and 16.0%, respectively, over 150 plate appearances while also compiling two home runs and a 17-for-23 stolen-base record. Another fact about Michael Reed is also that, despite having generally been young for his levels (he’s just 21 now) and having belonged to one of the weakest minor-league systems — despite all of that, he was still omitted from Baseball America’s most recent top-30 organizational prospect list for the Brewers. This isn’t an indictment of that honored publication, of course; what it is is a celebration of the Michael Goddamn Reed, who also’s capable of playing center field.

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

Josh Hader, LHP, Houston (High-A California League)
Brian Johnson, LHP, Boston (Double-A Eastern League)
Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Roberto Perez, C, Cleveland (Triple-A International League)
Jace Peterson, SS, San Diego (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
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 1 13
Robert Kral Padres C 3 3 12
Ben Lively Reds RHP 3 1 10
Jace Peterson Padres SS 3 1 10
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 3 0 9
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/SS 2 0 6
Michael Reed Brewers OF 2 0 6
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 1 2 5
Billy Mckinney Athletics OF 1 2 5
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 1 4
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 1 0 3
Ryan Rua Rangers 3B 1 0 3
Taylor Cole Blue Jays RHP 1 0 3
Tsuyoshi Wada Cubs LHP 1 0 3
Wesley Parsons Braves RHP 1 0 3
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 0 2 2
Roberto Perez Indians C 0 2 2
Tommy La Stella Braves 2B 0 2 2
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Brett Eibner Royals OF 0 1 1
Brian Johnson Red Sox LHP 0 1 1
Chris Taylor Mariners SS 0 1 1
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 0 1 1
Darnell Sweeney Dodgers MI 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 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. LaLoosh says:

    We can all now celebrate the return of Robert Kral!! Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap!

    and on a serious note, despite the nice BB/K rate, that swing isn’t going to get Aplin much success in the show. otoh, McKinney looks like he’s going to be a beast.

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  2. Matt says:

    Was able to flip Lucas Sims for Ervin Santana in my dynasty league and picked up Lively, excited to see how his career develops.

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  3. Spa City says:

    Carson’s Fringe Five is my favorite recurring article on Fangraphs, and the last thing I want to do (okay not the last, but still a thing I do not want to do) is criticize Carson. But I finally feel the need to join the chorus of readers/commenters who are confused about CC’s fixation on Robert Kral, a 25 year old catcher toiling unproductively in AA. Kral might just be what he seems to be… a 25 year old catcher toiling unproductively at AA.

    Two words… Blake Swihart. Two more words… Gift Ngoepe. These are unheralded (or under heralded) players who I believe are deserving of at least a mention. Robert Kral… not so much.

    Sorry for the overuse of ellipses.

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  4. Andrew says:

    Pretty sure Swihart was at least on 1 top 100 list. (Keith Laws)

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  5. Robert Kral says:

    Guys, guys… Carson is infatuated with me because I have neither a height nor a weight. That being the case, my walk rate is pretty terrible for having no discernible strike zone.

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  6. Dan says:

    Hader throws a combined no-hitter and the next day is bumped down to next 5. Weird.

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  7. Kyle says:

    “selected in the first round of the amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.”

    McKinney was a first rounder.

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  8. Jody says:

    It probably doesn’t need to be brought to anyone’s attention, because everyone probably knows, but Joey Wendle has had a particularly nice month of May so far. I think a future in this column should be in the offing at some point.

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  9. Rob says:

    Not to be a downer as Jace Peterson is one of my fav Padres prospects, but he was a supp first rounder.

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    • LaLoosh says:

      not to mention that he played 10 games in the show up until last week! So are we going to put guys on and off the list as they go back and forth between the active roster and AAA ?

      “…and also (b) not currently playing in the majors.”

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      • LaLoosh says:

        oh wait, let me clarify… I mean not playing in the majors the day I write the column!

        I kid, Carson! I’m just jealous of his year on the rive gauche…

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  10. Razor says:

    About 6 months ago I traded Lively and Michael Choice for Mondesi. Intrigued to see how that deal pans out down the road.

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