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.

*****

Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago NL (Profile)
Hendricks appears for the first time among the Five this week partially on the strength of his own merits and partially because of his resemblance to recently promoted Yankees right-hander Chase Whitley. Like Whitley, he has produced among the best strikeout and walk figures among all Triple-A starters (26.9% and 5.5%, respectively, though 50.0 innings). Like Whitley, he lacks premium (or even above-average) velocity. Like Whitley, he has a changeup notable for compelling even the most emotionally distant of fathers to cry a single, plaintive tear. For all of Whitley’s virtues, however, the author (a well known moron) neglected to feature him among the Five before his (Whitley’s, not the author’s) promotion to the majors. Hendricks’ appearance here is an attempt, in part, to address that oversight — in particular as Hendricks himself is a candidate to pitch for the Cubs sooner than later.

Here’s footage of Hendricks from this spring:

Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland (Profile)
As noted in the most recent edition of the Five, the 19-year-old McKinney began his season hitting quite a lot in the way of home runs. As also noted there, McKinney has continued his season by hitting fewer of those (i.e. home runs), but also producing decidedly more impressive plate-discipline figures than during that first interval. It’s that very disciplined version of McKinney which has continued to emerge since last week. Indeed, over his past seven games now, McKinney has recorded a 6:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 28 plate appearances while also compiling a pair of hit-by-pitches. Also of note: McKinney remains, to date, starting center fielder for High-A Stockton — a positive indication, that, even if (as previously discussed) there appear to be mixed opinions regarding his defensive ability.

Bryan Mitchell, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
After producing a strikeout rate of 30.6% through four starts and 19.0 innings at Double-A Trenton, the right-handed Mitchell developed elbow inflammation which then led to a DL stint. An MRI revealed no structural damage, however, and Mitchell has made two (intentionally) abbreviated starts since last Wednesday, recording an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the process against 21 batters over 5.2 innings. A 16th-round selection by the Yankees in 2009 out of a North Carolina high school, the now 23-year-old Mitchell has impressive armspeed, sitting in the mid-90s, for example, when Keith Law saw him in early April. What Mitchell has generally lacked — as he did during Law’s visit, for other example — is command, although it would appear from his numbers that he’s improving in that area. One concern regarding Mitchell is the absence of even an average changeup. That said, his curveball demonstrates more vertical than horizontal movement, making it more effective probably against opposite-handed batters.

Here he is using what appears to be the curve, for example, to strike out Adam Lind this spring:

Mitchell SL Lind SS K

And to treat minor-leaguer Jordan Smith just as harshly during a more recent appearance:

Mitchell SL Smith SS K

Jace Peterson, SS, San Diego (Profile)
Peterson’s two weeks in the majors were neither an unmitigated success nor even really a mitigated success. Over 10 games and 24 plate appearances, the 24-year-old recorded a 0:6 walk-to-strikeout ratio, produced an 8 wRC+, and committed two errors at third base in just 20 chances. It would be fair to say that, whatever its other virtues, Peterson’s brief exposure to the majors was a failure in terms of performance. Failure is ubiquitous in sport, however, and can frequently lead directly to even harder success. And, in fact, Peterson’s demotion to the minors actually serves as an effective promotion, as well: before joining the parent club, Peterson was a member of Double-A San Antonio; now, he’s playing for Triple-A El Paso and performing admirably.

Of note was his May 15th appearance with El Paso against Las Vegas, during the course of which he recorded five walks — and five attendant bat flips — in five plate appearances, all of them captured in the animated GIF below.

Here, apropos of little, is also a defensive play courtesy Peterson from the ninth inning of that same game:

Peterson Defensive Play 9th Inning

Tommy Shirley, LHP, Houston (Profile)
After a pair of pedestrian starts, the 25-year-old Shirley produced a more characteristically impressive line last Thursday versus San Antonio, recording a 6:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 19 batters over 4.0 innings (box). As of today, Shirley has now posted the fourth-highest strikeout rate among all qualified pitchers at Double-A. An even greater cause for optimism regarding the left-hander, however, is every comment made by Corpus Christi interim pitching coach Doug Brocail during the course of an interview conducted recently by Jayne Hansen of Astros prospect weblog What the Heck, Bobby?

During the course of same, a genuinely enthusiastic Brocail says of Shirley that:

  • He has very good mechanics; and
  • He has a fastball that produces bad swings; and
  • He has a special arm; and
  • He has a very good changeup; and
  • His learning curve is very high.

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

Andrew Aplin, OF, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Adam Duvall, 3B, San Francisco (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Brian Johnson, LHP, Boston (Double-A Eastern League)
Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Wesley Parsons, RHP, Atlanta (High-A Carolina 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
Jace Peterson Padres SS 4 1 13
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 1 13
Robert Kral Padres C 3 4 13
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 4 0 12
Ben Lively Reds RHP 3 1 10
Billy Mckinney Athletics OF 2 2 8
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 1 3 6
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/SS 2 0 6
Michael Reed Brewers OF 2 0 6
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 2 5
Wesley Parsons Braves RHP 1 1 4
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 1 0 3
Kyle Hendricks Cubs RHP 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
Brian Johnson Red Sox LHP 0 2 2
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
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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LaLoosh
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or more aptly named, the Robert Kral Memorial column.

Kral did actually have 2 hits this week so there is that…

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