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.

*****

Taylor Cole, RHP, Toronto (Profile)
This week’s appearance among the Five represents Cole’s third consecutive one and fourth overall. A difficulty with regard to the right-hander up to this point has been locating any sort of information regarding the present state of his velocity and/or repertoire. One finds that Cole threw 95 mph as a high-school student in Las Vegas and only 87-88 mph last May. Given his considerable success, however, there’s been reason to believe that Cole has evolved in some way. Indeed, a recent interview with the 24-year-old conducted by Guy Curtright suggests that’s probably the case. Cole, it seems, lost no fewer than 20 pounds while on a Mormon mission — mass he’s only fully recovered of late. Per Cole, his fastball currently sits at 90-93 mph — substantial enough velocity, that, to compete against higher competition.

Marco Gonzales, LHP, St. Louis (Profile)
Much of what could be said about the left-handed Gonzales was said aloud recently by Gonzales himself in the presence of FanGraphs’ own David Laurila — all of which utterances can be found by means of this hyperlink. A first-round selection by St. Louis last year out of Gonzaga, the 22-year-old Gonzales was nevertheless omitted from all the relevant top-100 lists this past offseason. In fact, that’s not entirely surprising: Gonzales is the exact sort of pitcher (polished, college-type, left-handed) who’s generally overlooked — and, in fact, his merely above-average numbers at High-A to begin the season (21.3% K, 5.3% BB) seemed to reinforce the stereotypes. What he’s done at Double-A Springfield thus far, however, is shocking enough to shock someone. By way of illustration, regard the baseball numbers he’s produced over six starts: 33.1 IP, 30.9% K, 5.9% BB.

Gonzales’s best start for Springfield thus far was his more recent one, during which he recorded a 10:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 21 batters over 6.0 innings.

Here’s footage of Gonzales from that start, striking out Cheslor Cuthbert by means of either his curve or changeup:

And more footage, as well — in this case of Gonzales striking out Mark Threlkeld by means probably of his curve:

Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland (Profile)
There’s little to say about Jose Ramirez which the author hasn’t before said in this recurring column. At 21 years, 9 months, and 1 day, he’s the second-youngest qualified batter at Triple-A after celebrated Cubs prospect Javier Baez. With five home runs and an 18:20 walk-to-strikeout ratio, he’s produced one of the International League’s best defense-independent batting lines. Furthermore, he’s a competent middle infielder.

Here’s footage of Ramirez homering this past week:

And similar, but slower, footage:

Thomas Shirley, LHP, Houston (Profile)
With his appearance here this week, the left-handed Shirley now sits atop the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard. Since the most recent edition of the Five, Shirley has made two starts, recording an 11:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 41 batters over 10.0 innings. That strikeout-walk differential (26.8 percentage points) would be the best ever in all of baseball history, the author is willing to assert — albeit without referencing the actual data.

Shawn Zarraga, C, Milwaukee (Profile)
On a number of occasions, old-ish San Diego catching prospect Robert Kral has appeared either among the Fringe Five or Next Five — owing, in large part, to the very optimistic projection Steamer has produced for him. As of just yesterday, that projection remains one of the top 10 among rookie-eligible players in all of baseball; however, as that same hyperlinked list indicates, a different anonymous 25-year-old catcher has passed Kral among those same top-10 rookie-eligible players. Zarraga, is that 25-year-old catcher. Milwaukee, is the system of which he’s a part. Through 178 plate appearances for Double-A Hunstville thus far this season, Zarraga has produced walk and strikeout rates of 16.3% and 5.6%, respectively — figures, those, reminiscent of the sort recorded St. Louis minor-leaguer Mike O’Neill. The difference, so far as value is concerned, is that Zarraga receives the benefit of the catcher positional adjustment, while O’Neil is penalized for playing left field. Zarraga’s likely to retain that positional adjustment, as well, after losing 20-25 pounds this offseason, which change has helped his mobility behind the plate.

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

Conrad Gregor, 1B, Houston (High-A California League)
Ty Kelly, 2B/3B, Seattle (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto (High-A Florida State League)
Kyle Smith, RHP, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati (High-A California 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
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 6 1 19
Jace Peterson Padres SS 5 2 17
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B 4 1 13
Taylor Cole Blue Jays RHP 4 0 12
Ben Lively Reds RHP 3 1 10
Billy Mckinney Athletics OF 2 4 10
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 2 1 7
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 1 3 6
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 1 3 6
Daniel Norris Blue Jays LHP 2 0 6
Francellis Montas White Sox RHP 2 0 6
Michael Reed Brewers OF 2 0 6
Wesley Parsons Braves RHP 1 3 6
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 2 5
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 1 0 3
Kyle Hendricks Cubs RHP 1 0 3
Marco Gonzales Cardinals LHP 1 0 3
Ryan Rua Rangers 3B 1 0 3
Shawn Zarraga Brewers C 1 0 3
Tsuyoshi Wada Cubs LHP 1 0 3
Brian Johnson Red Sox LHP 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
Conrad Gregor Astros 1B 0 1 1
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 0 1 1
Darnell Sweeney Dodgers 2B/SS 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 0 1 1
Jesse Winker Reds OF 0 1 1
Kyle Smith Astros RHP 0 1 1
Stephen Landazuri Mariners RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Ty Kelly Mariners 2B/3B 0 1 1
Tyler Goeddel Rays 3B 0 1 1


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