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 current season’s 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.


Alex Claudio, LHP, Texas (Profile)
This May, bearded strongman Nathaniel Stoltz referred to the left-handed Claudio as a “changeup artist” — a statement which naturally leads one to ask “What is art?” and a question, that, which compels any reasonable person immediately to perform Japanese ritual suicide on his own body. Despite fantastic defense-independent numbers (like 29.5% K and 4.7% BB) and a changeup that has been described posthumously by Roger Ebert as the film of the year, Claudio has remained absent from the Five, on account of he’s worked almost exclusively in relief. Not only was the 22-year-old promoted last week to Double-A Frisco, however, but he was also deployed as a starter in his first appearance with that same club. The results: 5.0 IP, 17 TBF, 4 K, 0 BB, 0 HR. Decidedly competent that — in particular for one who works with a fastball at 84-86 mph.

Here’s what Claudio’s first Double-A strikeout looked like to someone probably sitting in the press box of Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas:

Claudio Graterol CH or SL K

Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Cincinnati (Profile)
This week marks Mejias-Brean’s fourth within this column so far in 2014 — and his second appearance in the two weeks following a promotion to Double-A from the High-A California League. While the latter of those leagues is known for its inflated run environment, Mejias-Brean’s numbers — both the slash and fielding-independent variety — have actually been better thus far in the Southern League. Through 54 plate appearances with Pensacola, the third baseman has produced a 142 wRC+ plus also walk and strikeout rates of 18.5% and 5.6%, respectively — all superior, those, what he’d recorded in Bakersfield.

Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto (Profile)
Most of what’s written above with regard to Seth Mejias-Brean is also relevant to the left-handed Norris. First, Norris was proficient at High-A. Now, for some reason, he producing better numbers at the next-highest level. In his most recent start, against Twins’ Double-A affiliate New Britain, the 21-year-old left-hander struck out six of the 19 batters he faced, or roughly 32% of them. That said mark represents the lowest single-game strikeout rate he’s produced since his promotion is indicative of his performance there over that brief interval.

Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland (Profile)
Probably because he was absent from the relevant preseason prospect lists and certainly because he’s produced pretty miserable numbers (in a limited sample) at the major-league level this season, Cleveland prospect Jose Ramirez has received little attention of late. Still, his minor-league achievement continues to deserve recognition — insofar, that is, as he’s recorded an exactly level walk-to-strikeout ratio and a not entirely insignificant home-run total over 206 Triple-A plate appearances as a middle infielder who’s also just 21 years old. After losing about two weeks to a hamstring injury, Ramirez returned on Saturday and has compiled a 2:0 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 12 plate appearances since then.

Here’s Ramirez singling recently to lead of a game against Detroit minor-league Derek Hankins:

JR Hankins Single

And here’s that same footage, but needlessly slower:

JR Hankins Single Slow

Steven Wright, RHP, Boston (Profile)
Selected originally by Cleveland out of the University of Hawaii in the second round of the 2006 draft, the right-handed Wright began integrating a knuckleball into his repertoire in 2010 and became a full-time knuckleball pitcher in 2011. At no point following his conversion, however, has he recorded defense-independent numbers such as those that he’s produced over his six starts with Triple-A Pawtucket this season (a season whose beginning was delayed, one notes, by a hernia injury). Over 37.0 innings, the 29-year-old Wright has posted strikeout and walk rates of 25.7% and 5.6%, respectively.

Here’s footage from his most recent start of Wright striking out Tampa Bay prospect Ali Solis:

Wright Solis 2 SS Slow

And a slow-motion version of that same thing:

Wright Solis 2 SS

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

Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (Double-A Southern League)
Robert Refsnyder, 2B, New York AL (Triple-A International League)
Luigi Rodriguez, OF, Cleveland (High-A Carolina League)
Kyle Smith, RHP, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Darnell Sweeney, 2B/SS, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Southern 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.

Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 6 1 19
Jace Peterson Padres SS 5 2 17
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B 5 1 16
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 4 1 13
Daniel Norris Blue Jays LHP 4 0 12
Taylor Cole Blue Jays RHP 4 0 12
Billy Mckinney Athletics OF 2 5 11
Ben Lively Reds RHP 3 1 10
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 1 3 6
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 1 3 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
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 1 2 5
Luigi Rodriguez Indians OF 1 1 4
Shawn Zarraga Brewers C 1 1 4
Alexander Claudio Rangers LHP 1 0 3
Blake Treinen Nationals RHP 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
David Rollins Astros LHP 1 0 3
Kyle Hendricks Cubs RHP 1 0 3
Marco Gonzales Cardinals LHP 1 0 3
Ryan Rua Rangers 3B 1 0 3
Steven Wright Red Sox RHP 1 0 3
Tsuyoshi Wada Cubs LHP 1 0 3
Brian Johnson Red Sox LHP 0 2 2
Chris Taylor Mariners SS 0 2 2
Darnell Sweeney Dodgers 2B/SS 0 2 2
Kyle Smith Astros RHP 0 2 2
Roberto Perez Indians C 0 2 2
Tommy La Stella Braves 2B 0 2 2
Aaron Blair D-backs RHP 0 1 1
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Brett Eibner Royals OF 0 1 1
Conrad Gregor Astros 1B 0 1 1
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 0 1 1
Jesse Winker Reds OF 0 1 1
Robert Refsnyder Yankees 2B 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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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Kyle Smit
Kyle Smit

Hey, has anyone seen Johan Santa?