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.

Name Team POS FF NF PTS
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 occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


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

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  1. Kyle Smit says:

    Hey, has anyone seen Johan Santa?

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Eric R says:

    Mets, Marlins, Pirates, Orioles, Tigers, Twins, Angels still waiting…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • acerimusdux says:

      On the Mets, I think Smith (BA) and Nimmo (Law) have already made top 100 lists, so I guess Noah, Conforto, Nimmo, and Smith are all exempt here. Montero as well, though I wouldn’t rank him that high right now anyway (hasn’t shown the same command this year).

      That leaves Kevin Plawecki, Amed Rosario, Steven Matz, and Dilson Herrera as the most likely candidates.

      Plawecki has performed well in AA this year, and earned a promotion to AAA. Won’t have a lot of power, but looks like a solid starting MLB catcher at this point.

      Rosario has the upside to rank high (already ranked top prospect in the Appy last year), but needs to show the numbers to match. He is already beginning to do so though as the third youngest regular position player in the NYPL. Small sample so far, but maybe if he keeps it up another month? Marc already had him the Mets #4 entering the season, but I don’t think he’s made a top 100.

      Matz has the talent to rank this high, I think the achilies heel may be the curve, which I don’t think will be better than average. Still a lefty with a grade 65 fastball, and a solid change, and pretty good command, could be in the discussion. I think he was dominating lower levels mostly with the fastball though, and will need a little more polish with the secondaries to keep performing in AA, and to rank this highly.

      Herrera has been putting up good numbers, just keeps hitting, but what I would caution there is that I don’t think he’ll have the power at higher levels that his A ball numbers suggest. But speed, defense, OK discipline, and strong contact ability are still enough to be a decent regular at 2B. Upside isn’t high enough to rank too highly, but if he keeps hitting, he could at least make it to “fringe”.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Catoblepas says:

        I think the whole “leaderboard” thing leads people to expect something other than what they get here, which is a catalogue of Cistulli’s fixations, not a ranking of Double-A prospects. Make your own list, if you feel it’s unfair, or recognize that the point isn’t to be fair.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chris says:

      Royals only have a “next five” and were completely shut out all of last season.

      I’ve kinda grown tired of these and now I’m just checking back to see if the streak ever ends.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tim says:

        Orioles have been totally shut out all year. I get that nobody wants an AllStar Game-esque forced representation, but it is hard not to see some bias at this point. Chance Sisco much?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Ahhhhhhhhh says:

          I’m sure I’m not the only one tired of these comments. The whole “why haven’t you listed my favorite prospect”, “this list is biased”, etc. are just tiresome. Here’s the challenge for all: if Cistulli doesn’t list your favorite prospect or your favorite team while he is sampling sausage in Strasbourg, come up with some original way to say it. Example: “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, and Tyrone Taylor (Mil) is hot as a stove.” This way at least it is interesting.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. soupman says:

    what does norris have to do to shed the “fringe” label altogether? he’s now ahead of where top prospect sanchez was at the same time last year in terms of both age and league, with better numbers to boot.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      When he is put on one of the top prospect lists. I’m not trying to be flippant, but those are the qualifications.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jeremy says:

        Some of the next prospect lists come out on July 7th, and Norris is guaranteed to be on one of them, so he wont be on the next Fringe Five.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • baltic fox says:

          Yep. By the middle of July, all of the prospect lists will be updated. Stash Norris while you can.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    Fun game.

    Go into the player search box and type in Jose Ramirez. Four pitchers, two 2B, and two OF. All were born at or after 1982, so it is conceivable we could have enough players to make a starting nine soon. We may not even have to move guys out of position.

    Can anybody think of a more prolific name in the history of baseball? I only found four Jose Ortiz’s and two Joe Smith’s. I’m sure this has been covered…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    As an Indians fan, I am excited to see two players make it to the fringe five.

    What makes Luigi Rodriguez so interesting? I know the Carolina League is historically not a good league for hitters, but nothing really jumps off the page at me other than his ability to draw a walk.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sam says:

      I’d guess he’s probably a “trending in the right direction” pick, seeing as how his BB% has steadily increased each year and his K% is down like 7% from last year. If not for a ’14 BABIP well below his career norms, his wRC+ this season would probably sport a healthy increase as well.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Ben says:

    Come here every week, and always disappointed that I don’t see Steven Souza from the Nats organization anywhere. Kid’s posted a 1.000+ OPS throughout the season so far. Don’t see him on any of those 3 lists, but no love

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. In his Frisco start, Claudio worked much more in the 83-85 range, hitting 86 once (if you believe the stadium gun, which was the one I happened to look at that time). His last inning of work was pretty much all change-ups, and it was delicious.

    Also, that wasn’t Claudio’s first AA strikeout, as he saw the level for half a season last year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Bobby Ayala says:

    Thanks Carson, I learn about someone new with every one of these.

    Better talk about Refsnyder soon before he gets called up.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Dave says:

    You are just now getting on the scent of Refsnyder? He should be at #1 with a bullet.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pete Wentz says:

      You’re going down down….

      Jose Peraza is setting AA on fire after being promoted less than a month ago from the Rome Braves minor league A team.
      He’s not only hitting like a madman, he’s stealing bases including a stolen home base run scoring thief in the night.
      Sugar, he’s not going down swingin’

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Sean says:

    Aww, you almost made it through without an Astros player. So close, Carson.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Sean says:

    Is it my imagination or is the second gif of Wright faster than the first?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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