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.

*****

Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
After preventing runs at an unusually high rate — and ultimately recording just a 2.28 ERA over 79.0 innings — in the high-scoring run environment of the California League, the right-handed Lively earned a promotion to Double-A Pensacola. The early returns there — again, so far as run-prevention is concerned — have been less excellent. Over five starts and 24.2 innings, the 22-year-old has conceded 18 walks and 12 runs. Those aren’t numbers to ignore, of course. That said, it’s also the case that strikeout rate becomes reliable more quickly than walk rate — and much more quickly than ERA. And in this way, Lively has approximated his considerably above-average Cal League marks, having recorded 36 strikeouts over those same 24.2 innings — good, that, for a 32.4% strikeout rate.

Here’s footage of Lively striking out Tampa Bay prospect Richie Shaffer by means of the slider in the first inning of the former’s most recent start:

Lively Shaeffer SS 2 K

And that same precise pitch, except hauntingly more slow:

Lively Shaeffer SS 2 K Slow

Billy McKinney, OF, Chicago NL (Profile)
Owing to the attention he’s received of late as a part of that recent trade which sent him (along with Addison Russell and Dan Straily) from Oakland to Chicago, one could reasonably make a reasonable argument to the effect that McKinney isn’ currently being ignored in the way that some prospects on this list are. And yet, according to the somewhat arbitrary criteria which dictate eligibility for this weekly column, McKinney remains a “fringe” prospect. And also, regardless of these absurd logistical matters, this edition of the Five at least provides an opportunity to note how excellent McKinney — who remains 19 years old for a month-plus — how excellent McKinney has been since joining Cubs’ High-A affiliate Daytona. Over nine game and 36 plate appearances, the outfielder has recorded a 6:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio and a home run — this, as currently the second-youngest player in all the Florida State League. He appears to be a legitimate prospect now after having mostly been regarded as a just pretty good one.

Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (Profile)
When Pizzano demonstrated some home-run power early this season with Seattle’s High-A affiliate High Desert, the most reasonable response was a sort of muted optimism. Optimism, that he might add power to his typically excellent plate-discipline profile; muted, because the California League inflates home-run numbers considerably. Following his mid-May promotion to Double-A Jackson, however, Pizzano has actually produced double the home runs with his new club in nearly the same number of plate appearances he recorded with High Desert (173 vs. 162 at High-A). Notably, Pizzano’s slash line is miserable, just .197/.318/.423. What his .188 BABIP obscures, however, is a walk-to-strikeout ratio better than 1.0 and a legitimate display of power.

The most recent exhibition of that power occurred last Friday against White Sox affiliate Birmingham, disorienting footage of which opposite-field home run is available here in the form of a GIF:

Pizzano HR

Robert Refsnyder, 2B, New York AL (Profile)
By the potentially flawed methodology used by the author to determine such a thing, Refsnyder has produced the second-best regressed fielding-independent batting line among all International League hitters after just 138 plate appearances — which, owing to the regressed part of that invented metric, makes the accomplishment substantial in such a small sample. Over that same interval, the 23-year-old Refsnyder has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 16.7% and 18.8%, respectively — plus six home runs in a park that is slightly, but not immodestly, kind to right-handed batters.

For everyone’s reference, here’s footage from July 4th of Refsnyder hitting a three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and his team trailing by two runs:

Austin Voth, RHP, Washington (Profile)
This represents the right-handed Voth’s debut among the Five — not because he has only recently produced notable performances, but because one of the arbitrary criteria for eligibility in this weekly column is that a prospect plays at High-A or above. Indeed, until the latter third of June, the 22-year-old was a member of the Class-A Sally League. Through four starts now as a member of Washington’s Carolina League affiliate Potomac, however, Voth has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 30.8% and 4.4%, respectively, over four starts and 26.0 innings. Selected by the Nats in the fifth round of last year’s draft out of the University of Washington, Voth’s fastball sits at 91-92 mph, according to a recent report by MiLB.com’s Jake Seiner.

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

Andrew Aplin, OF, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Taylor Cole, RHP, Toronto (High-A Florida State League)
Eric Jokisch, LHP, Chicago NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Tony Kemp, 2B, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Steven Souza, OF, Washington (Triple-A International 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
Ben Lively Reds RHP 4 2 14
Billy Mckinney Cubs OF 3 5 14
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 4 2 14
Taylor Cole Blue Jays RHP 4 1 13
Daniel Norris Blue Jays LHP 4 0 12
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 2 3 9
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 1 5 8
Robert Refsnyder Yankees 2B 2 1 7
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 1 3 6
David Rollins Astros 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
Kyle Smith Astros RHP 1 2 5
Luigi Rodriguez Indians OF 1 1 4
Shawn Zarraga Brewers C 1 1 4
Steven Souza Nationals OF 1 1 4
Alexander Claudio Rangers LHP 1 0 3
Austin Voth Nationals RHP 1 0 3
Blake Treinen Nationals RHP 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Kyle Hendricks Cubs RHP 1 0 3
Marco Gonzales Cardinals LHP 1 0 3
Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 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
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
Eric Jokisch Cubs LHP 0 1 1
Jesse Winker Reds OF 0 1 1
Rob Zastryzny Cubs LHP 0 1 1
Stephen Landazuri Mariners RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Tony Kemp Astros 2B 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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Ted Nelson
Guest
Ted Nelson
2 years 2 months ago

Kind of surprised Refsnyder hasn’t made more appearances on here with the year he’s having and just about no one rating him as a “top” prospect…

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
2 years 2 months ago

Teams by their total percentage of points thus far:

Astros 21%
Padres 11%
Reds 10%
Blue Jays 9%
Indians 8%
Cubs 8%

Mets 0% :(

attgig
Member
attgig
2 years 2 months ago

seriously… no under the radar prospects from the mets that are on the list even once? surprising.

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
2 years 2 months ago

Last year they did better…

STL 15.5%
NYM 12.1%
CHW 9.5%
CLE 6.9%
COL 6.4%
SDP 5.7%

The 80/20 ‘rule’ doesn’t seem to apply with FF; the top 20% were at only 56% of the points last year and 67% this year.

Bartolo Colon
Guest
Bartolo Colon
2 years 2 months ago

The Fridge Five: Bartolo’s Most Compelling Fridge Prospects:

1. Hungry Man Salisbury steak dinner – Are you kidding me?
2. Leftover Shake Shack triple burger – Maybe not. The first four didn’t sit that well with me.
3. Bacon – Would probably have to cook it though.
4. Jello mold shaped like Jon Niese’s old nose – Laugh every time I look at it, but better snack on it before it goes bad. Can Jello even go bad?
5. Christmas turducken – Aahh! Looks like it’s all thawed. Snack time!!

SickRick
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Still not sure how a 1st rd pick (McKinney) could be considered a fringe prospect, or in your words doesn’t receive enough notoriety…

Gets by Buckner
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Where is our friend Robert Kral??

Gets by Buckner
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Does anyone still follow this column?

Anyone?

Bueller…?

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
2 years 2 months ago

I still follow the column, but I do not look forward to it nearly as much as I used to. The column loses some of its value because so many teams do not seem to have any fringe prospects. Carson seems to focus so much on BB%. The fringe 5 seems to be a list of Houtson, Cincinati, Cleveland and Seattle pitchers who don’t allow many walks and position playes who draw a lot of walks.

And Robert Kral… Sure he draws walks. But his .185/.315/.304 line as a 25 year old in AA makes most of us wonder why he is viewed as a prospect at all – let alone as a prominent focus of this column.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 2 months ago

I follow the column too, sometimes just to see stat anomalies like Kral show up.

Kral’s presence on this list comes from his pre-season MLB projected WAR being very high (Oliver I think), of course with the caveat that this was assuming a full year as a big-league regular catcher. Nobody would actually bet money that Kral would even come close to that kind of ML WAR.

On a related note, the Card’s recently DFAed 2013 Fringe Fave Mike O’Neill to make room for George Kottaras. What was interesting about that story is that the Cards had put O’Neill on the 40-man roster in the offseason. Looks like there was at least some fear that an OBAphile team might snag O’Neill in the Rule V draft and stash him as a PH/5th OF type.

Dan
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Dan
2 years 2 months ago

The article about Voth downplayed his stuff somewhat. While he is no Giolito, there are reports of him throwing harder this year – touching 96:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2014/05/15/lucas-giolito-and-hagerstowns-flame-throwing-rotation/

Pig.Pen
Guest
Pig.Pen
2 years 2 months ago

Really expected to see Souza on here. Very compelling fringe prospect. Is he just getting old (25) for AAA or figuring it out. Absolutely raking in AAA. Long swing with tons of bat speed, has a bit of a checkered past, but seems to have cleaned up his act. He’s the definition of intriguing, but due to his age and past performance has to be somewhat considered fringe.

Miles
Guest
Miles
2 years 2 months ago

What did I think about while reading this article? Not baseball, but dashes. I focused on the use of em dashes to effectively pause and add side notes in the midst of an informative piece. I, myself, opt for the comma and semi-colon, and sometimes the parenthesis; but am sorely in need of intensive research on the perplexing and mysterious em dash…. One may have been necessary in the previous sentence, but I am too full of naivete to give a definitive answer.

Have a nice day.

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