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 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:
And that same precise pitch, except hauntingly more 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:
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.
|Taylor Cole||Blue Jays||RHP||4||1||13|
|Daniel Norris||Blue Jays||LHP||4||0||12|
|Francellis Montas||White Sox||RHP||2||0||6|
|Steven Wright||Red Sox||RHP||1||0||3|
|Brian Johnson||Red Sox||LHP||0||2||2|
|Tommy La Stella||Braves||2B||0||2||2|
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