The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly exercise (introduced in April) wherein the 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 this exercise, of course, is a working definition of fringe. Currently, for the purposes of this column, it’s any prospect who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists. (A slightly more robust meditation on the idea of fringe can be found here.)

Two players retain their place this week among the Five: young Philadelphia third-base prospect Maikel Franco and Cardinals Double-A outfielder Mike O’Neill.

Departing from the Five proper — mostly for reasons that concern the author’s Whim — are Cubs shortstop prospect Arismendy Alcantara, Mets right-hander (the recently promoted) Rafael Montero, and Washington left-hander Robbie Ray.

Replacing that triumvirate are well-educated Mets pitching prospect Matthew Bowman, Pirates right-hander (and also recently promoted) Nick Kingham, and Athletics first-base prospect Max Muncy — about all of whom one can learn more via technicolor prose in this week’s installment of the Fringe Five, below.

Matthew Bowman, RHP, New York NL (Profile)
Because, for the purposes of compiling the Five, the author typically limits his attention to the three highest levels of minor-league ball, the 22-year-old Bowman has only recently become “eligible” for this column, as it were. After recording a 26:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30.2 innings in the Class-A Sally League, Bowman has now pitched 44.0 innings in the High-A Florida State League and posted strikeout and walk figures (47:9 K:BB) among the league’s best. Nor do Bowman’s excellent numbers represent all that is Rich and Compelling so far as his CV is concerned. Bowman is also an alumnus (or, at least, near-alumnus) of shockingly prestigious Princeton University. Furthermore, he’s found considerable success by utilizing mechanics which resemble those belonging to a certain undersized Giants right-hander.

To wit (from this longer feature):

Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (Profile)
In four games since the last edition of the Five, Franco posted even better figures than those which had earned him a place here in each of the previous two weeks. Over 19 plate appearances for High-A Clearwater of the Florida State League, Franco recorded a 3:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio while hitting three home runs — nor do those totals include the home run Franco added last (Tuesday) night, either. By the author’s likely flawed methodology, Franco’s 15 home runs and 20:39 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 283 plate appearances appear to be almost equivalent in terms of what might be called “true-talent production” as very celebrated (and recently promoted) Twins prospect Miguel Sano’s 16 home runs and 29:61 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 243 plate appearances. Franco’s home park has likely benefited his home-run figures, but his season is impressive even with the adjustments — especially relative to his prospect status at the beginning of the year.

Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh (Profile)
After recording more or less the best regressed pitching numbers among Florida State League starters, the 21-year-old Kingham earned a promotion to Double-A Altoona last week. In his debut against Yankees affiliate the Trenton Thunder, Kingham posted a 7:2 strikeout-to-walk in 5.2 innings, conceding just four hits and also zero runs. In that start, Kingham sat at ca. 92 mph with his fastball while also throwing a curveball and occasional changeup.

The curveball was likely Kingham’s most effective pitch during that Saturday start. Here’s a video made by the author, documenting the pitch over and over via painful slow-motion footage:

Max Muncy, 1B, Oakland (Profile)
It’s very possible — owing to how he’s not entirely young (22) relative to the level and also because of his positional limitations and also because of the inflated run-scoring environment of his park — it’s very possible that Muncy won’t appear among the Five again in the near future. That said, his season deserves some attention. Utilizing the flawed methodology cited above with regard to Maikel Franco, Muncy — who’s recorded 18 home runs and a 49:46 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 326 plate appearances — has produced the best regressed offensive line by some margin among California League Batters. In fact, were he to have hit just half as many home runs, he’d still have the top regressed line among all Cal League batters aged 22 or less.

Shall we watch footage of Muncy hitting a home run in early June? Indeed, it appears so:

Mike O’Neill, COF, St. Louis (Profile)
Including Tuesday’s night’s game at home versus Rockies Double-A affiliate Tulsa, O’Neill has recorded 38 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout. What else he’s done during those 38 plate appearances is walk six times, hit a home run, and slash .313/.421/.469 despite a relatively ordinary .290 BABIP. For the season now, O’Neill has a 48:17 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 288 plate appearances, for walk and strikeout rates of 16.7% and 5.9%, respectively.

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

Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Chicago NL (Double-A Southern League)
Wilmer Flores, 2B, New York NL (Triple-Pacific Coast League)
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Robbie Ray, LHP, Washington (High-A Carolina League)
Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (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.

Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 9 0 27
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 7 2 23
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 3 12
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 2 4 10
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 3 0 9
Chase Anderson Diamondbacks RHP 2 2 8
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 2 1 7
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Cubs 2B 1 3 6
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 2 5
Nicholas Kingham Pirates RHP 1 2 5
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 1 1 4
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 1 0 3
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 1 1
Chris Heston Giants RHP 0 1 1
Clayton Blackburn Giants RHP 0 1 1
Garin Cecchini Red Sox 3B 0 1 1
Greg Garcia Cardinals SS 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Zach Walters Nationals SS 0 1 1

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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

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  1. The Return of Rambo Diaz says:

    Nice job on this, C-Train.

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  2. Goose says:

    I’m a big fan of this feature. And Robbie Ray was so absurd in HS. He was either committed to or might have actually signed with Vandy at one point before they either gave him a release or he just changed his commitment to Arkansas. I am so glad he never ended up at Arkansas because he would have dominated the SEC for them. He is going to develop into a beast with the pro instruction he’s receiving right now

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  3. monkeywrench says:

    I really like Nellie Fox…I mean Mike O’Neil. But does anyone see any regular playing time in his future?

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  4. rusty says:

    I was surprised to read about perennial Fringe Five fan favorite Wilmer Flores the other day, and then, again, the next day, in a source other than this author’s esteemed posts.

    Unfortunately, both mentions were in minor-league game recaps, and in both, defensive errors by Flores directly led to multiple runs scoring. Now, I’m not saying that these particular plays do or should have any bearing on evaluations of his prospect-ness — minor-league defensive stats and performance being what they are. Rather, I would conclude that this periodic feature has enriched my reading of other baseball content throughout the interweb.

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  5. kdm628496 says:

    i continue to campaign for stetson allie

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  6. Pablo says:

    BA reports that Franco has been promoted to AA (Reading in the Eastern league).

    I love this feature and check it out weekly.

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    • Oliver says:

      Is Cody Asche enough to delay Franco’s ascension once Michael Young’s contract expires? I never would have expected a mid-2014 ETA attainable pre-season. Now, maybe that’s the conservative guess.
      We’ll have to see how he handles AA pitching of course, but the Franco-Sano comparisons aren’t all that outlandish. He is 9 months older and walks less. On the other hand, his K rate has always been lower and the walk rate keeps improving. He looks like the best prospect in the Phillies system right now. I could see him knocking on the door of top ten lists if he carries over that production to the next level.

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      • Muggi says:

        Yeah the old “jump from A->AA is the hardest outside jumping to MLB” adage. Have to see how he handles it.

        As for Asche, he’s started to hit at AAA a bit, but I don’t think he’ll retard Franco’s path. The upside is SO much higher with Franco. Asche HAS to start popping up on Top 100’s if he keeps up even his current level of production, which will make him a very nice trade chip.

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      • Pablo says:

        The thinking over at Phuture Philles seems to be i they both make it to the majors asche will become a valuable trade chip or can play LF dependin on his raw power and the outfield situation and there is a remote chance he moves to 2nd base.

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  7. Climbing The Wall says:

    Nick Kingham’s curveball is arousing

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  8. Record Keeper says:

    It is not inevitable that Max Muncy will have trouble at subsequent levels, but worth noting:

    Miles Head 2012 with Stockton Ports (67 games): .382/.433/.715
    Since (with AA Midland): .241/.290/.346

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    • There is certainly that concern with Cal Leaguers (esp in that park). One point in Muncy’s favor (perhaps) relative to Head is how well Muncy’s controlling the strike zone. Head’s production was informed more considerably by batted-ball fortunes.

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  9. randplaty says:

    No more Burch Smith? :-(

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  10. Franco says:

    Jack Leathersich is my favorite Mets pitching fringe prospect. Montero will be on some lists next year and Bowman is a righty who tops out around 90. With Leathersich you have guy who is smaller than my niece striking out everything that moves despite having no plus pitches.

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  11. LaLoosh says:

    this is a cool weekly feature. Though Cesar Puello needs to be smack in the middle of it to validate the entire exercise!

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  12. Timmmayyyy says:

    Any love for Kelly Dugan?

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  13. Jeffrey Paternostro says:

    Potentially of note to the author: Certain commenters on certain Mets blogs have attempted to bestow the nickname “Princecum” on Matthew Bowman.

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