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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 definition of the word fringe. For the first two-plus months of the season the author has considered eligible for the Five any prospect who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists. It stands to reason, however, that — with the accumulation of substantial plate appearances/innings, the graduation of certain prospects to the majors, and the release recently of two midseason prospect lists — that the prospect landscape has changed and that certain prospects who were omitted from preseason lists have now been included on midseason ones.

*Baseball Prospectus and Bullpen Banter.

It was originally the author’s intention to change the criteria for inclusion among the Five as the season progressed and the prospecting community’s knowledge base changed. What the author didn’t originally account for, however, is the potential utility of the Fringe Five Scoreboard (which one can find at the bottom of this, and every other, edition of the Five). The Scoreboard, which accounts for appearances both among the Fringe and Next Five, provides a brief portrait of the season as a whole. Looking at it now, for example, we find both Rafael Montero and Maikel Franco at seventh and eighth, respectively, among the season’s most compelling fringe prospects. Those same players, however, appear at 57th and 58th, respectively, on Bullpen Banter’s midseason prospect list. Were their inclusion on that Bullpen Banter list to render them ineligible for future edition of the Fringe Five, their place on the end-of-season Scoreboard wouldn’t represent the considerable rise in their value — which, it seems as though there might be some value in representing their considerable and respective rise in value.

For the time being, at least — and for the reasons stated above — the author will continue to use the preseason lists as the determinant of eligibility for the Fringe Five.

Moving on, the reader will find that three players retain their place this week among the Five: well-educated Mets pitching prospect Matthew Bowman; young Philadelphia third baseman, the recently promoted* Maikel Franco; and weekly fixture here, Cardinals Double-A outfielder Mike O’Neill.

*To Double-A Reading, that is.

Departing from the Five proper — mostly for reasons that concern the author’s Whim — are Pirates right-hander 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)
Were the author to suggest that the 22-year-old Bowman’s place among the Fringe Five is due solely to his (i.e. Bowman’s) excellent performance so far at High-A St. Lucie, he would be lying*. Were the author to suggest that Bowman’s place among the Five is due even, like, 25% or 15% to his (i.e. Bowman’s) excellent performance so far at High-A St. Lucie, he would still be lying. In point of fact, the author is impressed by privilege and Bowman is an alumnus (or maybe near-alumnus) of Princeton, at which prestigious university students can famously receive credit for murdering an Irishman.

*Although it should be noted that Bowman is pitching well at High-A St. Lucie. Some numbers to that effect: 50.0 IP, 54 K, 9 BB.

Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (Profile)
Since the last edition of the Five, Franco has recorded 27 plate appearances — all but four of them at Double-A — and almost all of them have been what the author is prepared to describe as “fabulous.” Franco, for example, has struck out zero times over the last week. He has, for other example, walked once. And finally, for last example, Franco has hit three home runs over those 27 plate appearances — including a pair for Double-A Reading. Park-factor note: the author has made it clear in earlier editions of the Five that Franco likely benefited, while playing for High-A Clearwater, from that club’s home park so far as hitting home runs is concerned. The reader should note, additionally, that Franco’s new park also inflates home runs quite considerably for right-handed batters.

Mike O’Neill, COF, St. Louis (Profile)
In last week’s installment of the Five, the author noted that O’Neill had recorded 38 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout. In this week’s edition of the Five, the author is prepared to announce that O’Neill has now recorded 48 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout. The author is also prepared to announce that O’Neill, who’s adorable and reportedly sleeps in a little teacup, was scratched from Tuesday’s Texas League All-Star game with a sore back and hasn’t played since last Thursday, actually.

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Profile)
Salazar’s name made an appearance in the Monday edition of the Daily Notes, in recognition of how well he’s pitched through seven starts with Triple-A Columbus. It (i.e. his name) made an apperance in the Tuesday edition of the Notes, as well, on account of how excellently he pitched in seven Double-A starts before that. All told, Salazar has posted an 89:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 63.0 minor-league innings this year — this, after seeming to have made little impression on prospect analysts before the season began. His most recent two starts have been especially impressive, at least in terms of basic defense-independent stats. Line: 10.0 IP, 38 TBF, 17 K, 0 BB.

Zach Walters, SS, Washington (Profile)
Walters actually appeared in the inaugural edition of this column back in mid-April — not among the Fringe Five proper, but among the Next Five. Despite having posted a batting average of just .189 at that point, Walters had also hit four home runs in his first 41 plate appearances with Triple-A Syracuse. Two-plus months later, Walters is still batting just .246, but has now hit 18 home runs in 288 PAs. His 9:70 walk-to-strikeout rate is the reddest of red flags insofar as control of the strike zone is concerned. He makes his first appearance today among the Fringe Five, though, because (a) the offensive standards for a shortstop are much lower than for players at other positions, and also (b) unusual skill sets are particularly compelling.

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

Wilmer Flores, 2B, New York NL (Triple-Pacific Coast League)
Brad Miller, SS, Seattle (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh (Double-A Eastern League)
Marcus Semien, MIF, Chicago AL (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
Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 0 30
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 7 3 24
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 3 6 15
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 3 4 13
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 4 13
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 4 0 12
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 2 1 7
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 2 0 6
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 3 6
Nick Kingham Pirates RHP 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Cubs 2B 1 3 6
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 2 5
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 1 1 4
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
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