The Fringe Five: Summary and Results and Discussion

The Fringe Five has been a weekly exercise (introduced in April) conducted by the author this year with a view to identifying the most compelling of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers excluded from three notable preseasoon top-100 prospect lists: Baseball America’s, Bullpen Banter’s, and FanGraphs’. Each week, the author submitted the names of five “compelling” minor leaguers, each name attended by a brief summary of that prospect’s most relevant credentials.

Generally speaking, compelling in this context meant that the prospect in question possessed some combination of the following:

1. Notable defense-independent stats; and

2. Youth relative to level and/or noteworthy defensive abilities; and

3. Curious biographical or statistical profile.

With minor-league regular seasons having all been completed, the author presents here a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2013.

The author’s process for selecting the Five each week was relatively consistent over the course of the season, and is summarized as follows:

1. Calculate (using the SCOUT methodology explained poorly here), for each minor league at the High-A level and above, the regressed defense-indepedent production of all the players (both hitters and pitchers) in that league.

2. Select, from those minor-league hitting and pitching leaderboards, an assortment of rookie-eligible players who both (a) have hit well relative to age and level and position, and also (b) were absent from the three preseason top-100 prospects lists named above.

3. Also select St. Louis outfield prospect Mike O’Neill, who’s on the old side, but whose skill set is of a singular nature.

4. Read scouting reports on, watch video of, and review recent performances of, the players present on that shorter list of notables.

5. Select five players for Fringe Five. Select five more for Next Five — i.e. players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

The author is mostly quoting himself when he states that, central to this exercise, has been a definition of the word fringe. The author recognizes that the word has different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of this column, however, the author considered eligible for the Five any prospect who remained active in the minor leagues and was absent from the three preseason top-100 prospect lists named above.

Why use those top-100 lists as a determintive factor? For a number of reasons, probably, but mostly because (a) the players who are absent from those lists are likely to receive less coverage/attention than those present on them, and also because (b) the likelihood of a top-100 prospect developing into a productive major leaguer is already small enough, such that the one realistically ought to expect almost nothing from players absent from those same kind of lists.

The author has now stopped quoting himself when we continues to state that, unsurprisingly, certain players orginally absent from those top-100 lists quickly made cases for inclusion among those same lists. Like Philadelphia third-base prospect Maikel Franco, for example, whom The Good Phight minor-league contributor Cormican recently suggested was likely to appear “as the Phillies #1 prospect on most lists this offseason.” And like other third baseman, Boston’s Garin Cecchini, for example, who had already appeared on Keith Law’s top-25 prospect update by the end of May.

The early production of players like Cecchini and Franco prompted some questions which the author was poorly equipped to answer. Ought Cecchini and Franco be removed from consideration, given the increasing enthusiasm for those players among prospect analysts? Should they retain eligibility until mid-season prospect lists were released, on which lists they were almost sure to appear? If the latter of those tacts was chosen, ought there be a note appended to future editions of the Five stating that both Cecchini and Franco had been, but no longer were, eligible for inclusion? Finally, should all prospects absent from preseason lists remain eligible for the duration of the season?

In the end, the author elected to utilize, for purposes of convenience almost exclusively, the most nebulous and subjective of methods — namely, that he would consider something like “hype” alongside variables like defense-independent production and age relative to level and defense, etc. While quite obviously a product of that same author’s overwhelming indolence, the results were reasonably reasonable. Cecchini’s first and only appearance was recorded on May 15th. Franco’s last appeared within the column on July 17th, shortly after participating in the Futures Game. For much the same reason, talented Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson made fewer appearances in the Five than he would have otherwise — and zero of them after July 3rd.

Over the course of the season, each edition of the Five concluded with a scoreboard of sorts. For each appearance among the Fringe Five proper, a player was assigned three points; among the Next Five, one point. Players who had graduated to the major leagues were ineligible — unless they’d then returned to the minor leagues having recorded fewer than 50 career innings or 130 career at-bats, in which case they remained eligible.

Here are the final standings of the Fringe Five Scoreboard:

Marcus Semien White Sox SS 11 7 40
Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 7 37
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 8 5 29
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 8 3 27
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 6 1 19
Mookie Betts Red Sox 2B 6 1 19
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 5 14
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 3 2 11
Eddie Butler Rockies RHP 3 2 11
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 3 2 11
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Edwin Escobar Giants RHP 2 4 10
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 3 1 10
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 2 4 10
C.J. Edwards Cubs RHP 2 2 8
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Nicholas Kingham Pirates RHP 1 5 8
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 2 1 7
Juan Oramas Padres LHP 1 4 7
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 4 7
Cody Martin Braves RHP 2 0 6
Jabari Blash Mariners OF 2 0 6
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Astros 2B 1 3 6
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Ji-Man Choi Mariners 1B 1 2 5
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Matthew Wisler Padres RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Billy Burns Nationals OF 1 0 3
Severino Gonzalez Phillies RHP 1 0 3
Zachary Petrick Cardinals RHP 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Ty Kelly Mariners IF 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
Chris Heston Giants RHP 0 1 1
Clayton Blackburn Giants RHP 0 1 1
Devon Travis Tigers 2B 0 1 1
Garin Cecchini Red Sox 3B 0 1 1
Greg Garcia Cardinals SS 0 1 1
J.R. Murphy Yankees C 0 1 1
Josh Vitters Cubs 3B 0 1 1
Nick Delmonico Brewers CIF 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1
Ryan Brett Rays 2B 0 1 1

• The author would like to state first that, while time-consuming, the composition of the Five each week has been a great pleasure. Like, probably a greater pleasure than most other activities in which the author is likely to indulge on a egular basis. There’s something very satisfying about the existence now of a semi-formal criteria for identifying and then monitoring prospects of lesser note. It has also provided constantly a pretense for the author to manufacture animated GIFs, which is now approximately 75% of the author’s job.

• Moving on, a mostly obvious question reveals itself: what, besides the author’s own pleasure, is the purpose of this exercise — and what, for example, does the haphazardly assembled Scoreboard reveal? Or, phrased somewhat differently: what is the significance of Marcus Semien‘s appearance at the top of the haphazardly assembled Scoreboard above? Regarding Semien, here’s a haphazardly assembled answer: given the construction of the Scoreboard and the criteria for appearing on same, one might have an argument for stating that Semien is the most compelling rookie-eligible minor-leaguer not to have appeared on a preseason top-100 prospect list — where compelling includes some combination of defense-independent batting and age relative to level and place on the defensive spectrum. It’s also probably fair to say that, unlike players like Maikel Franco and Garin Cecchini, that Semien remained — and perhaps continues to remain — on the anonymous side of things, so far as the prospect-analysis community is concerned.

• Regarding eligibility for the Fringe Five and criteria for it, there are probably alterations that could be made. Like including both Baseball Prospectus’s and John Sickels’ lists, for example. And like using mid-season prospect lists as a filter for eligibility in the second half of the season, perhaps. In the case of the latter, the author would perhaps use an asterisk (*) on the Scoreboard to denote players who’ve become ineligible at mid-season, and would use a caret (^) to denote players who’ve graduated to the majors.

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