The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition 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 the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on any of McDaniel’s updated prospect lists 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.

*****

Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Profile)
The Blue Jays entered the season with a young left-hander whose Steamer projection suggested that, given a full complement of innings in the majors, he’d record roughly league-average numbers. The left-hander wasn’t — as one might expect — it wasn’t Daniel Norris, but rather Boyd. The two actually produced pretty similar 2014 seasons, both beginning their campaigns at Dunedin and ultimately posting two of the three-best strikeout- and walk-rate differentials among all starters at High-A or above. The two feature notable differences, too, though. Norris possesses more impressive arm speed, for example, and also features the more characteristically strong pedigree. To wit: while Boyd was a sixth-round collegiate senior sign for just $75,000, Norris was given a $2 million bonus out of high school. The 24-year-old Boyd has started his 2015 season excellently, recording the highest strikeout rate thus far among all rookie-eligible starters at High-A or above. He features enough velocity (88-92 mph during a recent start, according to Al Skorupa) such that it oughtn’t be an impediment to him succeeding in the majors.

Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Profile)
There are a number of qualities within Cecchini’s profile that suggest he actually oughtn’t be regarded as a fringe prospect of any sort. He was selected 12th overall, for example, in the 2012 draft. He was given near slot-value bonus of $2.3 million. He has an older brother who himself is considered a future major leaguer. Despite those qualities, however, Cecchini is absent from McDaniel’s list — and, in fact, has never appeared on any of the preseason lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or MLB.com, either. His omission has likely been the result both of a perceived lack of tools and cosmetically poor slash lines. He recorded nearly as many walk as a strikeouts last year, however, as just a 20-year-old over 271 plate appearances in the High-A Florida State League. He’s improved upon those marks early in his Double-A career, having produced walk and strikeout rates of 8.8% each while also adding a home run.

Here is that home run, in fact, presented in something less than brilliant technicolor video:

Cecchini

And the same home run in slow motion:

Cecchini Slow

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
The right-handed De Leon first received attention in these pages for his success in the Puerto Rican winter league, where he produced a 15:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 16.0 innings for Caguas — one of the best marks relative to league among all four of the Caribbean circuits. That distinction reinforced the quality of his minor-league season prior to that, where he’d produced strikeout and walk rates of 37.9% and 6.7%, respectively, over 77.0 innings between Rookie-level Ogden and Class-A Great Lakes. De Leon’s fringe credentials are strong: he was selected out of Southern University by the Dodgers in just the 24th round of the 2013 draft, receiving just a $35,000 bonus. His performance hasn’t been a product merely of collegiate polish, either: De Leon sits at 93-95 mph now and features a pair of useful secondary pitches, as well. Over his first two starts this season with High-A Rancho Cucamonga, he’s recorded a 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 34 batters in 9.0 innings.

Here’s curiously dark footage from last season of De Leon striking out Cleveland prospect Ivan Castillo in slow-motion by way of his changeup:

DL Castillo CH SS K Looking Later Slow

And striking out more famous Cleveland prospect Clint Frazier by means of another slow-motion change:

DL Frazier CH SS K Slow

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B/SS (Profile)
Just after Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager signed his seven-year, $100 million extension with Seattle this past Novemeber, the author endeavored to identify those rookie-eligible players whose projections suggested the existence of three qualities which were attributed to a Seager when he was a prospect.

The criteria for inclusion in that search were as follows:

• 100 wRC+ or Better (Average-or-Better Bat)
• 15 Home Runs or Fewer (Below-Average Power)
• +2.0 Def or Better (Average-or-Better Defense at Second, Third, or Center)

The search produced only two results: second basemen Rob Refsnyder of the Yankees and Devon Travis of the Blue Jays (both of whom appear on McDaniel’s preseason list). Those two names are notable with respect to Johnson: not only was named (like them) to the 2012 College World Series’ All-Tournament Team, but they also serve as the model for Johnson’s future major-league career — one based more on skills and feel for the game than on any one carrying tool. The 24-year-old Johnson has been excellent in his first 53 appearances with Double-A Arkansas, producing a walk-to-strikeout ratio above one (11:10 BB:K) while adding a home run and 4-for-4 stolen-base record — while also making multiple appearances at shortstop, as well.

Here’s Johnson home run from April 11th:

Johnson

And a slow-motion rendering of same:

Johnson Slow

Dixon Machado, SS, Detroit (Profile)
Machado appeared within the last four editions of this column last year at the tail end of a season during which he was first (a) promoted to the Double-A Eastern League from the High-A Florida State one and then (b) actually produced better offensive indicators over a larger sample at the more challenging level. In 342 plate appearances with Double-A Erie, Machado produced walk and strikeout rates of 11.7% and 10.5%, respectively, while also recording a .137 isolated-power mark (which is to say, a roughly average one). All as a 22-year-old, that, and all as a player regarded as an above-average defensive shortstop. Now Detroit has pushed him once again, and the results continue to be positive. Machado’s plate-discipline figures (8.0% BB, 14.0% K) over his first 50 plate appearances haven’t been quite as impressive as last year, but encouraging batted-ball distribution (.462 BABIP) has allowed him to record a 169 wRC+. The combination of offensive and defensive skills remains entirely promising.

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

Luis Cessa, RHP, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Adam Engel, OF, Chicago AL (High-A Carolina League)
Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Minnesota (High-A Florida State League)
Yadiel Rivera, SS, Milwaukee (Double-A Southern League)
Blayne Weller, RHP, Arizona (High-A California League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are the top-10 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
1 Dixon Machado Tigers SS 1 0 3
2 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 1 0 3
3 Jose De Leon Dodgers RHP 1 0 3
4 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 1 0 3
5 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 1 0 3
6 Adam Engel White Sox OF 0 1 1
7 Blayne Weller D-backs RHP 0 1 1
8 Chih-Wei Hu Twins RHP 0 1 1
9 Luis Cessa Mets RHP 0 1 1
10 Yadiel Rivera Brewers SS 0 1 1

We hoped you liked reading The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli!

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

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JLuman
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JLuman

I had forgotten how much I missed this feature.

ReuschelCakes
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ReuschelCakes

Yes, I am having a Steve Martin “The new phone books are here!” moment.