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.

*****

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Were the reader to go out and purchase, for some reason, all the bananas from all the local grocers in his general vicinity, it’s likely that he’d still have fewer bananas than how bananas is Jose De Leon’s 2015 season so far. Among every qualified minor-league pitcher everywhere, only Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes — who appeared safely within the top-100 names on Kiley McDaniel preseason prospect list — has recorded a higher strikeout rate. And among all those same minor leaguers everywhere, precisely zero of them have produced a better strikeout- and walk-rate differential. Indeed, the difference between De Leon and the second-place Reyes by that measure (6.6 points) equals the difference between Reyes and seventh-place Angels prospect Chris Ellis. He hits 97 mph routinely now, according to multiple reports; his changeup is excellent, according to the present author’s judgment; and he’s likely to appear within this weekly column only until such a time as McDaniel reviews his top-200 list.

In conclusion, here’s video of De Leon from a very recent start, during which he struck out 12 of the 27 batters he faced:

Yadir Drake, OF, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Each week, before writing this column, the author consults an Excel file called Fringe Machine (pictured below), within which he’s stored a series of highly proprietary algorithms which provide no little help in the matter of identifying baseball’s most compelling fringe prospects. Among the top hitters in the Class-A Midwest League by one of these algorithms is Dodgers outfield prospect Yadir Drake. Among the top hitters in the High-A California League by this metric is also Yadir Drake. Curiously, one of the top hitters in the Double-A Texas League is also, again, Yadir Drake. All told, Drake has produced a 14:11 walk-to-strikeout ratio and .158 isolated-power figure in 111 plate appearances across those three levels — which commendable performance naturally leads one to ask, “Who the hell is Yadir Drake?” Here’s one answer, according to the internet: a 25-year-old Cuban defector signed last August for a modest enough sum that the figure doesn’t appear anywhere. Here’s another answer, according to a scout who saw him recently: a left fielder with “plus raw power” and “very slow foot speed.” Given his limitations, it’s possible that Drake won’t appear amongst the Five again. His season to date, however — especially in the context of his relative anonymity — merits attention.

Fringe Picture
Selections from the author’s hard drive. Click to enlarge.

Buck Farmer, RHP, Detroit (Profile)
Since the last edition of the Five, the right-handed Farmer has recorded a 15:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 46 batters over 11.2 innings — this, while sitting at roughly 92-95 mph with his fastball. Also since that last edition of the Five, left-handed Toronto prospect Matt Boyd has recorded an 11:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 45 batters over 11.1 innings — this, while sitting at 92-95 mph with his fastball. Is it Farmer’s slightly more impressive numbers that have compelled the author to select him (and not Boyd) for this edition of the Five? Perhaps. More likely, though, it’s that the author in question had already rendered into an animated GIF one of Farmer’s changeups from the past, but had captured no equivalent footage for Boyd.

This changeup, in particular — with which pitch Farmer struck out Red Sox prospect Travis Shaw last Thursday or Friday or whenever:

BF CH to Shaw SS Slow

Junior Guerra, RHP, Chicago AL (Profile)
There are a number of comments one can make regarding the right-handed Guerra which are both (a) entirely factual but also (b) largely improbable in context with each other. Here’s a selection of such comments, in no particular order:

  • He made his Triple-A debut last week.
  • He’s 30 years old.
  • He regularly hits 95 mph as a starter.
  • His secondary pitches are at least average.
  • He pitched professionally in Spain and Wichita.
  • He’s produced the sixth-best strikeout rate in the minors.

The White Sox signed Guerra to a minor-league deal this offseason out of the Italian League. He’s produced strikeout and walk rates of 36.6% and 6.5%, respectively, over 24.2 innings between Double- and Triple-A. Below is an example of his changeup, which 86-mph pitch he’s using to strike out Cleveland prospect James Ramsey.

JG Ramsey SS on Change 86 Slow

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
It’s impossible to spell Sherman Johnson without first spelling “Sh” — which is precisely the sound the author is prepared to make in the direction of anyone who suggests that Johnson’s appearance among the Five, merely because he’s a 24-year-old batting .195 at Double-A, renders the entire exercise here meaningless. What Johnson continues to do is control the strike zone (regard, by way of illustration, his 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio) and play both second and third base with what American patriot Daniel Shays would have described as “goddamn aplomb.” Perhaps the reader ought to worry less about Sherman Johnson’s so-called inadequacies and more about his own (i.e. the reader’s own) criminal lack of knowledge concerning American patriot Daniel Shays, is what.

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

Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Double-A Eastern League)
Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Luke Farrell, RHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League)
Drew Robinson, 2B/3B, Texas (Double-A Texas 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 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 4 0 12
2 Jose De Leon Dodgers RHP 3 1 10
3 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 2 2 8
4 Auston Bousfield Padres OF 2 0 6
Buck Farmer Tigers RHP 2 0 6
Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 1 3 6
7 Chih-Wei Hu Twins RHP 1 1 4
Jerad Eickhoff Rangers RHP 1 1 4
9 Blayne Weller D-backs RHP 0 3 3
Dixon Machado Tigers SS 1 0 3
Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 1 0 3
Trevor Story Rockies SS 1 0 3
Yadir Drake Dodgers OF 1 0 3

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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Dave
Guest
Dave

I’m disappointed in you for abandoning Michael Reed so far this year. After all, he’s hitting 319/409/444 in his first taste of AA in 115 PA (after today’s games)

Eric R
Guest
Eric R

Just in the Southern league I see two other players, younger [or no more than a month older] and also not on Kiley’s top 200 with similar or better YTD stats:

Reed .299/.383/.423/.805, 115 PA
Travis Harrison .280/.389/.430/.819, 126 PA
Daniel Castro .389/.411/.444/.855, 98 PA [light on the PAs because he was called up to AAA]

I don’t think these guys got mentions either, so I’m thinking not so much a slight against them, but that there are only 10 slots for a couple of thousand players.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Sure…but he was a big fan of Reed last year, so that’s what I meant by “abandoning” him. There may well be others who are doing better than him.

brian.baker3
Guest
brian.baker3

Castro has no power and no walks, but he’s always hit for good average and he’s one of the top defensive SS in all of MiLB. He’ll be a big leaguer real soon, but probably won’t be with ATL.