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.

*****

Ryan Cordell, OF/SS, Texas (Profile)
Selected by Texas out of Liberty University in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, Cordell was included among the other prospects of note within Kiley McDaniel’s list for that same club this past offseason. “[A] big premium athlete having unexpected success with the bat,” writes McDaniel of Cordell in that same post. Nor does he (i.e. McDaniel) appear to be lying on any of these accounts: Cordell is objectively big (listed at 6-foot-4) and has continued this season to exhibit offensive success (having recorded an above-average isolated-power figure for the Cal League while also limiting his strikeout rate to ca. 18%). As for Cordell’s athleticism, that’s more difficult to verify objectively, of course; however, here’s a curious and possibly relevant thing: while most players move down the defensive spectrum, Cordell has actually moved up it. Consider: after playing mostly right field in 2013, he split time between right and center in 2014. This year, he’s splitting time again — not between right and center field, but center field and shortstop. Even an ability to play that last position passably well would greatly increase his value and his ability to produce wins in the future.

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
It’s been suggested recently to the author that the inclusion of the right-handed De Leon among a group of prospects designated as a fringe sort might represent an instance either of “cheating” or “very much cheating.” Indeed, it’s impossible to deny that the 22-year-old has been excellent so far in 2015, producing (for example) the largest strikeout- and walk-rate differential among every qualified pitcher in the minor leagues — this while skewing toward the young side for the High-A California League. As for cheating, however, this is impossible: I’ve abided by the largely arbitrary rules that I myself created. Since last week’s edition of the Five, of which he was also a part, De Leon made one appearance, recording an 8:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 24 batters over 5.2 innings (box).

Junior Guerra, RHP, Chicago AL (Profile)
Before his promotion to the International League in early May, Guerra had recorded three starts (among five total appearances) for Double-A Birmingham, over the course of which he produced a 33.3% strikeout rate in 16.2 innings. Over the course of three starts after that, all for Triple-A Charlotte, Guerra has posted a 33.8% strikeout rate in 16.2 innings — which strikeout rate the reader will observe is 0.5 points higher than the aforementioned Double-A mark in precisely the same number of innings. What this trend probably reveals is that Guerra’s repertoire has translated well against more challenging competition. What the footage below reveals is Guerra, in his most recent start, exhibiting some success against opposite-handed batters.

In this case, by means of a 95 mph fastball to strike out Yankees prospect Slade Heathcott:

Guerra FA 95 Heathcott SS K

And, in this case, by means of a changeup to strike out other Yankees prospect Kyle Roller:

Guerra CH Maybe to Roller SS K

Of which second pitch, this GIF depicts a slower-motion version:

Guerra CH Maybe to Roller SS K Slow

Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Minnesota (Profile)
This appearance among the Five represents the second of the season for Hu, which Taiwanese right-hander has produced strikeout and walk rates of 27.5% and 4.6 %, respectively, while pitching as just a 21-year-old in the High-A Florida State League and while exhibiting enough arm speed to suggest that his success isn’t merely a product of deception or inordinate polish or something of that sort. What this appearance features and what the last one lacked is actual footage of Hu — footage made possible, in this case, by Hu’s spot start for Triple-A Rochester just yesterday (Tuesday). Despite facing older and more talented opposition, Hu mostly approximated his High-A numbers, recording a 6:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 24 batters over 6.0 innings (box).

Hu’s repertoire includes a palm ball of which the following may or may not be an example. It is an example of changeup-like pitch, however, inducing a swinging strike three from Durham’s Vince Belnome:

Hu PA Belnome SS 3rd

And again in slow motion:

Hu PA Belnome SS 3rd Slow

Drew Robinson, 2B/3B, Texas (Profile)
If the reader is someone who benefits from player comps, an appropriate one to better understand Drew Robinson’s skill set is Washington infielder Danny Espinosa. Robinson features the same sort of three-true-outcome approach as Espinosa at the plate, possesses the same basic defensive profile, and has also exhibited Espinosa’s better-than-average speed. Originally selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of a Nevada high school, Robinson’s numbers have been uneven throughout his minor-league career. Still, he’s currently a level-appropriate 23 years old, is second among all Double-A Texas League batters in home runs, and has produced a perfect 9-for-9 stolen-base record — all this while posting a nearly even walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Here’s footage of his most recent homer:

Robinson HR 1

And slow-motion footage of the swing part of that homer:

Robinson HR 1 Slow

And also, for some reason, footage of him turning a double play recently while making a rare start at shortstop:

Robinson DP 1

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

Austin Barnes, C/2B, Los Angeles NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Buck Farmer, RHP, Detroit (Triple-A International League)
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Double-A Texas League)
Max Moroff, 2B/SS, Pittsburgh (Double-A Eastern 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 Jose De Leon Dodgers RHP 4 1 13
Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 4 1 13
3 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 2 2 8
4 Buck Farmer Tigers RHP 2 1 7
Chih-Wei Hu Twins RHP 2 1 7
Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 1 4 7
7 Auston Bousfield Padres OF 2 0 6
Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 2 0 6
9 Drew Robinson Rangers 2B/3B 1 1 4
Jerad Eickhoff Rangers RHP 1 1 4

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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CrazyPants
Guest
CrazyPants

The Next Five should be renamed the Lazy Five. Not that some of these players haven’t had good seasons but some of the returnees here had forgettable weeks like Cecchini and Johnson. Moroff too. This is just like a weird science experiment. There’s really no telling where each installment is gonna go.

PantsCrazy
Guest
PantsCrazy

clearly we are judging players in 1 week increments, of course

GoodbyeDave
Guest
GoodbyeDave

This is a weekly process. Is the universe of deserving players so small that the few players picked should be coming off of crap weeks? Really??

PantsDave
Guest
PantsDave

Well, if you a GM, scout or maybe just some dude writing a blog post… would you remove a player from your top 5/10 list based on them “coming off a crap week”?

Seems like the baseball equivalent of day-trading in your underwear….