Hundreds, if not thousands, of young men and women have their eyes set on reaching major league baseball both in the United States and abroad. The odds of a any given player drafted or signed as an amateur reaching the big leagues simply aren’t good. It would seem that, when it comes to evaluating prospects, those odds pose a problem for scouts and player development personnel alike.
Could one man and his computer have figured out the secret to identifying quality major league players out of the prospect ranks?
When Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs introduced his weekly column The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects he did so by reminding us all about his discovery of Charlie Blackmon. Cistulli wasn’t the only one in the prospect community who knew of Blackmon, who never appeared on a top-100 list by the way and was years away from being a regular in the major leagues, but Cistulli made the point of labeling Blackmon as “notable” long before many would have.
The first edition of Cistulli’s Fringe Five pointed out a non-prospect prospect infielder in the Chicago White Sox System named Marcus Semien. Maikel Franco, Danny Salazar, Joc Pederson, Stephen Piscotty, and Mookie Betts all appeared in the early editions of the Fringe Five and, with the exception of Pederson, were not on top-100 lists prior to being mentioned. There may be more but I grew tired of looking.
Cistulli might tell you he was just throwing minor league mud on the wall hoping some stuck. His analysis drips with humor so it is difficult to tell if he is even serious half the time. Regardless, his criteria for identifying potential stars is simple: be a rookie, don’t be on a 25-man roster, don’t be a top-100 guy, and be good at baseball. Considering how many players that left him to work with it was definitely a crapshoot.
What does this have to do with the Oakland A’s? The recently-acquired Max Schrock is a Fringe Five guy, as well as the anointed future-MVP and heir apparent to Josh Donaldson’s throne. Other Athletics (or recently former-Athletics) to appear on the list include Jharel Cotton, Billy Burns, Max Muncy, and Arismendy Alcantara.
Do I think Max Muncy is the next Mookie Betts? Not in the slightest. However, Semien has been a fine major leaguer and is improving almost every day. Billy Burns has had his moments. Cotton looks like a major league starter as soon as next season and Alcantara is a 24-year old, former top-100 prospect with a .782 OPS at triple-A, and can play multiple positions. The acquisition of Schrock is compelling not only because the A’s gave up almost nothing for him, but because he’s been a very good minor league player so far and that’s worth monitoring.
The point of Cistulli’s Fringe Five exercise isn’t to sound alarm bells whenever a random minor leaguer does something good. I believe it is to say that in order to be good in the lower levels of professional baseball you have to be doing at least one thing right, and that is notable. Why can’t that carry over into the major leagues?