Re-Ranking Top 10 MLB Farm Systems After the MiLB Season
It's that magical time of year again where we look back at the recently completed minor league season and examine the state of the farm for Major League Baseball teams.
Even though all of the focus is, rightly so, on the pennant races going on across MLB, we should not forget about the youngsters who represent the future of the game. In due time, a lot of them will be playing key roles in the postseason chase.
Before we dive head first into ranking the top 10 systems, I first want to explain the process that is used.
Any player who will retain rookie eligibility for the 2014 MLB season is included. For instance, even though Boston's Xander Bogaerts is currently playing for the Red Sox, he won't accrue enough service time this year to lose eligibility and is factored into the team's ranking.
This is not just a look at the top players in a given system. Impact talent will certainly improve your rating, because they are the ones who will play a significant role in helping win a championship, but depth is also a key component.
If a team has two elite-level talents and not much else, it's hard to rank it high no matter how good the top is. I like to provide a clear overview of where each franchise stands right now.
With that said, here is our official ranking of the top 10 farm systems in baseball heading into the minor league offseason.
Note: All stats used courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks
There is going to be a nice battle atop the National League West for years to come between the Los Angeles Dodgers, who just missed the top 10 despite boasting some very intriguing prospects, and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Arizona's greatest strength as a system is in arms. Archie Bradley came back from a somewhat disappointing debut season in 2012 where his command and control were off to become the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game.
After Bradley, the Diamondbacks feature a number of pitchers who project as solid starters in a first-division rotation like David Holmberg, Andrew Chafin and 2013 first-round pick Braden Shipley.
Matt Davidson should keep his prospect eligibility heading into 2014, as will Chris Owings, giving them two potential starters for next year. Of course, that depends how infatuated Kevin Towers remains with Didi Gregorius.
Last year's top pick, catcher Stryker Trahan, had a very solid debut with a .462 slugging percentage and 10 home runs in rookie ball. He still needs work defensively, but I think there is enough there to project him as at least a fringe-average backstop with a good bat.
Joe Munoz, who was teammates with Trahan in Missoula, hit very well with a .342 on-base and .448 slugging percentage as a shortstop with above-average defense.
There's some volatility with the system, particularly players like Trahan and Munoz, but it's a strong group overall that could become even better after 2014.
9. Seattle Mariners
We are still waiting for the Mariners to churn out a good hitter from their system, but this team knows how to find and develop pitching.
Like the Cubs, who are featured higher on this list, the Mariners are so one-sided in the minors right now that it does lower their rankings slightly. But there is hope for the future on the position-player side, while there is still a lot to love from the pitchers.
Taijuan Walker, who made his MLB debut this year and should be in the rotation at the start of 2014, has true No. 1 starter potential. His breaking ball and fastball command need work, but everything is in place for him to be a star alongside Felix Hernandez.
Danny Hultzen and James Paxton still boast strong resumes from the left side, though I do worry about Paxton's ability to stay in the rotation.
D.J. Peterson was not my favorite hitter in the 2013 draft, but there is enough in his hit tool that makes me optimistic he can at least be an everyday player.
Gabriel Guerrero, nephew of Vladimir Guerrero, is my player to watch in the system. He's just 19 and played in Low-A Clinton with a .271/.303/.358 line. He's 6'3", 190 pounds with a ton of projection, incredible bat speed and raw power. When he fills out, look for him to fly up the ranks.
8. Kansas City Royals
A lot of us laughed at the Wil Myers trade last year, not because James Shields is a bad pitcher, but the Royals gave up six years of control on one of the best hitters in the minors for two fairly expensive years of a good but not elite starter.
One thing that we didn't talk about his how little impact that actually had on Kansas City's farm system. This team has been ranked at or near the top of prospect ranks for years, which speaks to the ability of the talent evaluation department and the development of these prospects.
Even past players like Eric Hosmer are starting to produce results in the big leagues. Now we are also seeing some of those arms contribute. Yordano Ventura made his first start this week and looked electric with a 100-plus mph fastball and curveball that shows tremendous potential.
Kyle Zimmer, last year's first-round pick, is the best starter in the system and put together a very good season between High-A and Double-A with a 140-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 108.1 innings.
I also wanted to spotlight Bubba Starling, who's still learning to translate his raw athleticism into baseball skills. Keep an eye on him in 2014 because he finished strong with a .269/.359/.434 line in the second half.
Most of the impact talent is still in the lower levels of the minors, like Raul Adalberto Mondesi, Miguel Almonte and Jorge Bonifacio, so there is a lot of volatility. But none of them looked overmatched in 2013 and could break out in a big way next year.
7. San Diego Padres
The Padres have a sneaky great system. There aren't a lot of players who project as superstars or MVP candidates, but the amount of depth built by the front office is still tremendous.
Austin Hedges is the cream of the crop in this system. He's arguably the best defensive catcher in the minors, alongside Atlanta's Christian Bethancourt, with a really solid feel for hitting and some raw power.
This was a very good year for their Low-A Fort Wayne team, as Joe Ross had a healthy, productive season and showed some of the upside that made him one of the top high school arms two years ago. Max Fried and Walker Weickel handled their full-season assignments nicely.
The return of Rymer Liriano from Tommy John surgery in 2014 gives them a dynamic position player in the upper levels who can move quickly and pairs nicely with another toolsy outfielder, 2013 first-round pick Hunter Renfroe.
Shortstop Jace Peterson is very underrated. He's a tremendous athlete with average tools across the board. He doesn't wow you in any one area but does everything well. In many ways, he perfectly embodies the Padres system.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
It's been a long, arduous 20-year stretch for Pittsburgh, but we can unequivocally say that it's time to be excited about baseball again, Pirates fans. And not just because the Steelers are on a downward spiral.
Every year we seem to talk about a breakout prospect in Pittsburgh's system. Last year, Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson grabbed headlines. By the way, they are still very good, with Polanco having a chance to make the big league roster next spring.
This year was the pitching duo of Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow. Add to that Jameson Taillon—whose stuff remains very good but suffers from Gerrit Cole syndrome at times because the fastball is too straight and hittable so the numbers aren't as impressive as you would like—and the Pirates are two years away from having one of the best young rotations in baseball.
They also just drafted Austin Meadows, whose upside is higher than any position player from the 2013 class, and Reese McGuire, a high school catcher with advanced defensive tools.
Times are changing in Pittsburgh, and all for the better.
5. Boston Red Sox
Remember last year at this time, when we were worried about what the future would look like for Boston because the big league team was a mess and the system, while improving, did have some question marks?
Now, the Red Sox have just clinched a playoff spot and own one of the best farm systems in baseball.
Everything starts with Xander Bogaerts, arguably the best pure hitting prospect in baseball. He has such a great feel for the strike zone and is already showing plus power in the upper levels of the minors at the age of 20. Factor in that he can play shortstop for at least the next few years, and you have a special talent.
There is a very strong balance between the position players and pitching in this system. Matt Barnes has to work on his command, but 142 strikeouts in 113.1 innings is hard to argue with.
Instead of worrying about what the future looks like for the Red Sox, like we did last year, we should start asking if anyone in the AL East will be able to keep up with them.
4. Texas Rangers
There are times where I don't feel like we fully appreciate consistency from a team like the Texas Rangers. They are competing for a playoff spot every year despite losing players like Josh Hamilton to free agency and Nelson Cruz to suspension.
Why? Because the player development staff is as good as there is in baseball, especially when it comes to international talent.
Sure, Yu Darvish came as a prepackaged ace with some of the best raw stuff you will ever see. But just look at their system right now.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro is still growing into his frame, but put up a .790 OPS with 16 home runs as a 19-year-old in Low-A and projects as an above-average defender. Second baseman Rougned Odor was one of the big breakout stars this year with an .839 OPS between High-A and Double-A. Oh yeah, he's also just 19 years old.
Third baseman Joey Gallo is going to strike out 200 times a season, but his raw power is off the charts and led to 40 home runs as a 19-year-old.
What I love about the Rangers is their infatuation with tools and belief in their philosophy. They develop young talent as well as any team in baseball and are also able to flip prospects in order to upgrade the MLB roster without putting a huge dent in their system.
3. Chicago Cubs
In terms of position-player talent, there might not be a better top-tier group in baseball than the Chicago Cubs. Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler all have impact potential, the first two possessing elite-level power in a league that doesn't produce as much pop as it once did.
Below those players you have the likes of Arismendy Alcantara, who hit a home run in the Futures Game and projects as a solid regular at second base. Jeimer Candelario had a .346 on-base percentage as a 19-year-old in Low-A.
Even Dan Vogelbach, a player I don't necessarily love because of his body and lack of position, has a ton of raw power and is developing an approach at the plate.
However, they aren't in the top two is because of a serious lack of pitching. They have a few intriguing arms, most notably Arodys Vizcaino, but he hasn't pitched for two years after Tommy John surgery and has reportedly been scratched from the Arizona Fall League to keep rehabbing.
Pierce Johnson might be the best pitcher in the system, but his upside is hindered because of unusual arm action that puts more stress on his forearm and elbow.
It is a very good, deep system, and the Cubs are headed in the right direction. But there is still some work to be done on the pitching front.
2. Houston Astros
At the risk of coming off smug, anyone who has an issue with the way general manager Jeff Luhnow has torn down the big league roster in Houston needs to get over it.
This franchise was a disaster and going nowhere fast before Luhnow took over. Now, even though things at the MLB level are going to be rough for a little while longer, the cavalry is coming.
Houston's last three first-round picks (center fielder George Springer, shortstop Carlos Correa, right-hander Mark Appel) were terrific and all play up-the-middle positions.
There is some concern that Correa might outgrow shortstop, but he's shown a much better feel for the position and his outlook is changing a bit. At worst, he's still an impact third baseman. He hit .320/.405/.467 as an 18-year-old in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.
By the way, Jonathan Singleton, who endured a brutal season that got started late because of a drug suspension, still shows the tools to be an impact hitter at first base.
The sheer amount of depth that Luhnow has added through trades over the last two years is remarkable. Now that they have a few potential stars to go with it, the Astros' slow building process is starting to take shape.
1. Minnesota Twins
The Twins are staring a third straight 90-loss season right in the face, yet despite that futility, optimism is about as high as it has ever been for the future because of what the player development group has been doing for the last few years.
In addition to stockpiling a number of international players who project as big leaguers, an overall shift in philosophy from low-ceiling, high-floor draftees to high-risk, high-reward talents is paying off in a big way.
Everything starts with Byron Buxton, the best prospect in baseball and a game-changer with true five-tool potential, but then you go down the list and things don't slow down for a long time.
Third baseman Miguel Sano would be the top prospect in most organizations, especially given his tremendous power potential (70 extra-base hits in 439 at-bats).
Don't forget about first-round pick right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart, whose upside is higher than any pitcher from this year's class. The Twins also have second baseman Eddie Rosario, pitcher J.O. Berrios, underrated outfielder Max Kepler, right-hander Alex Meyer and a long list of other talented prospects.
No team's system can match the Twins in impact talent or depth. This is an incredible collection of talent that will bring Minnesota back to prominence in the American League. It will take a couple more years for all of it to jell, but the wait will be worth it.
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