MLB Farm System Rankings: Pre-Spring Training Edition
While spring training doesn’t officially begin until Feb. 13, the prospect-ranking season has been in full swing since the dawn of the new year.
After last month’s unveiling of Prospect Pipeline’s top 10 prospects for all 30 teams, it’s time to take things a step further with a ranking of every organization’s farm system for the 2014 season.
As you will see, the systems that rank within the top five are those with multiple impact prospects, other notable talent in upper levels and overall depth from top to bottom.
The systems that rank in the middle third tend to have an impact prospect or two (in most cases at least one is a pitcher) and probably either adequate depth or a few high-risk/reward guys. There may be a few projectable bullpen arms in there, too.
And as for those bottom-dwelling systems… well, let’s just say they have their work cut out for them to get back on the right track.
We hope you enjoy Prospect Pipeline’s official farm system rankings for the 2014 season.
30. Milwaukee Brewers
The last pitching prospect drafted by the Brewers in the first round that developed into an impact major-league starter was Ben Sheets in 1999. Since then, the organization has struck out repeatedly when selecting a pitcher in the first round.
Milwaukee drafted college right-hander Eric Arnett in 2009, who’s now a 25-year-old reliever that has yet to graduate from A-ball. They targeted upside the following year and drafted prep right-hander Dylan Covey in the first round. However, Covey decided not to sign and ultimately honored his commitment to the University of San Diego.
And while many pitchers from the 2011 draft—Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray, for example—have each made an impact in the major leagues, Milwaukee’s pair of first-round picks from that year, college pitchers Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, have struggled to climb the minor-league ladder and lack favorable long-term projections.
The Brewers finally landed a much-needed power arm this past June, drafting prep right-hander Devin Williams with its first pick (coming in the second round). The 19-year-old is a project and will need time to develop in the minor leagues, but he has the potential to be a solid No. 2 or 3 starter as a finished project.
The organization houses several under-the-radar position prospects that seem poised for breakout campaigns in 2014. Shortstop Orlando Arcia and outfielders Tyrone Taylor and Mitch Haniger are likely to open the season at High-A and, if everything goes smoothly in their respective developments, they could conceivably reach Double-A by season’s end.
However, no matter how many best-case scenarios I toss out there, there’s no way to mask the fact that the Brewers’ farm system is the worst among all 30 teams.
29. Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels had high expectations last season for its top prospects, as they gave Kaleb Cowart, Taylor Lindsey and C.J. Cron an Opening Day assignment to Double-A Arkansas with the hope that the infield trio would improve individually and collectively.
Well, that didn’t happen.
Cowart, 21, struggled out of the gate at the advanced level and never truly settled in at the plate for the duration of the season. As a result, the switch-hitting third baseman’s overall OPS dropped by .230 points—I guess that’s what happens when you slug .301—compared to his 2012 full-season debut across both Class-A levels.
Similarly, first baseman C.J. Cron, the Angels’ first-round draft pick in 2011, endured a similar power drought; the 24-year-old’s 14 home runs last season were essentially half of his total (27) from his 2013 full-season debut. Additionally, Cron’s lack of plate discipline was once again exploited by sequencing last season, and he’s now amassed only 50 walks in 1,281 career plate appearances in the minor leagues. Yet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that he captured the batting title (.416) in this year’s Arizona Fall League.
On a more positive note, second baseman Taylor Lindsey was the only one who progressed from a developmental standpoint last season, as the 22-year-old set new career highs with 17 home runs and 48 walks while playing in 134 games for the second-consecutive season.
Other than Lindsey, the Angels’ system stands out for its promising teenage prospects: left-handed pitchers Hunter Green and Ricardo Sanchez as well as shortstop Jose Rondon.
Both Green, the Angels’ first-overall draft pick in 2013, and the 16-year-old Sanchez carry strong projections as future mid-rotation starters (and possibly more in Sanchez’s case), as they possess considerable upside but will likely need several years of refinement in the minor leagues. Rondon, 19, has the makings of a second-division shortstop at maturity thanks to four average-or-better tools and an advanced feel for the game, and he’s likely to improve his prospect stock next year in his full-season debut.
The Angels have yet to recover from the 2012 trade that sent pitching prospects John Hellweg and Ariel Pena to Milwaukee in exchange for the rental of Zack Grienke. That’s not to say they don’t have a few interesting arms in the system; it's just that a majority of them are either very young or lack an encouraging long-term projection as a starter in the major leagues.
Many of the Angels’ best arms, such as right-hander Mark Sappington and Austin Wood, are likely destined for a career in the bullpen due to inconsistent mechanics and fringy control.
28. Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers' farm system once again ranks in the bottom tier heading into the 2014 season, with only one potential impact prospect and a host of probable late-innings arms.
Headlining the organization’s crop of young talent is Nick Castellanos, who reached the major leagues in late 2013 after a quick rise through the minors. A natural third baseman, the 21-year-old was moved to the outfield in 2012 to expedite the arrival of his bat at the highest level. Although the decision ultimately panned out, Castellanos will return to his original position next season with Miguel Cabrera headed back to first base in the wake of Prince Fielder’s departure.
Detroit’s system doesn’t have much to offer on the mound, with a plethora of powerful arms but few that profile as a sure-fire starter in the major leagues. One name to follow closely next season is Endrys Briceno, a 22-year-old right-hander with an extremely projectable 6’7”, 171-pound frame and the potential for three pitches to become above-average-or-better offerings at maturity.
The Tigers should also have a bottomless supply of relievers to call on next season, such as Corey Knebel, Drew VerHagen and Jose Valdez. They could also give James McCann a look behind the plate next season, and if all goes as planned, the right-handed hitter could emerge as the team’s backup catcher.
With all that said, I still wouldn’t expect any prospect other than Castellanos to make a positive impact in the major leagues in 2014.
27. Oakland Athletics
Since emerging as a perennial contender in the AL West, the A’s have started tapping into their farm system’s depth to procure major-league players. As a result, their prospect pool is a shell of what it was a few years ago. Still, thanks to youth-oriented drafts in 2012 and 2013, the A’s have quietly put together a respectable collection of young hitters.
Headlining the group is Addison Russell, a 20-year-old, five-tool shortstop who posted impressive numbers last season in High-A as a teenager and will likely reach the major leagues in mid-2014.
Two of the A’s other early-round picks from the 2012 draft, shortstop Daniel Robertson and first baseman Matt Olson, both enjoyed solid full-season debuts last season at Low-A Beloit, and are likely to put up even better numbers next year in the hitter-friendly California League. Meanwhile, Billy McKinney, the A’s first-round draft pick in 2013, will likely follow a similar developmental path after an impressive pro debut, and he should receive a full-season assignment for the upcoming season.
Though the A’s never seem to be short on pitching—especially young, cost-controlled pitching—their farm system is currently going through a turnover on the mound. As a result, the organization lacks pitching depth at the moment and is without an obvious candidate to contribute in the major leagues next season.
The A’s system does a have a few hard-throwing right-handers in Raul Alcantara and Michael Ynoa, both of whom turned in long-overdue breakout performances last season across both A-ball levels. Speaking of breakout performances, Bobby Wahl, the team’s fifth-round draft pick in 2013, is a candidate to have one this season, as the right-hander features a hugely underrated three-pitch mix to go along with decent control.
26. Chicago White Sox
In spite of its bottom-third ranking for the 2014 season, the Chicago White Sox have a relevant farm system for the first time in what seems like an eternity.
Dating back to the 2011 season, the organization has drafted an interesting blend of high-ceiling and high-floor position players, targeting impact tools and upside with its first-round picks, followed by good athletes with underrated secondary skills in later rounds.
Outfielder Courtney Hawkins and shortstop Tim Anderson—the organization’s first-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013, respectively—will likely begin the 2014 season together at High-A, which will also mark Hawkins’ second tour of the level after a forgettable performance last year as a teenager.
The White Sox clearly have a solid formula in place for identifying and drafting relatively inexpensive college players who are deemed to have untapped potential. A perfect example is infielder Marcus Semien, the team’s sixth-round draft pick in 2011, who saw time in the major leagues last season after killing it in Double-A and Triple-A. And as for the organization’s more recent draft picks, second baseman Micah Johnson (ninth round, 2012) and outfielder Jacob May (third round, 2013) both have the potential to move through the system faster than expected.
In one of several moves made by general manager Rick Hahn this offseason, the White Sox finally addressed their third-baseman situation by acquiring prospect Matt Davidson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for closer Addison Reed. The 22-year-old showed last season that he was nearly ready for an everyday gig in the major leagues by posting a .768 OPS with nine extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. However, the former first-round draft pick is still rough around the edges, especially with the glove, and would likely benefit from a few more months at the Triple-A level.
Right-handed pitcher Erik Johnson checks in as the organization’s top prospect this year after his outstanding 2013 campaign that concluded with five promising starts in the major leagues. The 24-year-old has the potential to be a good No. 3 or 4 starter for a long time; he has a workhorse build at 6’3”, 235 pounds, with clean mechanics and three average-or-better offerings, including a plus slider with excellent tilt in the high-80s.
After Johnson, though, Chicago’s lack of pitching depth on the farm becomes more apparent, as their next-best prospect is either Chris Beck, a 23-year-old with mediocre stuff and inconsistent mechanics but experience at Double-A, or 19-year-old Tyler Danish, the organization’s second-round pick from 2013 who features a legitimate 70-grade sinker from a concerning (though highly effective) near-sidearm slot.
25. San Francisco Giants
While it was a down year for San Francisco Giants pitchers, the same can’t be said for the organization’s promising young arms down on the farm.
Two of the Giants' better pitching prospects, right-handers Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn, headlined one of the best rotations in the minors last season at High-A San Jose—a rotation that also included up-and-coming left-handers Adalberto Mejia and Ty Blach. Meanwhile, another left-hander, Edwin Escobar, jumped on the fast track to the major leagues last year with a dominant performance between San Jose and Double-A Richmond.
In terms of hitters, well, the Giants’ system lacks an impact bat. Mac Williamson stands out among the team’s collection of talent for his robust raw power, but there’s legitimate concern as to whether the hit tool will hold up at higher levels. The team’s first-round picks in 2010 and 2011, outfielder Gary Brown and infielder Joe Panik, both have regressed considerably at higher levels. However, the organization did address the issue this past June by selecting shortstop Christian Arroyo and third baseman Ryder Jones within the first three rounds of the amateur draft.
24. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays’ farm system was weakened lsat year with the graduation of American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers and runner-up Chris Archer to the major leagues. However, as usual, the organization has an endless supply of major league-ready arms in the upper levels poised to make an impact next season.
Replacing Myers as Tampa Bay’s top prospect is left-hander Enny Romero, who flashed his potential during a late-season spot start with the Rays in the heat of a playoff race.
The Rays also have right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, who are both expected to spend a majority of the 2014 season in the major leagues and could even compete for the injured Jeremy Hellickson’s rotation spot during spring training.
In terms of positional talent, 2013 first-round draft pick Nick Ciuffo stands out for his potential as a dual-threat catcher, as does center fielder Andrew Toles for his game-changing speed. The Rays also have a solid collection of high-floor up-the-middle players in shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, second baseman Ryan Brett and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
23. Toronto Blue Jays
If you're a fan of young, high-ceiling pitching prospects, then it doesn't get much better than the Toronto Blue Jays' system.
Right-hander Marcus Stroman is poised to make an impact in the major leagues next season, and he may have opened the year in the starting rotation if not for a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in early 2013. Regardless, the 22-year-old's aggressive approach and command of three plus pitches will make him a fixture in the starting rotation for years to come.
Not far behind Stroman is 21-year-old Aaron Sanchez, who flashes tantalizing, major-league-caliber stuff but lacks the command to push forward developmentally. After that, right-hander Alberto Tirado and lefty Daniel Norris give the organization another pair of intriguing, high-upside arms to be excited about, and both pitchers seem ready to take a big step forward in 2014.
The Blue Jays' prospect pool also features several high-risk/high-reward prospects at up-the-middle positions, including shortstop Franklin Barreto, who made a strong impression across two rookie levels last season as a 17-year-old, and ultra-toolsy center fielder D.J. Davis, the team’s first-round pick from the 2012.
22. New York Yankees
The 2013 season was another rough one for the New York Yankees’ farm system, as Manny Banuelos and Ty Hensley, two of the organization’s more promising young arms, both missed the entire year with respective injuries.
However, they did receive breakthrough performances from right-hander Jose Ramirez, who boasts the best pure stuff in the system but has struggled to stay healthy, and catcher J.R. Murphy, who reached the major leagues as a September call-up and is expected to serve as Brian McCann’s backup next season.
As for well-known position prospects Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams, well, they were reunited at Double-A Trenton during the second half of the regular season, though none of them fared particularly well at the more advanced level. In fact, if anything, they regressed, both individually and collectively. To make matters worse, Heathcott and Austin both spent significant time on the disabled list.
Thankfully, the Yankees received a nice haul in the 2013 draft, thanks to three first-round picks, as they selected third baseman Eric Jagielo, outfielder Aaron Judge and left-hander Ian Clarkin. However, the organization still has a long, long way to go in terms of boasting a top-ranked farm system.
21. Atlanta Braves
Despite graduating Julio Teheran and Alex Wood to the major leagues last season, the Atlanta Braves’ farm system is still rich with projectable arms.
A 2012 first-round pick and Georgia native, Lucas Sims emerged as the organization’s consensus top prospect thanks to an impressive full-season debut at Low-A Rome. The Braves’ first-round pick from 2013, right-hander Jason Hursh, also opened eyes with his lights-out, late-season pro debut alongside Sims in Rome’s starting rotation.
Perhaps the most intriguing arm in Atlanta’s system is flame-throwing right-hander Mauricio Cabrera, who possesses elite arm strength but employs a complicated delivery that limits his control. And after setting a franchise record with nine strikeouts in his scoreless major-league debut last September, it’s a safe bet that right-hander David Hale will earn a more significant role with the Braves next season. Like so many other pitchers in their system, Hale has little mileage on his arm and reached his high floor at an accelerated pace.
In terms of positional talent, the Braves lack an impact prospect but have an interesting blend of high-floor and young players.
Catcher Christian Bethancourt’s defense is ready for the major leagues. However, the 22-year-old’s offensive potential is an ongoing concern. Second baseman Tommy La Stella has raked at every minor-league stop, demonstrating outstanding plate discipline and a knack for getting on base, and he could conceivably replace Dan Uggla at the keystone next season.
The Braves also house two promising young shortstops worth keeping an eye on next season.
The 19-year-old Jose Peraza enjoyed a breakout full-season debut at Rome last year, hitting .288/.341/.371 and ranking second in the South Atlantic League with 64 stolen bases (in 79 attempts). Meanwhile, 20-year-old Johan Camargo impressed during his stateside debut in the rookie-level Appalachian League, demonstrating an advanced approach and feel for hitting.
20. Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins have one of the deepest collections of left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, with four young hurlers who have already experienced success at or above the Double-A level. While top prospect Andrew Heaney has the realistic upside of a No. 3 starter, the team’s other southpaws—Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley and Brian Flynn—are better suited for a role in the back of a rotation.
The system didn’t have a lot of power to begin with before the graduation of Christian Yelich to the major leagues last year. So, replacing Yelich as the team’s top position prospect on this year’s list is fellow outfielder Jake Marisnick, who was rushed from Double-A to the major leagues last season, where he struggled to make adjustments and control the speed of the game. However, 2013 first-round pick (No. 6 overall) Colin Moran isn't far behind Marisnick, and he's the safe bet to rank as the organization's top position prospect at this time next year.
One prospect to keep an eye on in 2014 is catcher J.T. Realmuto. The 2010 third-round draft pick is an excellent athlete with the catch-and-throw skills to at least serve as a major-league backup at maturity, and his bat-to-ball ability and contact rates suggest the bat could be a late-bloomer.
19. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners began to harvest their farm system last season, with highly regarded prospects Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino all graduating to the major leagues. However, the team’s wave of the future isn’t over.
Right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker, who’s regarded as the organization’s top prospect and one of the top pitching prospects in the minor leagues, is expected to compete for a spot in the Opening Day rotation next season following his impressive showing last year as a call-up. Southpaw James Paxton, who also opened eyes during a late-season debut in 2013, will also compete for a rotation spot, though his lack of control and consistency makes him more likely to open the year at Triple-A or possibly in the Mariners’ bullpen.
Beyond Walker and Paxton, Seattle’s system stands out for its crop of young arms in the low minors. The group includes right-handers Victor Sanchez and Edwin Diaz as well as lefties Tyler Pike and Luiz Gohara.
In terms of position talent, 2013 first-round draft pick D.J. Peterson projects to hit for both average and power as a corner infielder, and he could potentially hop on the fast track to the major leagues next season with a hot start at Double-A. Chris Taylor could also find himself in the majors by season’s end, as the former Virginia shortstop is a well-rounded ballplayer with a high floor and the baseball savvy to carve out a role as at least a utility infielder.
The biggest wild card in the Mariners’ system is outfielder Austin Wilson, who fell to them in the second round last June after a disappointing junior season at Stanford. The 22-year-old is an impressive athlete at 6’4”, 210 pounds with big, raw power. However, his inefficient, upper-body swing and aggressive approach raises questions about the future utility of his hit and power tools.
18. Philadelphia Phillies
While the Phillies' system is thin on projectable talent and ranks in the bottom tier among all organizations, things are starting to look up thanks to the emergence of slugger Maikel Franco and shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Franco announced his presence as one of the top power hitters in the minor leagues last season, as the 21-year-old third baseman clubbed 36 doubles and 31 home runs in 581 plate appearances between High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. With a knack for making consistent contact and generating backspin carry, Franco’s power projects favorably at the major-league level and could even play up at Citizens Bank Park.
Meanwhile, Crawford, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, flashed huge upside last summer by winning the batting title in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League with a .345 average in 168 plate appearances. And for the record, speedster Roman Quinn would have ranked in the top five had he not suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the fall.
In terms of pitching, left-hander Jesse Biddle once again gets the nod as the team’s top young arm after a solid but inconsistent showing at Double-A Reading as a 21-year-old. Although he ranked third in the Eastern League with 154 strikeouts in 138.1 innings, the southpaw struggled with his control and command to the tune of a career-worst 5.33 walks per nine innings.
Beyond those players, the Phillies’ prospect pool features its usual mix of high-risk/high-reward position players, such as outfielders Aaron Altherr and Dylan Cozens as well as third baseman Zach Green. And similar to previous years, the organization also houses its share useful major-league arms, including right-handed starter Ethan Martin, who debuted in late 2013, and flame-throwing reliever Ken Giles.
17. Washington Nationals
After finishing the 2011 regular season one game below .500, Washington was pushed to the middle of the first-round drafting order in 2012 with the No. 16-overall pick. However, it may have as well been another top-10 selection, as the Nationals gambled on prep right-hander Lucas Giolito, who showed No. 1-overall-caliber stuff early in the year but missed the entire high school season with an elbow injury.
Making his first professional start in late 2012, Giolito re-injured his elbow and required season-ending Tommy John surgery that also sidelined him for part of the 2013 season. However, the 19-year-old was dominant upon his return to the mound last summer, touching triple digits on the radar gun with an 80-grade fastball and baffling opposing hitters with a future-80 curveball. The right-hander quickly proved to have one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects, and he’s the most talked about young arm headed into the 2014 season.
After Giolito, the Nats’ prospect pool stands out for its depth on the mound, with a slew of hard-throwing right-handers in A.J. Cole, Jake Johansen and Nate Karns, all of whom have the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and the floor of a late-inning reliever.
Outfielders Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza represent the team’s top position prospects headed into 2014, and there’s a decent chance that they both reach the major leagues by season’s end. Meanwhile, the ultra toolsy Michael Taylor made strides at the plate in 2013 and has the potential to move quickly this season with an improved approach.
16. Cleveland Indians
Though the Indians’ farm system is generally thin on projectable young hitters, many of the organization’s top prospects headed into the 2014 season are up-the-middle players.
Leading the charge is 20-year-old Francisco Lindor, who is widely regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues and expected to take over for Asdrubal Cabrera in 2015, if not sooner. Meanwhile, 21-year-old speedster Jose Ramirez received a taste of The Show last season as a September call-up, and he could conceivably make the Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder and pinch runner. Rounding out the Indians’ crop of infield prospects is shortstop Dorssys Paulino, 19, though his stock is down after a disappointing full-season debut in 2013.
Outfielder Clint Frazier, the No. 5-overall draft pick in 2013, possesses some of the best wrist strength and bat speed among all prospects, and he’s ready to emerge as one of the most exciting players in the low-minors next season. Tyler Naquin, the Tribe’s first-rounder in 2012, has continued to surpass expectations at the plate while working his way up the organizational ladder. However, there’s still concern regarding his ability to handle high-quality pitching.
The Indians also have a pair of intriguing catching prospects in Tony Wolters, who impressed last season after moving from the infield to behind the plate, and Francisco Mejia, a 17-year-old with excellent athleticism, a rocket arm and impressive raw power.
However, for what the organization has in hitters it lacks in pitching prospects.
Cody Anderson ranks as the system’s top arm after the right-hander’s impressive showing last season at High-A Carolina, and it shouldn’t be long until Dace Kime and Dylan Baker follow in his footsteps. Meanwhile, Trevor Bauer still is, well, interesting.
Even though the Indians have added several intriguing right-handed pitchers over the last two years, both through the draft and trades, the organization still lacks a southpaw with even marginal big-league upside.
15. Cincinnati Reds
After trading away many of its top prospects in recent years, the Cincinnati Reds' farm system is on the rise thanks to a series of strong drafts.
Billy Hamilton is obviously the first name to come up in any conversation regarding the future of the Reds. However, focusing solely on the speedy center fielder overshadows the fact that the system is rich with outfield talent.
The stock of 22-year-old Yorman Rodriguez is trending up after a long-overdue breakout season at Double-A, as is the stock of 2012 first-rounder Jesse Winker following his impressive full-season debut in Low-A. Last but not least is Phil Ervin, the No. 27-overall pick in the 2013 draft, who posted a .989 OPS with nine home runs in 200 plate appearances this past summer during his professional debut.
On the mound, right-hander Robert Stephenson made a surge up the organizational ladder last season behind his near-elite fastball and devastating breaking ball, and he enters the 2014 season ranked as the team’s top prospect.
After Stephenson, the Reds house several intriguing arms in Michael Lorenzen, Carlos Contreras, Nick Travieso and Ben Lively. However, all four right-handers have fringy command and may be better suited for a career in the bullpen.
Meanwhile, left-hander David Holmberg, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks during the offseason, provides the organization with rotational depth at the Triple-A and major-league levels.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks
For the third consecutive season, the Arizona Diamondbacks' prospect pool is headlined by a host of promising young pitchers.
Archie Bradley, the 21-year-old phenom, will enter the 2014 season ranked not only as the team’s top prospect but also as baseball’s top pitching prospect. After dominating at Double-A Mobile for a majority of last season, Bradley will audition for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, though he’s more likely to arrive in the major leagues around mid-season.
Beyond Bradley, the Diamondbacks' first- and second-round picks from 2013, college right-handers Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair, had impressive professional debuts last summer and could start to move quickly next season. Rounding out the organization’s crop of impressive young arms is Jose Martinez, a 19-year-old who boasts an elite combination of arm speed and strength.
In terms of positional talent, shortstop Chris Owings enters 2014 ready to make an impact in the major leagues, though he’ll be forced to steal the job from incumbent Didi Gregorius during spring training. Last year, the 22-year-old was named the Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Pacific Coast League before holding his own over 20 games with Arizona as a September call-up.
After Owings, the organization is thin on projectable hitters, though catcher Stryker Trahan as well as third basemen Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury are all names to follow closely next season.
13. Texas Rangers
Despite graduating former top prospects Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez to the major leagues in 2013, the Texas Rangers’ farm system remains stacked with young, high-ceiling talent at premium positions.
In fact, half of the team’s top 10 prospects—all of them currently 20 years old or younger—have a realistic chance to play an up-the-middle position at the major-league level.
Replacing Profar at the top of the list is second baseman Rougned Odor, who posted an .839 OPS with 58 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases last year and reached Double-A as a 19-year-old. He’s one of the more advanced and underrated pure hitters in the minors, and he could conceivably make an impact with the Rangers next season in the event of an injury to shortstop Elvis Andrus or Profar.
Meanwhile, Jorge Alfaro emerged as one of the most exciting catching prospects in the game last season thanks to a breakout performance at Low-A Hickory. The 20-year-old has the potential to be an absolute monster at maturity, as he possesses the above-average speed and offensive upside to emerge as a legitimate dual-threat backstop.
Beyond Odor and Alfaro, 2013 first-rounder Alex Gonzalez ranks as the Rangers’ top pitching prospect, and it might not take the right-hander long to reach his realistic ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. Former A’s first-rounder and recent acquisition Michael Choice should see considerable time in the major leagues next season, and he could conceivably carve out a role as corner outfielder/designated hitter. Switch-hitting shortstop Luis Sardinas, 20, lacks the lofty ceiling of the team’s other middle infielders, but his strong defense could get him to the majors in 2014 in a reserve role.
A slew of high-risk/high-reward prospects rounds out the Rangers’ top prospects, including prodigious slugger Joey Gallo (40 home runs, 172 strikeouts in 2013) and toolsy outfielders Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. While all four players have All-Star-level ceilings, they each will require significant refinement in the minors and are likely several years away from reaching the major leagues.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers' system took a hit last season with the graduation of top prospect Yasiel Puig to the major leagues. However, the organization had a slew of other promising young players step up in his place.
Shortstop Corey Seager and outfielder Joc Pederson both had strong seasons at their respective levels and continue to move at an accelerated pace through the minor leagues. But with the organization’s aggressive spending on free agents (both international and domestic), it’s not guaranteed that there'll be a spot for either player in the everyday lineup once they are deemed to be major-league ready.
And then, of course, there was the emergence of 17-year-old Julio Urias—technically, it was his age-16 season—who thrived as the youngest player at a full-season level. In what would have been his sophomore year of high school, the left-hander carved up considerably older hitters in the Low-A Midwest League.
Meanwhile, right-hander Zach Lee, the team’s first-round bonus baby from the 2010 draft—he accepted a $5.25 million signing bonus to pass on a football scholarship to Louisiana State—turned in the best season of his professional career at Double-A Chattanooga.
Ross Stripling, a 2012 fifth-rounder, spent most of the year pitching alongside Lee in the Double-A rotation, and he continued to quietly post solid numbers against advanced hitters in the Texas League. Expect both right-handers to receive their first taste of the major leagues in 2014.
The Dodgers also added a pair of advanced college arms in Chris Anderson and Tom Windle through the draft last June, and both pitchers impressed in their respective professional debuts. While neither player is expected to contribute in the major leagues next season, there’s a realistic chance they both finish the year in the Double-A rotation.
11. Baltimore Orioles
Though Baltimore’s system is thin on positional talent, its decision to draft high-ceiling pitching prospects in the first round in each of the last three years could produce one of the best homegrown rotations in the major leagues by late 2016.
After climbing from Low-A to the major leagues during his 2012 professional debut, Dylan Bundy’s promising career hit a bump in the road last season when an elbow injury forced the right-hander to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery in May. Though he likely was ticketed for the minor leagues to open the 2013 season, Bundy was expected to emerge as a staple in the team’s starting rotation by the All-Star break (if not earlier).
Depending on when he returns to the mound in 2014, the 21-year-old could conceivably reach the major leagues by season’s end. However, all expectations regarding his performance need to be tempered, as is the case with any young arm coming back from elbow surgery.
Because Bundy hasn’t thrown a pitch professionally in over a year, right-hander Kevin Gausman, the No. 4-overall pick in the 2012 draft, ranks as the organization's top prospect for the upcoming season. Rushed to the major leagues early last season, Gausman struggled as a member of the starting rotation before dominating out of the bullpen later in the year.
However, with outstanding command of a plus-plus fastball/changeup combination and a slider that could represent another plus offering at maturity, the 23-year-old has the realistic ceiling of a front-of-the-rotation starter and has only begun to scratch the surface of his ultimate potential.
Meanwhile, 2013 first-rounder Hunter Harvey has impact starter written all over him. The projectable right-hander opened eyes during his professional debut last summer with an electric fastball/curveball combination as well as a feel for pitching that could have him in the major leagues ahead of schedule.
Baltimore's prospect pool is essentially a collection of high-floor prospects beyond their prized right-handers. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez has surpassed expectations as a younger player at advanced levels in each of the last two years, and he should provide a nice contrast to the team’s power arms in its future rotation.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop received his first taste of the major leagues in late 2013, announcing his arrival with a home run in his first career start. While he’s unlikely to break camp as the team’s second baseman, especially following the offseason acquisition of Jemile Weeks, the 22-year-old could carve out a role as a utility infielder next season.
One prospect to keep an eye on in 2014 is Chance Sisco, the team’s second-round draft pick last June. The left-handed hitting catcher is still new to the position and will require considerable refinement in the minor leagues, but his across-the-board tools and mature baseball skills suggest a breakout full-season debut is on the horizon.
10. Colorado Rockies
The arrival of Colorado’s youth movement during the 2014 season has the potential to transform the team’s promising starting rotation into one of the best in the National League.
Flame-throwing right-hander Jonathan Gray, the third-overall pick in the 2013 draft, should move quickly next year behind his power arsenal, as he’ll presumably begin the season at Double-A Tulsa before reaching the majors ahead of schedule during the summer.
Meanwhile, 2012 supplemental first-rounder Eddie Butler and his filthy, bat-missing arsenal could make a run at the Opening Day rotation with a strong spring training. Either way, he’s a candidate to be one of the first high-profile pitching prospects to reach the major leagues next season.
The Rockies also house two of the more intriguing outfield prospects in the low minors in David Dahl and Raimel Tapia.
Dahl, the 10th-overall pick in the 2012 draft, enjoyed an outstanding professional debut after signing, batting .379/.423/.625 with 41 extra-base hits in 306 plate appearances in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. However, the 19-year-old played in only 10 games in 2013 after suffering a hamstring injury early in the season.
Like Dahl, Tapia, 20, put up monster numbers during his professional (or stateside in his case) debut in the Pioneer League. The left-handed batter absolutely raked in 2013, posting a .357/.399/.562 batting line with 33 extra-base hits in 286 plate appearances. Similarly, third baseman Ryan McMahon, the Rockies’ second-rock pick last June, also enjoyed an impressive pro debut in the Pioneer League, posting a .984 OPS with 32 extra-base hits (11 home runs) in 251 plate appearances.
9. San Diego Padres
The Padres’ farm system features one of the finest collections of high-ceiling talent among all 30 teams, highlighted by Austin Hedges, the top-ranked catching prospect in the minor leagues; Max Fried, one of the more projectable left-handed pitchers; and the criminally underrated right-hander Matt Wisler.
The organization addressed its lack of power-hitting prospects last June when it selected Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe in the first round of the draft. Meanwhile, fellow outfielder Rymer Liriano will make his highly anticipated return to the field next year after Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2013 season.
The Padres also have a pair of right-handed pitchers looking to return to the major leagues next year. Burch Smith finished 2013 with a strong showing in the rotation after he was rushed to the majors earlier in the year, and Casey Kelly—who also missed the entire 2013 season after Tommy John surgery—will try to regain the form that helped him reach the majors in late 2012.
And for what it's worth, I still consider Joe Ross to be a high-ceiling pitching prospect and believe he's poised for a breakout performance next season.
8. Kansas City Royals
Just a few years ago, the Royals’ system was considered the best in baseball thanks to the presence of position players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers. These days, the system stands out for its collection of pitching prospects. The Royals have a pair of near major-league-ready arms in Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura, as well as prospects Miguel Almonte and Sean Manaea, who both have huge potential but lack experience.
The Royals’ system is also home to Raul Mondesi (yes, he’s the son of that Raul Mondesi), who emerged as one of the better young shortstops in the minors last year as the youngest everyday player at a full-season level. The organization also added a high-floor third baseman in last year’s draft, selecting Hunter Dozier with the eighth-overall pick so as to save bonus pool money for Manaea in the second round. However, Dozier quickly proved during his professional debut last summer that he was worth the gamble.
The Royals have been attempting to develop an impact outfielder for the better part of the last half-decade, and they would have finally had one last year if not for the offseason trade of Myers to the Rays.
Anyway, Jorge Bonifacio (guess who he’s related to?) has developed nicely in spite of challenging assignments and should hit enough to serve as an everyday player. The team is also hopeful that 2011 bonus baby Bubba Starling can put things together soon rather than later, as the toolsy outfield has fallen behind the developmental curve over the last two seasons. However, while both players could be options in the coming years, the Royals’ dearth of outfield support in the upper-levels of its system remains a serious concern headed into the 2014 season.
7. New York Mets
While it was another forgettable year for the New York Mets, three of the their top prospects did reach the major leagues and offered a glimpse of the franchise’s bright future.
Zack Wheeler, a 23-year-old who was acquired shrewdly in late 2011 from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Carlos Beltran, emerged as one of the more exciting young pitchers in the game, and it’s easy to envision him following Harvey in the rotation for years to come.
Meanwhile, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who served as the centerpiece of the offseason deal that sent former Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays, once again battled injuries but still made his highly anticipated debut in the major leagues.
Lastly, 22-year-old Wilmer Flores, who has been a name in the Mets’ system dating back to 2007, was aggressively promoted to the major leagues in the wake of a David Wright injury in August.
The 21-year-old Noah Syndergaard—also acquired in the Dickey trade—emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the minor leagues last season. Boasting a four-pitch arsenal that features three future plus or better offerings, the right-hander has one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects and projects as a potential front-of-the-rotation force.
Beyond Syndergaard, the Mets’ prospect pool is comprised of mostly positional talent, including d’Arnaud and Flores, who each failed to accrue 130 at-bats last season and did not qualify as rookies.
The organization is hopeful that 2013 first-rounder Dominic Smith will be its long-term answer at first base, as the 18-year-old left-handed hitter projects to hit for both average and power at maturity. And speaking of first-round draft picks, 2011 bonus baby Brandon Nimmo held his own last year in his full-season debut. However, the outfielder has been slow to develop overall and will presumably require several additional years in the minor leagues.
The Mets also house a few high-floor bats with questionable defensive profiles in Flores and catcher Kevin Plawecki. Finally, be sure to keep an eye on shortstop Amed Rosario in 2014, as it wouldn’t surprise me if the 18-year-old ranks as the team’s top prospect heading into the 2015 season.
6. St. Louis Cardinals
Even after the graduation of top prospects Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha to the major leagues last season, the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system is still loaded with an ideal mixture of high-ceiling and high-floor talent.
Two of the organization’s top-ranked prospects from last year, outfielder Oscar Taveras and second baseman Kolten Wong, are still in the mix for 2014. Wong was promoted to the major leagues last August and ultimately landed a spot on the team’s postseason roster, but he struggled to make the most of his limited playing time.
Taveras, on the other hand, was limited to only 46 Triple-A games last year due to an ankle injury sustained in May that led to season-ending surgery in mid-August. Even though there’s a realistic chance he will open the 2014 season back at Triple-A, expect the 21-year-old to make up for the lost time with an eye-opening rookie campaign.
In terms of pitching prospects, the Cardinals’ system doesn’t feature as many flame-throwing studs as it did a year ago, but that’s not to say it’s short on arms.
The Cardinals house one of the more exciting pitching prospects below A-ball in right-hander Alex Reyes. Like so many of the great arms to rise through their system in recent years, the 19-year-old possesses a special combination of athleticism, arm strength and pitchability. However, given the state of the team’s big-league rotation, don’t expect him to be rushed up the ladder without sufficient reason. The Cardinals’ system also features a deep collection of left-handed pitchers including both of its 2013 first-round draft picks, Marco Gonzalez and Rob Kaminsky, as well as Tim Cooney, who should see time in the major leagues next season.
And for those of you hoping to identify the next Cardinals prospect to overachieve and carve out an everyday role in the major leagues, then look no farther than outfielder Stephen Piscotty. After his strong showing last season between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, followed by an equally impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League, the 22-year-old may not be long for the minors in 2014.
5. Boston Red Sox
Many of Boston’s prospects that took a step forward in 2012 played a role in the team’s World Series title last year, as they received contributions from top-ranked prospects such as infielder Xander Bogaerts, outfielder Jackie Bradley and right-handers Allen Webster and Brandon Workman. Amazingly, all four players have rookie eligibility for the 2014 season.
In addition to housing high-ceiling players such as Bogaerts and left-hander Henry Owens, Boston has projectable depth—guys that will be major-leaguers—at most positions. All of their top position prospects possess a unique feel for hitting and an advanced approach (Garin Cecchini, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart), and they should continue to move up the ladder quickly as a result. The organization also has a cast of power arms waiting patiently in the high-minors for crack at the major leagues.
Their overall depth ultimately allowed the organization to gamble on upside last June in the First-Year Player Draft, when it selected prep prospect Trey Ball, a 6’6” left-handed pitcher, in the first round. They also drafted catcher Jon Denny in the third. They also signed highly touted Dominican third baseman Rafael Devers during the international signing period.
4. Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs' collection of young hitters is among the best in baseball, with four top-ranked prospects that have the potential to be All-Stars in their respective primes.
Leading the pack is shortstop Javier Baez, who is arguably the most exciting offensive prospect in the game thanks to Gary Sheffield-like bat speed and robust power to all fields. Last season, the now-21-year-old posted a .920 OPS with 37 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 537 plate appearances between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
Alongside Baez on the Cubs’ future infield is third baseman Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2013, who possesses the type of obscene raw power needed to hit 35-plus home runs at the highest level.
The organization also houses a pair promising outfielders in Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Though they collectively lack a game of experience at the Double-A level, both players have the tools to move quickly through the minor leagues and should begin to do so in the upcoming season.
Given the Cubs’ positional depth in the minor leauges, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer now will likely focus on adding impactful arms to all levels of the system.
That being said, the organization has added several potential back-end starters since the beginning of the 2012 season, acquiring right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Neil Ramirez via trades with the Texas Rangers, and also landing Paul Blackburn and Pierce Johnson through the draft. The only high-ceiling arm in the Cubs’ system is C.J. Edwards—acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza trade last summer—but he’s still considered a risky prospect given his undersized, wiry frame and lack of experience above the High-A level.
3. Houston Astros
The Houston Astros have built one of the more impressive and well-rounded farm systems over the last several years, targeting high-ceiling players with its first-round draft picks and adding depth through various under-the-radar trades.
Many of the organization’s highly touted prospects are former first-round draft picks (including the supplemental first round), a group that’s led by shortstop Carlos Correa and right-hander Mark Appel, whom the Astros selected No. 1-overall in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
More significantly, the Astros should receive contributions from several of its top prospects in 2014—though it’s doubtful any of them crack the Opening Day roster. Appel is expected to open the season at Double-A Corpus Christi and be ready to make a push for a spot in the team’s starting rotation by mid-season. Meanwhile, flame-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz could find himself alongside Appel in the rotation later in the season should his control and command develop as hoped.
Outfielder George Springer flirted with the 40-40 club last year and blew past expectations at Double-A and Triple-A, and it’s seemingly only a matter of time until the Astros turn him loose in the major leagues. Lastly, Jonathan Singleton is a strong candidate to turn in a bounce-back performance after a dismal 2013 campaign, and he has an open spot waiting for him at first base.
Though it might sound crazy, there’s a remote chance the Astros could give Correa a brief taste of The Show late next season, especially if he starts at Double-A and stays healthy. If that doesn’t happen, the 19-year-old is still a safe bet to join the parent club in early 2015.
As the aforementioned players gradually arrive in the major leagues during the upcoming season, the Astros’ next wave of impact prospects should be starting to make noise at the more advanced minor-league levels. Right-handed pitchers Vince Velasquez, Lance McCullers and Michael Feliz could be members of the Double-A rotation by season’s end and, if they continue to progress as hoped, banging on the door of the major leagues the following year. Meanwhile, left-handed hitting third baseman Rio Ruiz, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, is one of my top breakout candidates for the upcoming season after cracking 56 extra-base hits last year as a 19-year-old.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
With a wave of impact prospects poised to reach the major leagues next season and even more high-ceiling talent developing in its lower levels, a strong case can be made that the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system is the best in baseball.
Even after the graduation of Gerrit Cole to the major leagues last season, the Pirates still boast a deep collection of high-end pitching prospects. It shouldn’t be long until right-hander Jameson Taillon—the second overall pick in the 2010 draft after Bryce Harper—joins Cole in the big-league rotation, and Nick Kingham isn’t far behind after a breakout 2013 campaign between High-A and Double-A.
In the lower levels, 6'7" right-hander Tyler Glasnow absolutely dominated last year during his full-season debut, holding opposing hitters to an anemic .142 batting average while piling up a South Atlantic League-leading 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings for Low-A West Virginia.
The system also stands out for its outfield depth, with top prospect Gregory Polanco on the verge of reaching the major leagues and taking over as the Pirates’ everyday right fielder. Beyond Polanco, switch-hitter Josh Bell’s potent bat suggests breakout potential and could result in a taste of Double-A late next season, while 2013 first-rounders Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, as well as New York-Penn League standout Harold Ramirez, should all make their full-season debuts during the upcoming season.
1. Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins check in with this year’s top-ranked farm system, thanks in part to the presence of five soon-to-be top-100 prospects, including outfielder Byron Buxton, baseball’s No. 1-ranked prospect, and third baseman Miguel Sano, the top power-hitter in the minor leagues.
Yet, because the Twins’ prospect duo tends to steal the headlines (albeit deservedly), the organization's full collection of promising young hitters are easily overlooked.
The team houses two projectable second base prospects in Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco—though there’s a decent chance Rosario, who will serve a 50-game suspension to open the season after a second violation of the minor-league drug prevention program, winds up in the outfield—both of whom have good bat-to-ball skills and project to hit for average at the highest level. Meanwhile, Josmil Pinto appears poised to take over behind the plate for Joe Mauer out of the gate following his impressive showing in 2013 as a late-season call-up.
But surprisingly, the Twins addition of much needed power arms over the last two years is the reason they boast this year’s top-ranked farm system. Alex Meyer, a 6'9" right-hander who was acquired from the Nationals last offseason, is nearly ready for an audition in the big-league rotation, as he possesses the best stuff in the system with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and devastating slider. The Twins have also done well in the draft during that span, targeting young, high-upside arms such as Jose Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves and Kohl Stewart, and they also made a nice find in 18-year-old Australian left-hander Lewis Thorpe.