Minor League Ball baseball organization rankings for 2014
I read too much post-modern philosophy in college and the idea of saying "this farm system is better than that farm system" has never appealed to me outside of generalities. By this I mean, everyone knows that the Red Sox farm system (one of the best) is better than the Brewers farm system (one of the worst), but I find an actual ranking of all 30 teams in "order" is problematic.
One can say with a great measure of accuracy that the Twins and Cubs have better farm systems than the Angels and Braves, but the statement "the Twins definitely rank first and the Cubs definitely rank fifth" contains within it so many subjective assumptions that it could not possibly be considered objectively true.
That said, we are in the subjective opinion business and there is obviously a huge amount of interest in these kinds of lists. So here it is, a ranking of all 30 major league baseball farm systems. The focus here is on players currently in the farm system, or players who are on the big league rosters but are rookies entering 2014. I have broken the list down into five tiers: Five Elite Systems, five Very Good Systems, ten Solid Systems, eight Needs Improvement Systems, and two Well, Nobody Has a Completely Farm System systems.
The list tries to find a balance between all the various factors. Both high-end impact talent and overall depth are considered.
THE ELITE: These organizations clearly rank as the top group for me, though you could quibble about the exact placements.
1) Minnesota Twins: This system has everything you want: high-end impact talent like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Alex Meyer, plus considerable depth backing them up and other prospects who could break through as big names in the next year (Kohl Stewart, Lewis Thorpe). There’s pitching and hitting and just a good general balance of tools, upside, and polish.
2) Boston Red Sox: Like the Twins, the Red Sox have just about everything and have shown the ability to find talent from many different sources. I think they are a little stronger in hitting and a little weaker in upside pitching than the Twins. Graduations here could move them down a little next year.
3) Houston Astros: I know it is hard to be patient, but this system really does have an awful lot of talent, both impact guys (George Springer, Jon Singleton, Mike Foltynewicz, etc.) and depth contributors (a horde of recent draftees and more trade acquistions) all busy percolating.
4) Pittsburgh Pirates: Another system with a broad talent base built on the draft and international acquisitions. Remember that Gregory Polanco cost just $150,000, Alen Hanson just $90,000. I like that kind of efficiency.
5) Chicago Cubs: Picking early always helps but the Cubs have made good use of it, adding impact bats like Kris Byrant, Javier Baez, and Albert Almora. They’ve invested heavily in Latin America. Pitching remains weaker than hitting but shows signs of improvement.
THE VERY GOOD: These organizations may not have quite as much firepower or depth as the top five, but they are productive and could move up into the top group this year.
6) St. Louis Cardinals: Recent major league graduations have reduced immediate farm system depth, but the Cardinals have shown the ability to recharge quickly and the system retains many interesting players, beginning with Oscar Taveras of course. There’s still so much depth that some guys who would stand out as top prospects in some organizations get overlooked here.
7) Kansas City Royals: Yordano Ventura will graduate and so could a healthy Kyle Zimmer, but there’s more backing them up including 2013 draft steal Sean Manaea. Best of them all in the long run might be shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi.
8) Colorado Rockies: I think the Rockies system is somewhat underrated and overlooked, but you have a pair of outstanding right-handers in Eddie Butler and Jon Gray, a top outfield prospect in David Dahl, and a host of solid Grade B/B- types behind them. There are also some high ceiling guys at the lower levels who could break through, particularly outfielder Raimel Tapia. Don’t forget sleeper prospect Dan Winkler.
9) San Diego Padres: Another system that deserves more attention than it gets. I worry about Austin Hedges’ bat and they could use more impact hitting, but there’s broad depth in pitching prospects.
10) Texas Rangers: This system remains loaded with high-risk, high-ceiling talent, some of which is blossoming (Joey Gallo) and some of which is stagnant. Can they fix Cody Buckel? Watch out for right-handers Luke Jackson and Alex Gonzalez over the next year, both could be fine starters.
THE SOLID: This is the broad mass of farm systems that rank as decent. Some have good impact talent but need more depth, others have depth but need more potential stars.
11) Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers throw money at problems and are aggressive with international talent, which is better than not having money to throw, plus they hit their targets well. Conventional drafting has brought mixed results but Joc Pederson looks like a winner
12) New York Mets: If things break right, the Mets could jump several notches by the end of the season. They have a broad group of solid prospects, particularly on the pitching side, beginning with potential ace Noah Syndergaard but extending beyond him with Rafael Montero and Jake DeGrom, and that’s just at Las Vegas.
13) A solid mid-rank system anchored by two potential number one starters in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, with Hunter Harvey and Eduardo Rodriguez also standing out. Hitting is weaker, but first baseman Christian Walker could be having a breakout season in Double-A.
14) Cincinnati Reds: Like the Orioles, a solid mid-rank system with impact talents Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker the big names to watch, plus breakout right-hander Ben Lively. There are some intriguing potential role players as well.
15) This system could leap several spots by the end of the year headlined by Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, and Alex Sanchez. The position side is quite toolsy but has high bust potential. Watch Low-A third baseman Mitch Nay closely.
16) Arizona Diamondbacks: There's been some shuffling here over the last couple of years due to trades,but this is another mid-rank organization. We'll have to see how Archie Bradley's elbow holds up, but 2013 draftees Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair look good so far.
17) Graduations have thinned this system to some extent, although not as much as commonly believed. There's still a lot of talent here, although Taijuan Walker's health problems cause a lot of heartburn on the heels of Danny Hultzen's implosion and emphasize the volatility of young pitching. Infielder Chris Taylor and outfielder Jabari Blash make Triple-A Tacoma a fun team to watch and both could see Seattle later this year.
18) Impressive depth in pitching prospects is the big positive here and they seem to find solid arms everywhere: Latin America, college, high school. The weakness remains hitting talent. Catching prospect Andrew Susac is out with a concussion in Triple-A but when/if he gets healthy I like him as a breakthrough guy.
19) Not a terrific system but not a bad one either, particularly with J.P. Crawford looking like a winner as a first round pick. Maikel Franco is pulling out of his early slump and there's also some upside with young power hitting potential, but pitching depth needs help.
20) Any team would love to have Francisco Lindor, Clint Frazier, and a revived Trevor Bauer. There are several Grade C/C+ talents who have high upsides but need more development time, so it would not surprise me if the Indians move forward on rankings as the season progresses.
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: These are systems that have significant weaknesses but are not hopeless. Some could improve into solidness soon.
21) The good: considerable depth in Grade C/C+ types, plus a good track record of identifying lower-round useful talent. Some intriguing power bats and bullpen arms. The bad: injuries have been a frequent theme in recent years; Mason Williams has been a huge disappointment.
22) Washington Nationals: System in transitional phase, with many of their most physically talented prospects just starting their careers at the lower levels. Lucas Giolito could be a gem of course, but other injury risks (Sammy Solis, Matt Purke) haven't panned out as well.
23) Chicago White Sox: Strengths include infield and leadoff options, speed, general athleticism, and some decent arms. The bad news is that some of the athletes can't actually play baseball very well. It looks like Courtney Hawkins was not ruined by his aggressive handling last year, and of course Jose Abreu leads the American League in home runs.
24) Graduations hurt depth and lack of impact hitting other than Colin Moran is a problem. On the other hand, Andrew Heaney looks excellent and there is some depth in spare parts for the pitching staff. This system is rather underrated in general and you can make a case as high as 20 I think.
25) In a down phase due to graduations, injuries, and some persistent problems developing hitters. Picking in the later slots of the draft has caught up with them and the other parts of the operation haven't fully compensated. There are some decent arms still available.
26) Atlanta Braves: Similar to the Rays I think, there are some decent arms and the Latin American operation works well but late draft slots have caught up with them and hitting is scarce. They do good work signing undrafted free agents.
27) Oakland Athletics: This system could rank much better with a few months of additional data. Addison Russell and Billy McKinney are the class of the system, there are some potential role players and decent arms. There is more potential for quick improvement than the teams below.
28) Persistently a lower-ranked system every year, but this is a result of a deliberate strategy of flipping prospects quickly rather than incompetence on the part of the scouts. There is pitching potential here, at least in back-end starting types and lively bullpen arms. Hitting is thinner but they come up with late-round steals like Devon Travis often enough to stand out. Very aggressive in Latin America. I would clearly take this system over Milwaukee and Anaheim.
WELL, NOBODY HAS A COMPLETELY EMPTY SYSTEM: No system is completely devoid of talent, but these two need a lot help and have less chance for rapid improvement than the systems above them.
29) Milwaukee Brewers: There's some physical upside at the lower levels but it is a long way off. The Brewers have shown the ability to pick up some sleepers in the draft, but as currently configured the system offers a lot of mediocrity and little to get excited about. One exception is Clint Coulter who is breaking out in the Midwest League.
30) Los Angeles Angels: The impression I get is that the Angels are able to identify some players with big league potential in the middle and later rounds and have found some bargains (Kole Calhoun, several relief arms) that way. That’s a nice skill to have and necessary condition for a healthy farm system. The problem is that it is not a sufficient condition: they have no star-caliber talent to go with role guys. You can only ride your Mike Trout laurels for so long. They are investing more In Latin America but that will take time to pan out.