Minor League Ball's 2015 MLB farm System Rankings
If you read too much post-modern philosophy, you may realize that lists like this are fraught with trouble. For example, everyone knows the Cubs farm system has more talent than the Tiger farm system. However, the two organizations have adopted very different philosophies, so saying that the Tigers have a "bad" farm system can be somewhat misleading and could imply negative things about their scouts or player development personnel that aren’t true.
In other words, be careful with lists like this. As with everything it is a moving target and the general tiers are more important than exact placement. Also remember that the rankings refer to talent currently in the minor league system, or players on the projected big league roster who are still rookies entering 2015. A team could be in a down phase cycle but still have a good reputation for talent development.
The lists look for a balance between upside and broader depth.
ELITE: These organizations clearly rank as the top group in my opinion, though you could quibble about the exact placements.
1) Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have impact talent with no fewer than three hopefully future stars in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler. Kyle Schwarber may not be far behind and there is considerable depth backing them up so that the potential failure of Javier Baez is not a disaster. Pitching isn’t as strong as hitting but has shown enough improvement to make this the top system. Last year’s ranking: 5th.
2) Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox have plenty of financial resources and they deploy them well, scoring draft successes like Blake Swihart but also doing well in trades (Eduardo Rodriguez), traditional international signings (Manuel Margot, Rafael Devers), and less traditional big-name Cuban imports (Rusney Castillo, Yoan Moncada). Last year: 2nd.
3) Minnesota Twins: Injuries to Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton made 2014 troublesome but both still project as stars and the system retains depth behind them with both solid pitching (Alex Meyer, Jose Berrios, Trevor May, Kohl Stewart, Nick Burdi) and hitting (Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario). Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana were big successes for their international free agents. The Twins are also creative about looking at Australian and European talent. Last year: 1st.
4) Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager and Joc Pederson are the headline hitters and 2014 draftee Alex Verdugo also bears close watching. Lefty Julio Urias is incredibly young and incredibly talented and right-hander Grant Holmes from the ’14 draft could move very quickly. Like the Red Sox, the Dodgers are willing to be very aggressive financially and have shown this with Cuban talent. This system was thin a few years ago but once the scouts were given money to work with, it improved rapidly. Last year: 11th.
5) Texas Rangers: The Rangers offer considerable high-risk/high-reward prospects beginning with megaslugger Joey Gallo, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Nomar Mazara plus several other intriguing tool sheds. Pitching isn’t as strong but there are live arms available including Alex "Chi-Chi" Gonzalez and closer prospect Keone Kela. Last year: 10th.
STRONG: These organizations may not have quite as much firepower or depth as the top five, but they should be considered very productive with a chance to move into the top group soon.
6) New York Mets: There isn’t quite as much star potential here but there is a LOT of solid talent especially on the pitching side (Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz). Catcher Kevin Plawecki, outfielder Brandon Nimmo, second baseman Dilson Herrera, and 2014 first-rounder Michael Conforto all project as regulars. There are several potential fourth starters and relief options. This is clearly a system on the upswing. Last year: 12th.
7) Pittsburgh Pirates: Still very solid despite graduation of Gregory Polanco and injury to Jameson Taillon. Tyler Glasnow could be outstanding as a starter while outfielders Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, and Harold Ramirez plus infielder Alen Hanson all have regular potential. Last year: 4th.
8) Toronto Blue Jays: The big three here are outfielder Dalton Pompey, a tools player who has developed skills, and the excellent pitching duo of Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez. That could be a mound quartet if the decision to bring Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna north ahead of schedule works out. If 2014 draftees Jeff Hoffman and Max Pentecost recover properly from injuries this will look even better. Last year: 15th.
9) Colorado Rockies: Still an above-average system despite a few disappointments last year, though the development of outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia and third baseman Ryan McMahon were all large positives. 2014 first-rounder Kyle Freeland joins 2013 first rounder Jon Gray as solid rotation projections. Last year: 8th.
10) Houston Astros: Graduations thinned the talent available on the farm but despite the fiasco with Brady Aiken there is still plenty of interest including mega-prospect shortstop Carlos Correa and enigmatic-but-talented right-hander Mark Appel. Trade acquisition third baseman Colin Moran from the Marlins and hard-throwers like Michael Feliz and Lance McCullers add additional depth. Last year: 3rd.
SOLID: This is the broad mass of farm systems that are neither extremely strong nor especially weak. Some have good impact talent but need more depth, others have depth but need more potential stars.
11) Arizona Diamondbacks: Moving up from last year thanks to the development of pitchers Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair despite a disappointing season from Archie Bradley. Touki Toussaint could be the best of them all. Hitting is not as strong but Brandon Drury and Jake Lamb provide corner solid options over the next year or two. Last year: 16th
12) Atlanta Braves: This system looked very thin before a rash of off-season trades recharged the talent pool, particularly on the mound with additions of Tyrell Jenkins, Mike Foltynewicz, Manny Banuelos, and Max Fried, though we’ll have to see how their health concerns pan out. Jose Peraza, Jace Peterson, Ozhaino Albies, and Christian Bethancourt provide up-the-middle defensive depth. Watch for speedster Mallex Smith. Last year: 26th
13) New York Yankees: The big news here is the gigantic amount of money poured into the international market last summer. Despite that the already-present talent is rather under-rated in my view, with sluggers Greg Bird and Aaron Judge looking very impressive and interesting pitchers headlined by Luis Severino, Ian Clarkin, and fast-moving reliever Jacob Lindgren. Severino cost just $225,000 to sign; money isn’t everything. Last year: 21st.
14) Cincinnati Reds: Solid mid-rank system with a highly-promising bat in Jesse Winker and several players with stronger physical tools but weaker baseball skills, which has been a standard Reds theme. Other bats to watch include Kyle Waldrop and Alex Blandino and toolsy Aristedes Aquino. I still like Robert Stephenson despite his command issues last year and many scouts are in love with right-hander Michael Lorenzen and southpaw Amir Garrett. Last year: 14th
15) St. Louis Cardinals: Looking to be in a transitional phase thanks to graduations and tragedy but with a proven track record. The current strength is pitching led by ready-now lefty Marco Gonzales and fellow southpaws Rob Kaminsky and Tim Cooney plus promising right-handers Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes. Outfielders Randall Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty have little left to prove in the minors. Expect this system to recharge quickly. Last year: 6th.
16) Washington Nationals: The Nationals have intriguing pitching depth with Lucas Giolito leading the way. A.J. Cole, 2014 first-rounder Erick Fedde (once he recovers from Tommy John), and emerging Reynaldo Lopez add further right-handed depth. Hitting isn’t as deep but toolsy outfielder Michael Taylor should be a broad contributor and Wilmer Difo is another name to watch. A solid mid-rank system on the upswing. Last year: 22nd.
17) Seattle Mariners: Graduations, trades, and a tragedy have thinned this system compared to a few years ago but offensive depth is still quite interesting, beginning with right-handed power hitters D.J. Peterson, Patrick Kivlehan, Austin Wilson, 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson, Gabby Guerrero, Tyler O’Neill, and young infielder Ketel Marte. Pitching is not quite as deep although Danny Hultzen looks revived and fellow lefty Tyler Olson drew praise this spring. Last year: 17th.
18) Kansas City Royals: Yordano Ventura was a major key for success last year and a feather in the cap of player development given his small $28,000 bonus. There is still some pitching depth with lefties Sean Manaea and Brandon Finnegan but Kyle Zimmer’s health issues are a negative. There is less hitting depth, with toolsy athletes like Raul Mondesi and Jorge Bonifacio not living up to expectations as yet. Last year: 7th.
19) Tampa Bay Rays: Lots of shuffling here with trades and we need to see how things settle down. The top three prospects (Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson, Steve Souza) are all new acquisitions and recent drafts have brought mixed results at best. Keep an eye on right-hander Brent Honeywell who has serious breakthrough potential. Last year: 25th.
20) Philadelphia Phillies: This is another organization undergoing trade changes with Ben Lively, Tim Windle, Zach Eflin added to the mix this past winter. 2014 draftee Aaron Nola could also move very quickly into the rotation. Rule 5 man Odubel Herrera and third base prospect Maikel Franco are ready or near-ready bats. More depth is needed especially with hitting behind J.P. Crawford. Last year: 19th.
SO-SO: These are systems that have weaknesses but are not hopeless. Some could improve into solidness soon; others are reputable systems in a temporary down phase.
21) Cleveland Indians: Although the ranking hasn’t changed much there are signs of improvement here, with Francisco Lindor still at the top of the chart but with outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, talented first base prospect Bobby Bradley, and third baseman Giovanny Urshela all showing regular potential. Don’t forget James Ramsey, Tyler Naquin, and Francisco Mejia. They need more pitching to go with the bats. Last year: 20th.
22) San Francisco Giants: Pitching is the strength here (Tyler Beede, Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Keury Mella, Ty Blach, Luis Ysla, Adalberto Mejia) and the Giants always seem to come up with relief arms when needed, even other team castoffs like Erik Cordier and Hunter Strickland. Joe Panik was a nice development last year and Andrew Susac should also be a regular if they can find a spot for him. More hitting depth would help but the Giants run a very competent operation that is often under-rated. Last year: 18th.
23) Chicago White Sox: Like the Indians the ranking hasn’t changed much here but there are signs of life and rapid improvement is possible. Carlos Rodon won’t need long and there are other intriguing arms behind him headlined by Frank Montas, Tyler Danish, and Spencer Adams. Hitting depth is questionable with tools players like Tyler Anderson and Courtney Hawkins showing huge physical potential but the need for more polish. If you could combine the Indians hitters with the White Sox pitchers you’d have an excellent system. Last year: 23rd.
24) Milwaukee Brewers: This system still has some holes but they do have several solid prospects and the 2014 draft class could be a real winner. We need to see how ’14 draftee Monte Harrison (watch out for him) and big international signing Gilbert Lara put their tools to use but a year from now they could both push this system much higher. Clint Coulter, Tyrone Taylor, and Orlando Arcia could also become regulars. Pitching is concentrated in several C+ types and fourth/fifth starter candidates but they have more depth than the teams behind them and overall this system is improving. Last year: 29th.
25) San Diego Padres: In a down phase due to trades and the new front office has some work to do. Austin Hedges draws praise for his glove but his bat looks quite doubtful if we’re being realistic. Right-handed power bats Hunter Renfroe and Rymer Liriano look great in uniform but will have to prove that their average and OBP will be acceptable. Can Casey Kelly stay healthy, and is Matt Wisler a future ace or a fifth starter? Last year: 9th.
26) Baltimore Orioles: Thinner due to graduations. Can Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey follow Kevin Gausman to major league success? That seems very plausible if physical issues don’t get in the way and there are several other C+type arms in line too. Hitting relies on catcher Chance Sisco and first baseman Christian Walker but needs more depth behind them. Henry Urrutia (.320/.379/.520 this spring) and Dariel Alvarez (.343/.395/.600 this spring) could also contribute as the Orioles like to invest in Cuban outfielders who don’t cost eighty gazillion dollars. Last year: 13th.
THIN: These systems have a weaker current minor league talent base than the ones ahead of them and will take more time and effort to recharge.
27) Oakland Athletics: Trade turnover is a big factor here with three of their current Top Ten prospects (Franklin Barreto, Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman) being signed and developed by the Blue Jays. Incumbent power bats Renato Nunez and Matt Olson provide power that is hard to come by at times but need to transition to higher-level competition. Watch out for Dillon Overton, Tommy John recovery guy with excellent pitchability. Last year: 27th.
28) Los Angeles Angels: This system hit bottom in last year’s rankings but has started to improve, thanks to trade additions (Andrew Heaney, Kyle Kubitza, Nick Tropeano) and promising early looks from ’14 draftees Joe Gatto and Sean Newcomb. If you want a deep and obscure sleeper to watch in rookie ball consider right-hander Crusito Mieses. He has a live arm and throws strikes and that’s a good basis of development. Last year: 30th.
29) Miami Marlins: Promotions and trades slap system depth here and cost them some slots in an already-low ranking. Much rides on the hot arm of Tyler Kolek and the extreme pitchability of Justin Nicolino. Other arms of interest include Jarlin Garcia and Jose Urena, products of an under-rated Latin American program. Bats are thin, with catcher J.T. Realmuto and infielders Brian Anderson (watch him closely) and Avery Romero standing out as the top men. Slugger sleeper: outfielder Isael Soto. Last year: 24th.
30) Detroit Tigers: Once again the Tigers are thin on the farm by all appearances but there is a deliberate strategy at work here. Despite the weakness on paper they always seem to have prospects that other teams want in trades, particularly power arms and glove-oriented infielders (usually with budget bonuses) from Latin America. Solid college polished arms like Buck Farmer, Kevin Ziomek, Austin Kubitza, and Drew VerHagen give some mound depth. There is an under-appreciated sabermetric draft bent with talents like the now-traded Devon Travis, catcher Grayson Greiner, and the pitching group often exceeding expectations. The scouts do their jobs well given the strategy given them by the front office. Last year: 28th.