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Farm System Gainers: Three systems on the rise

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After a titillating trade deadline, let's examine the farm systems that improved themselves considerably this July.

Daniel Norris
Daniel Norris
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A dizzying 41 trades were completed this July, with 14 coming on deadline day itself. We know what Cueto, Cespedes, and Hamels can do for a major league club when they're at the top of their game. But which teams look to have improved their farm system the most this trade season?

On the strength of the Cole Hamels haul, the Phils brought in arguably the most farm talent of any team this July. The team flexed their financial muscle in a way that most 'selling' teams normally wouldn't, as they reportedly assumed all of Matt Harrison's remaining contract and kicked in $9.5M in cash (~$34M total) for the purpose of improving their trade return.

And that return looks strong;  while Philly was unable to reel in either of Texas' top two of Gallo or Mazara, the triple-headliner of Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, and Jake Thompson is diverse and nearly big-league ready with all three having reached the AA level (though Alfaro is currently injured). If one were in the business of prognosticating prospects, it might be fair to say that the trio immediately slides into the Phils' top 5 minor leaguers. If all goes according to plan, a core of J.P. Crawford-Nick Williams-Maikel Franco-Jorge Alfaro has the makings of an exciting, underpaid lineup with pop and speed.

Ruben Amaro and co. did well on the periphery, as well. Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff were the less-heralded names that came aboard in the Hamels deal, but both have a shot to eat innings at the back-end of a rotation, or become quality options in the bullpen at the very least. The Phils also added live arms from Toronto and Washington in trading away Ben Revere and Jonathan Papelbon.

After holding his veteran trade chips for the bulk of two seasons, Amaro finally came out firing this July and looks to have improved the teams' long-term outlook a great deal. The Phils ranked #20 on minorleagueball's own preseason farm system rankings, but could conceivably move up to the low-teens next year even after graduating Maikel Franco and Aaron Nola.

Whereas A.J. Preller and the Padres still cling to hopes of a wild-card berth despite starting the weekend 7.5 games out, Detroit threw in the towel on a 3.5 game deficit and cashed in some of their chips during the deadline.

Working the trade market as a seller is not the norm for the usually October-minded Tigers. A win-now approach for a bulk of the last decade has left the team with little upside on the cusp of the majors, with most outlets ranking them as a bottom-five farm system. After seeing the market set in deals involving other ace rentals such as Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto, GM Dave Dombroski threw his hat in the ring and, in linking up with a Toronto club in desperate need of an ace, may have brought in the best haul of anyone this trade season.

The package sent back for free-agent-to-be David Price was headlined by Daniel Norris, the Blue Jays' prized lefthanded starter. Using John Sickels' midseason top 75 as a guide, Norris was the highest-ranked prospect to change hands this summer at his #11 spot. For reference, the next closest was 30-year-old Cuban import Hector Olivera, who came in at #22. Norris profiles as a future no. 2-3 starter, with the potential to be an ace if he can better command his four-pitch mix and restore his strikeout rate to somewhere in the neighborhood of the 11.8 K/9 he posted during his breakout 2014 campaign.

Dombrowski was also able to corral LHP Matt Boyd in the Price deal. Despite bombing in a two-start trial with the Jays earlier this season, Boyd has been one of the minor leagues' standout pitchers this season on the strength of an uptick in fastball velocity. Once seen as a 'pitchability' back-end rotation prospect, the former Oregon State product is likely to get a shot with the big club at some point this season.

The returns on the Tigers' other trade pieces were merely icing on the cake. Reliever Joakim Soria was flipped to Pittsburgh for JaCoby Jones, a toolsy shortstop with a raw, free-swinging approach. Jones was recently promoted to AA and has the chance to raise his stock if he can hold his own. In addition, Detroit's patient approach in dealing OF Yoenis Cespedes ultimately netted them two quality righthanders from the Mets in Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa.

In sum, Dombrowski was able to bring in a plethora of arms that are close to contributing at the MLB level. While Norris (and possibly Boyd) may see enough action in the second half to bump them from true prospect status, the Tigers have undoubtedly improved their 2016-and-beyond outlook by acquiring effective, low-salary pitching to couple with their perennially dangerous offense.

Oakland has dealt away a sizable chunk of their prospect depth in the past calendar year, with Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Daniel Robertson all being shipped out in exchange for big-league reinforcements. Despite a +34 run differential heading into the weekend, the unlucky last-place A's were a clear seller this trade season, and it was necessary for GM Billy Beane to replenish some of the minor league talent that was lost in these earlier deals.

The first deadline domino to fall was Beane's trade of impending free-agent Scott Kazmir to the divisional rival Astros. The A's received C/1B Jacob Nottingham as the headliner in the deal, and by all accounts this is a strong 'get' for the Athletics. Despite ranking #71 on the MinorLeagueBall Midseason top 75, Nottingham's stock has serious helium that could see him climb the prospect lists in the near future. With above average raw power and the ability to hit to all fields, it's easy to see the 20-year old backstop as a future asset for Oakland whether it's behind the plate or in a corner position.

Following the Kazmir trade, the A's had one elite trade piece left in swiss-army-knife Ben Zobrist, and they swung for the fences. Give credit to Beane, as he zeroed in on the team that needed Zorilla the most (Kansas City), and was able to pry the Royals' top pitching prospect (LHP Sean Manaea) for his troubles.

The primary knock on Manaea early in his pro career has been health; he's missed time with hip, shoulder, and groin injuries. His stuff is unquestioned; he combines a 90-95mph fastball with an effective slider that play up due to deception in his delivery. Few pitchers in the minors can miss bats like Manaea, and if he manages to stay injury-free while handling the upper levels of the minors, Oakland will have a lefthanded compliment to slot in after #1 starter Sonny Gray.

The aforementioned losses of Russell and McKinney left the Oakland farm system in rough shape following their loss to the Royals' in last years' AL Wild Card game. Even after netting three prospects (Barreto, Nolin, Graveman) in the offseason trade of Josh Donaldson, the A's still placed 27th on MinorLeagueBall's preseason farm system big board.

However, things are looking up in the land of green and gold. Strong 2015 performances so far by highly-regarded hitters such as Franklin Barreto, 3B Matt Chapman, and SS Chad Pinder point towards a system that could be on the rise. High-impact additions in Manaea and Nottingham seem to cement that notion, and Oakland could find itself in the mid-teens if we were to re-rank farm systems today.