As September draws to a close, postseason baseball beckons, and prospect-ranking season is in full bloom. I’m going to take a slightly different approach than most, and simply focus upon overall organizational depth rather than the players specifically. Which systems have the most and least talent on hand, and which have taken the largest steps forward on backward in 2015?
Up front, let’s lay out the basics of my prospect-ranking system. I evaluate position players and starting pitchers separately. All full-season league position players’ on-base (OBP) and slugging (SLG) percentages are compared to the average of their league’s regulars. A sliding scale of performance targets, dependent on players’ age relative to level, are utilized. All players meeting such targets are included on my list; there is no limit as to the number of players who qualify. This year, 329 position players made the cut.
The system is very similar for starting pitchers; the statistics measured are strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB). The same age-dependent performance targets, measured by standard deviations above/below league average, are utilized. This year, 179 full-season league minor league pitchers made the cut.
On the position player side, Carlos Correa lapped the field, with last year’s #1, Joey Gallo, finishing second. This year marked the third consecutive season that Correa ranked within the top-11 position players, and Gallo’s third straight in the top 17. On the starting pitcher side, it was a much tighter battle, with the Dodgers’ Julio Urias finishing first for the second straight season, nosing out the Twins’ Jose Berrios. Prior to finishing first in 2014 and 2015, Urias ran second in 2013, while Berrios’ runner-up finish was his second in the top 10 and third in the top 50.
It should be said up front that these purely statistical player rankings shouldn’t be taken as gospel. These lists basically constitute a master follow list, with traditional methods then used to tweak the order. There are no adjustments for park effects or positional scarcity on the raw list. As a result, some superior up-the-middle glove-first prospects’ rankings might suffer a bit, while bat-only guys might get a boost. Having 20-plus years of such rankings is quite a boon, however; for each top prospect, comparable players from the past can be identified and used as measuring sticks.
Without further adieu, let’s get to the organizational ranks:
|HIT||PIT||ALL #1||ALL #2||ALL #3||AVG|
|10||8||New York Yankees||7||6||6||6|
|12||26||New York Mets||14||17||18||17|
|27||15||Chicago White Sox||26||25||25||26|
Some explanation regarding the above table… The first two columns indicate each club’s overall 2015 position player and starting pitcher ranking. They were calculate simply by giving Correa, the top-ranked of the 329 position players, 329 points, and each successive player behind him one point less. Each system’s ranked players’ points were summed into a single organizational score. The same process was undertaken for each of the 179 ranked starting pitchers.
I then combined the two rankings into one blended organization ranking in three different ways, at right. In the “ALL #1” column, I simply added the organizational hitting and pitching points together, and ranked the organizations. In the “ALL #2” column, I scaled the pitching points up to the same level as the hitting points, to make it a 50/50 split point-wise between the two, and then ranked the organizations. In the “ALL #3” column, I simply averaged the hitting and pitching ranks in the left-most columns, and then ranked the organizations. The right-most columns is a blend of the three ranking systems, and is used for the final organizational rankings.
Enough about the methodology; let’s talk about the organizations themselves, and the driving forces behind their respective rankings:
TOP FIVE MINOR LEAGUE SYSTEMS:
1 – TAMPA BAY RAYS – Just one year ago, the Rays had a middle-of-the-pack farm system, ranking 12th and 18th in position player and starting pitcher depth, respectively. This year, they rule the roost on the strength of both their bats and arms, and their quality and quantity of prospects. Seventeen Rays position players, tied for second most overall, and an MLB-leading 11 starting pitcher prospects qualified for my lists. Their organizational reset at the end of 2014 was the driving force: top position player prospects Jake Bauers (#10 overall), Willy Adames (#37), Boog Powell (#80), Daniel Robertson (#88), Andrew Velazquez (#105) and Nick Franklin (#120) and pitcher Matt Andriese (#16) all came over in offseason trades. Plus, homegrown lefty Blake Snell (#9) has emerged as an impact starting pitcher prospect. The Rays know exactly what they are doing, and are poised to compete on a shoestring MLB salary budget for the foreseeable future.
2 – HOUSTON ASTROS – The next two teams on the list deserve special recognition, as they retain their high rankings despite hemorrhaging talent at the deadline in pursuit of, in the Astros’ case, players like Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers and Scott Kazmir. Despite moving catcher Jacob Nottingham (#13 overall position player) to the A’s for Kazmir and outfielders Domingo Santana (#5) and Brett Phillips (#43) to the Brewers in the Gomez/Fiers deal, the Astros easily finished first in position player talent quality and quantity (19 ranked players). In Correa, A.J. Reed (#14) and Tyler White (#18), they had three of the top 20. It wasn’t quite as bright on the pitching side, in large part due to the departure of Josh Hader (#6) and Adrian Houser (#23) in the Gomez deal. Francis Martes (#11) leads a still viable set of pitching holdovers.
3 – TEXAS RANGERS – Like the Astros, the Rangers retain a high ranking despite moving a bundle of talent to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal. The Phillies received four ranked players in OF Nick Williams (#74) and pitchers Jake Thompson (#73), Alec Asher (#107) and Jerad Eickhoff (#146), while catcher Jorge Alfaro has ranked highly in past seasons. Most of the high-end hitting left behind isn’t far from the big leagues, in Gallo and outfielders Lewis Brinson (#12) and Nomar Mazara (#51). The best of the pitchers, on the other hand, are still in A-ball, but the group of Ariel Jurado (#8), Yohander Mendez (#21), Luis Ortiz (#22) and Frank Lopez (#31) bears close monitoring.
4 – CLEVELAND INDIANS – The Indians have very quietly possessed one of the game’s better systems for many years now. A couple years back, their prospect depth listed toward the pitching side, but now, their position players have taken the lead. Francisco Lindor (#47, quite high for a middle infielder) has already made his presence felt, but in Dorssys Paulino (#8), Bobby Bradley #11), Clint Frazier (#20) and Bradley Zimmer (#38) there is outfield and corner infield power on the way. On the mound, the group of Justus Sheffield (#33), Adam Plutko (#45) and Rob Kaminsky (#69) — the last of those stolen from the Cards for Brandon Moss — leads the pack.
5 – BOSTON RED SOX – Bottoming out in midsummer may turn out to be for the best in the long run for the Red Sox, even if it certainly was not for Ben Cherington. There was no illusion that the Sox were contenders, so they kept their deep farm system intact. Their Latin American pipeline, in particular, has been strong, with Rafael Devers (#61), Manuel Margot (#73), Wendell Rijo (#83) and Yoan Moncada (#97) all making the top-100 position player list at age 20 or younger. Natural hitter Sam Travis (#41) actually outranked them all. On the pitching side, big league eye-opener Eduardo Rodriguez (#10) is the class of the group, though Low-A bat-missers Michael Kopech (#36) and Jamie Callahan (#62) should be watched closely.
It should be noted that the top six organizations, including the Yankees at #6, all hail from the American League.
BOTTOM FIVE MINOR LEAGUE SYSTEMS:
30 – MIAMI MARLINS – It’s a good thing that the Marlins possess a youthful major league nucleus, as there isn’t much help on the farm. Only one position player, Low-A slugger K.J. Woods (#28), ranked above #250, and only one starting pitcher, Low-A righty Jorgan Cavanerio (#41), ranked above #135. Even highly regarded 2014 blue-chipper Tyler Kolek (#173) qualifies for the pitching list almost solely due to his youth; his K rate was actually below the Low-A South Atlantic League average.
29 – SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS – It’s very tempting to give these guys a pass. Their minor league system is never highly regarded, but it continuously churns out unexpected contributors to World Champion clubs. Complementary pieces are one thing; however, there certainly do not appear to be core pieces on the farm, especially on the position player side. Former first rounder Christian Arroyo (#112) is the best of the lot. It’s a little brighter on the pitching side, where Clayton Blackburn (#52) and Kyle Crick (#82) have been better in the past, but still retain upside.
28 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES – Rough year for the O’s in the majors and minors. There’s some hope on the position player side, thanks to C Chance Sisco (#24), 1B Trey Mancini (#29) and very interesting 18-year-old Low-A 3B Jomar Reyes (#56), but future starting pitching help would appear to be almost nonexistent. The ongoing injury woes of Dylan Bundy continued this season, and no Oriole pitching prospect ranked above #157 on my list. The O’s are 30th in pitching depth, and it isn’t really close.
27 – LOS ANGELES ANGELS – Prospect quantity is a major issue here. They placed only one player on both the top-100 position player (Kaleb Cowart, #79) and starting pitcher (Nick Tropeano, #90) lists. Outside of Mike Trout, their offensive nucleus is aging, and a plunge from relevance in the near term is quite possible. There’s a little more hope on the pitching side, with the likes of Chris Ellis (#117) and Sean Newcomb (#120) potentially joining Tropeano and Andrew Heaney in the big league rotation before long.
26 – CHICAGO WHITE SOX – I actually don’t consider this lowly ranking that big of a deal. The Chisox have advanced quite a bit of position player talent (Avisail Garcia, Tyler Saladino, Carlos Sanchez) to the big leagues within the last year or so; a couple years ago, they had an old big league club, with little on the farm. There has been progress, and 3B Trey Michalczewski (#111) and 2B Micah Johnson (#114) offer more intermediate-term hope. There’s more depth on the pitching side: 2014 second rounder Spencer Adams (#20) and Jordan Guerrero (#28) lead the way, while recent call-up Erik Johnson (#148) and ground-baller Tyler Danish (#149) offer more immediate help.
HONORABLE MENTION: SAN DIEGO PADRES – A year ago, the Padres ranked seventh in minor league pitching depth, and two years ago, they ranked second in minor league position player depth. Now, they rank 24th overall. As negative as the big league ramifications of the Padres’ overhaul last offseason turned out, the impact has been arguably more pronounced on the farm.
BIGGEST STEP FORWARD: MILWAUKEE BREWERS – A year ago, the Brewers ranked 19th in position player depth, and 25th in pitching. Two years ago, it was 23rd and 28th, respectively. Now, they rank 11th overall, and third in minor league starting pitcher talent. Most of their rebuild was conducted via the trades of Gomez, Fiers and Gerardo Parra at this year’s deadline, which yielded them the aforementioned Santana, Phillips, Hader and Houser from the Astros, and pitcher Zach Davies (#77) from the Orioles. Toss in a very strong 2015 draft class, which isn’t yet reflected in the above rankings, and the future is beginning to look a little brighter in Milwaukee.
BIGGEST STEP BACKWARD: SEATTLE MARINERS – A year ago, the Mariners ranked ninth and fifth in minor league hitting and pitching talent, respectively. Two years ago, they were second and seventh. While it is true that they have graduated quite a bit of the talent driving those previous rankings to the big leagues, those players have (a) not reached their potential in the majors, and (b) not been adequately replaced in the last three drafts. Even the consensus-winner first-round picks like D.J. Peterson and Alex Jackson look uncertain payoff-wise at present. Their sole top-100 position player prospects are Ketel Marte (#85), Tyler O’Neill (#87) and the injured Ramon Flores (#92), while Edwin Diaz (#32) is their lone top-100 pitcher.
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