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January 17, 2014

Pebble Hunting

What it Means to Have the Best Farm System in Baseball, Part Two

by Sam Miller

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In the late 2000s, when the Angels’ farm system (weakened mostly by promotions and a lack of early first-round draft picks) started to place low in organizational rankings, some local writers would respond with a pithy counterpoint: In 2000, the Angels were ranked 29th by Baseball America, and two years later they won the World Series. This supposeduly irrefutable refutation was trotted out so reliably it seemed likely that reporters were parroting the club's own words. You never got the sense that the Angels, as an organization, thought much of organizational rankings.

The organizational rankings, in time, thought much more of the Angels. They improved from 29th to 25th to 17th to fifth to third and, finally, before the 2005 season, they were baseball’s no. 1 farm system, according to both BA and John Sickels. Baseball Prospectus didn’t do org rankings yet, but that year's top prospects list had two Angels in the top five. The Angels had made this great leap forward while also dramatically upgrading their big-league results; as Matt Welch writes in the Angels team essay in this year’s BP Annual, “it almost felt like the Angels had beaten baseball's business cycle.”

Many years have passed since then; every part of the organization has been at various points up or down. As we did last year with the 2004 Brewers' top 30 prospects, we’re going to look at the longitudinal impact of an elite farm system to see just how long the benefits last, and how big those benefits can get.

Year 1 (2005)
30 of 30 prospects remain in the system

Part of what made the Angels’ system so exciting at the time was that the two best prospects, no. 1 Casey Kotchman and no. 2 Dallas McPherson, were each already at the major-league level; McPherson, we wrote in that year’s Annual, was “the most polished power bat in the minors and was probably ready for a third base job in the majors two years ago.” But he flopped and got hurt in 2005, while Kotchman—blocked at first base by .273/.325/.371-hitting Darin Erstad—had a career-worst season in a repeat of Triple-A.

Six players from the top 30 appear in the majors this year, producing 1.3 WARP—or, if you exclude negative contributions, which I will do going forward unless noted—1.9 WARP. The most productive player is no. 7 prospect Ervin Santana, who debuts in May and throws 140 pretty good innings.

The Angels win 95 games and the division.

Year 2 (2006)
26 of 30 prospects remain in the system

The consolidation year: Debuts of no. 3 Erick Aybar, no. 4 Jeff Mathis, no. 15 Dustin Moseley, no. 24 Reggie Willits; near-full-time roles for no. 5 Kendry Morales, no. 8 Howie Kendrick, no. 16 Maicer Izturis and no. 29 Mike Napoli; and finally a starting job for Kotchman. But it was an imperfect consolidation: Kotchman missed most of the year with mono, while McPherson lost his job to Chone Figgins.

Kotchman, more than probably any player here, had insane expectations around him. From one Baseball Think Factory comment thread around the time the BA rankings came out:

  • Maybe a 330/370/550 line at his peak.
  • I'm pretty sure Mark Grace isn't a low end projection for Kotchman, more towards the middle probably.
  • He could still easily put up .335/.380/.500. That's a reasonably conservative projection too.
  • I think he very easily could be considered a 'true' .335 hitter right now.
  • In conclusion, there is a relatively wide range of possibility for Kotchman, with no less than .300, 15 HR, 40 doubles and 50 walks per annum

A persistent organizational theme begins, as the Angels debate cashing in their young talent for stars: “Ken Rosenthal's got the scoop on a sweet offer made to the Orioles for Miguel Tejada: starter Ervin Santana and shortstop Erick Aybar," MLBTradeRumors writes in July.

Four prospects disappear: No. 9 Alberto Callaspo is traded for reliever Jason Bulger; no. 18 Jake Woods, a reliever, is lost to waivers; no. 22 Anthony Whittington is released at the age of 20 with a walk rate of nearly one per inning; and no. 30 Mitch Arnold, bearer of UCL and labrum maladies, is released, briefly reappearing five years later in independent ball.

Twelve prospects appear in the majors, producing 8.4 WARP. Maicer Izturis and Mike Napoli, both unheralded relative to their teammates, are the best of the group. It should be noted here that Jered Weaver also debuts, but although he had been drafted before the 2005 organizational rankings he was not included, as he had not signed. The Angels had the best farm system in baseball and Jered Weaver.

The Angels win 89 games, finish second in the AL West, miss the playoffs.

Year 3 (2007)
23 of 30 prospects remain

Again with the trade rumors: Casey Kotchman and Joe Saunders and another top prospect for Mark Teixeira, declined. Brandon Wood or Ervin Santana for Troy Glaus, discussed. Nothing comes of either, and the group mostly stays together. Only three players fall out of the organization: no. 12 Baltazar Lopez, exiled to Mexico, where he remains active today; no. 25 Rob Zimmermann, released after his performance cratered in Double-A; and no. 26 Tim Bittner, released midseason after a third failed attempt at Double-A.

Kotchman has his best year, and Howie Kendrick hits .322, but it’s actually Reggie Willits who leads the prospects with 2.3 WARP and a .391 OBP in full-time play. The group produced 12 WARP. McPherson is a disappointment (he misses the whole year, injured) but he’s the only one. They’re so loaded they flirt with moving Erick Aybar to center field. Almost the whole unit remains intact. Life is good.

Year 4 (2008)
19 of 30 prospects remain

The dissolution begins. Kotchman is traded, mid-season, for Mark Teixeira, a pending free agent. McPherson is released. No. 10 Steven Shell is granted free agency, having failed to make it to the majors after striking out 190 (in 165 High-A innings) in 2004. No. 21 Warner Madrigal is released after an outfielder-to-pitcher conversion attempt. No. 23 Nick Gorneault, much loved by some for sexy old-for-his-level slash lines, is lost to waivers after two big-league games.

Mathis, meanwhile, is finally accepted by most of us to be what he is, not what he was. No. 6 Brandon Wood starts moving down prospect lists. Teixeira isn’t re-signed, despite the Angels’ strong wishes. He departs holding the Angels’ all-time record for OPS and OPS+, minimum 15 plate appearances. Trade rumors (unconsummated) link the Angels to Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera.

Still. Fifteen of the 30 prospects appear in the majors for the Angels; so too do Bulger and Teixeira. Even if no superstar has emerged, that’s an incredible graduation rate. They produce 18.0 positive WARP, led by Mike Napoli (3.2) and Teixeira (3.1). The Angels win 100 games. They finish in first, again.

Year 5 (2009)
17 of 30 prospects remain, plus Jason Bulger, Randal Grichuk and Tyler Skaggs.

Besides the mid-season trade of Kotchman the year before, only no. 27 Drew Toussaint goes away. Later in the year, no. 14 Sean Rodriguez is a significant part of the package to acquire Scott Kazmir. (Half of Kazmir’s value to the Angels will be credited to this group of prospects, for accounting purposes.)

Meanwhile, the departure of Mark Teixeira gives the Angels two draft picks. The world will have you believe that one of those picks was used on Mike Trout—technically, administratively true, which, for the purposes of this article, would be an amazingly convenient thing. But intellectual honesty counts for something. There’s no reason whatsoever to think that Mark Teixeira leaving is what landed Mike Trout in Anaheim. Rather, it landed Randal Grichuk in the Angels’ system. So Grichuk and supplemental pick Tyler Skaggs get added to the books for this prospect class.

Again, 15 of the original 30 appear in the majors for the Angels. They, along with Bulger and Kazmir, produce 17.6 WARP, led by Kendry Morales (3.9). The Angels win 97 games and make the ALCS, where the homegrown or farm system-bolstered rotation (Lackey, Weaver, Saunders, Kazmir) is so deep that Ervin Santana moves to the bullpen. This is, horribly, also the year that Nick Adenhart (no. 20) dies.

Year 6 (2010)
14 of 30 prospects remain, plus Kazmir, Bulger, Skaggs and Grichuk.

The final two prospects in the system who haven’t made the majors (or been released, waived, traded or retired) do: no. 11 Mark Trumbo and no. 28 Bobby Cassevah. An incredible 21 players from this group of 30 make the majors for the Angels, and at least two others (Shell and Callaspo) do for other teams.

Meanwhile, even though no. 15 Dustin Moseley is the only player to leave between 2009 and 2010, it starts to appear that the peak for this prospect class has passed. Brandon Wood gets his first real shot at third base. His career is almost instantaneously over. Kazmir barely survives the year. Kendry Morales breaks his leg. And no. 13 Joe Saunders, no. 17 Rafael Rodriguez, and Teixeira-compensation Tyler Skaggs are shipped out for Dan Haren. Patrick Corbin is part of that deal, but we’ll assign 90 percent of Haren’s future value to the 2005 prospect class.

Fourteen prospects appear in the majors for the Angels this year, plus Bulger, Kazmir, and Haren. They produce 13.1 positive WARP, though Brandon Wood singlehandedly undoes 15 percent of that. The Angels win 80 games and miss the playoffs.

Year 7 (2011)
11 of 30 prospects remain, plus Bulger, Grichuk, Kazmir, Haren, Wells

Mike Napoli gets traded for Vernon Wells. Nobody else leaves the system, Mark Trumbo emerges as a solid everyday player, Erick Aybar is well above average, Dan Haren gets Cy Young votes, and the 10 prospects who appear, plus Haren et al, produce 15.9 WARP. But Mike Napoli does get traded for Vernon Wells, which is the sort of generational era-shifting moment that Philip Roth would write an entire book about. The Angels win 86 games but miss the playoffs again.

Year 8 (2012)
Eight of 30 prospects remain, plus Bulger, Grichuk, Haren, Wells, Brad Mills
Jeff Mathis gets traded for Brad Mills. Kazmir and Wood are excised. Everybody regresses a bit, particularly Santana and Haren, but the Angels still get 12.3 positive WARP out of the group. This is the walk year for Izturis, the first player from the original 30 to hit free agency at the major-league level. The Angels win 89 games, miss the playoffs again.

Year 9 (2013)
Four of 30 prospects remain, plus Grichuk, Mills, Brandon Sisk, Exicardo Cayones, Kramer Sneed and Jason Vargas

Izturis walks, Haren leaves, Santana and Morales are traded (for Sisk and Vargas), Vernon Wells is traded (for Cayones and Sneed), and it’s down to four guys: Kendrick, Aybar, Trumbo, and no. 19 Kevin Jepsen. On the one hand, three very solid pieces to have in the organization nine full years after our prospect rankings. All, arguably, valuable commodities, with two having signed below-market extensions and one being pre-arbitration. So that’s the one hand. The other hand is the group at the farm system’s long tail: Vargas added for a year, but otherwise nobody but Grichuk had any sort of outlook, and Grichuk only barely. The 2005 prospect class produces 5.3 WARP, which isn’t nothing, but appears to be very close to dissolving into nothingness.

Year 10 (2014)
Three of 30 prospects remain, plus Sisk, Cayones, Sneed, Skaggs, and Hector Santiago, and a sliver of David Freese

And, just as it looked to be coming to an end, the Angels extend the group’s lifespan. Skaggs and Santiago each has a half-decade of service time; Skaggs still offers a glimmer of hope that he could be the sort of talent that produces a compensation pick down the line. Grichuk was also included in the David Freese deal, though he’s probably only 10 percent or so of that deal. The Angels project to get about 6.3 WARP out of the group that remains, for about $21 million or $22 million. That’s a good rate. Considering how badly some of the Angels’ trades went, it’s not a bad remnant. The game’s best farm system, it turns out, produces about six below-market wins even a decade later.

Totals

  • Value (including negative): 90 WARP
  • Value (excluding negative): 104.9 WARP

This is pretty impressive. The 2004 Brewers' system, by comparison, produced 74 WARP, excluding negative totals. They produced a legitimate superstar in Prince Fielder; they had a trade (Hardy for Gomez) that landed another; they didn’t, like, partially bury Corey Hart for five years behind a massively inferior teammate and then trade him for Barry Zito; they didn’t deal with anything as awful and unfortunate as the Nick Adenhart tragedy; and still they trail the Angels by a lot. The Angels’ system simply produced a massive number of major leaguers. Twenty-one of 30 appearing in the Angels’ uniform; 16 for the Brewers. And Howie Kendrick has produced just about as many WARP (though no draft picks, yet) as Fielder did for the Brewers. Plus, it's basically just a quirk of timing that keeps Jered Weaver from really padding these numbers. Heck of a system.

The Angels also spent a lot more than the Brewers, thanks to the salary commitments they took on in the trades. The Brewers spent $136 million on their entire group, all 74 WARP. The Angels spent almost that much on Wells and Kazmir, and almost twice as much as the Brewers overall. And as impressive as the Angels' drafting and player development were, there's a real sense that opportunities were missed to extend the value of the group further into the future; that overall profit doesn't excuse a couple really wretched decisions. But we’re getting off track. The point of this isn’t to litigate a decade of Angels’ baseball ops decisions; the wins (of which there were many) and losses (too) can handle that. We’re just collecting data. We now know, with twice as much confidence, what the best farm system in baseball produces, and for how long. Control+P, Twins fans.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Angels,  Prospects,  Los Angeles Angels,  Farm Systems

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

mattseward

Great stuff Sam, I hope you will continue to do this in future years.

Any plans of a similar article looking at the worst farm system as you did last year?

Jan 17, 2014 04:47 AM
rating: 9
 
Peter Benedict

Great article; I too would enjoy seeing how other years worked out.

IMO you could have included Weaver.

Jan 17, 2014 05:47 AM
rating: 1
 
backwardgalaxy

Articles like this one really separate this site. Excellent work.

Jan 17, 2014 06:05 AM
rating: 3
 
Luke in MN

Maybe I missed it, but a list of--or a link to?--the 30 players we're talking about would help. Enjoyed article.

Jan 17, 2014 06:16 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Was never published on the web, only in the book they put out. But every player on the list is named and numbered in my article, or should have been.

Jan 17, 2014 07:04 AM
 
draysbay

I hope you brought enough for everybody, because I'd love to see one of these for the mid-aughts Rays.

Jan 17, 2014 06:47 AM
rating: 2
 
newsense

How much did the Angels pay out in salaries?

Jan 17, 2014 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

About $120M on their own guys. About ~$140M on the guys they traded for (Vargas, Kazmir, Haren, Teixeira, Wells, Bulger).

Jan 17, 2014 09:22 AM
 
Lloyd Cole

Good work.

Jan 17, 2014 09:23 AM
rating: 1
 
Guancous

I'd love to see one of the Prior/Wood/Patterson Cubs.

Jan 17, 2014 10:34 AM
rating: 1
 
phreaks619

this is cool. I always find it interesting in a list of prospects, guys like Kendrick and Aybar end up with the long term value while the other highly touted guys fall by the wayside.

Jan 17, 2014 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
wonkothesane1

One sort of caveat with comparing the Brewers and the Angels comes with Prince Fielder. The Angels probably could have extracted more value with that type of player because they would have had the money to re-sign him. On the other hand, the Brewers could have kept Fielder had they not kept Braun (who doesn't get counted as part of their value due to joining the system later).

Not sure how you account for that. However, it is interesting to consider if the Brewers had traded Braun to free up money and kept Fielder at a premium price they would have fared better in that analysis, but not necessarily better in the real world. I tried to think of a similar scenario involving the Angels, but I can't think of a clear case where they let a player go in order because of budget constraints.

Jan 17, 2014 13:13 PM
rating: 2
 
bhalpern

I don't know. When Teixeira went to free agency The Angels maxed out at 8y/160m and then publicly withdrew the offer saying he was asking for too much so they were out of the bidding. The Yanks signed him for 8/180. The Tigers deal with Fielder three years later was for 9/214.

Jan 18, 2014 11:42 AM
rating: 1
 
SaxonB

"Teixeira isn’t re-signed, despite the Angels’ strong wishes. He departs holding the Angels’ all-time record for OPS and OPS+, minimum 15 plate appearances."

Good one, Sam. I wonder how many caught that.

Jan 18, 2014 08:32 AM
rating: 1
 
bhalpern

New SAT question:
Corey Hart is to Barry Zito as Mike Napoli is to:
A) Kung-Fu Panda
B) Jeff Mathis
C) Mike Scoscia
D) Vernon Wells
E) The San Diego Chicken

Jan 18, 2014 11:31 AM
rating: 2
 
DetroitDale

Great article. Would love to see something similar for my tigers from the 2003 debacle to present

Jan 19, 2014 08:48 AM
rating: 0
 
JPinPhilly

This is fantastic. I hope this series continues.

I was debating the value of a farm system with someone this week and I thought of this article while framing the argument. I argued that, while you'd like to have at least one or two players from your system graduate to the majors each year, it's unrealistic in my opinion to expect the average farm system to produce two guys each season who will go on to have productive MLB careers. You might see anywhere from five to ten guys make their debuts in any given season but of those five to ten guys you're usually only going to see about three to four who might go on to have at least 10 WARP over their career.

I looked at the players that made their debut in 2000 and the guys who made their debut in 2010. There were 204 players who made their MLB debut in 2000 and of that group 21 players compiled at least 10 WAR during their careers (I used B-R.com). In 2010 there were 203 players who made their MLB debut and of that group 5 guys have already compiled at least 10 WAR (Carlos Santana, Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Sale, Austin Jackson, and Jason Heyward).

So if there are about 200 guys who make their MLB debut each season and about 10% of those guys go on to produce at least 10 WAR over the course of their careers I'd say that the average farm system should be happy to produce at least one or two guys each year who turn into good (say 2-4 WARP per year) MLB players. Elite systems obviously should be expected to produce more of those players. But if the best system in 2003 produced 74 WARP ten years later and the best system in 2004 produced 90 WARP ten years later then I'd say that the average farm system is lucky to produce at least one or two players each year who go on to compile at least 10 WARP for their careers.

Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell both debuted in 2000 for the Phils and over the course of their careers have (so far) compiled 61.1 WARP. If your system gives you ONE of those guys in a given year you're stoked! This is of course an extremely rough estimate using only two crops of players ten years apart but it's freezing cold and covered with snow outside so this is what I decided to do with my Saturday. I'm sure there are all sorts of problems with the math here but I ain't as smart as you BP guys. I just wanted to look at the percentage of players who make their MLB debut in a given year that go on to be good MLB players in their careers.

Jan 25, 2014 14:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff
 
JPinPhilly

Thanks for the link Ben. I wasn't a subscriber back then so I appreciate it. For the record, I certainly was not in any way trying to plagiarize anything and try to pass it off as my own. I know I've seen similar articles recently but I can't remember where.

I started following prospects in about 2008 and didn't really begin to get serious about it until maybe 2010. Up & In got me hooked for good so I'm sure I picked up on KG and the Professor's view of player development and how much the fans should temper their expectations when it comes to prospects.

Just for fun I checked the 1990 crop a few minutes ago. There were 169 guys who made their debut in 1990 and only 29 who compiled at least 10 WAR in their careers(once again using B-R.com). The great Mickey Morandini just misses the cut with 9.7 WAR. Poor guy.

Highest on the list is Frank Thomas and there are a handful of pretty good names among the top 30 but once you start getting down to the fifties you're looking at dudes that were lucky to put together 3-4 WAR in their careers.

Jan 25, 2014 14:49 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Yeah, assumed you hadn't seen that. It was a while ago.

Jan 25, 2014 15:01 PM
 
JPinPhilly

You know, the more I think about it, the more I believe that I actually have read that KG piece before. I wasn't a subscriber so I don't know where I read it but it does look damned familiar. I'm a no good lousy thief is what I am.

Jan 25, 2014 15:19 PM
rating: 0
 
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