N.B. These will vary a bit from the rankings in the 2017 Annual. Some of that is due to trades that happened after we went to press, but some of it is also due to my just not liking those rankings anymore. I guess I am taking the whole “snapshot in time” thing very literally. As with last year’s, we have organized them into tiers, described—unsurprisingly—with lyrics from noted singer-songwriter, author, and Cubs fan, John Darnielle.
“But you cannot run / And you cannot hide / From the wreck we've made of our house / From the mess inside”
Someone recently asked me in a chat where the Angels rank among the worst farm systems of the last five years. They aren’t even the worst system this year. One dude does not make an organization—though in this tier you could argue even one could be a fair tiebreaker—but we do really like Jahmai Jones. We like Braxton Garrett too, but past him the Marlins system offers a prep arm that was disappointing even before he missed all of 2016 with Tommy John (Tyler Kolek), a 23-year-old who was repeating the Florida State League (Brian Anderson), followed by “the dark universe yawning where the black planets roll without aim, where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge, or lustre, or name.” Theoretically the Angels could move Matt Thaiss back to catcher.
I must have wished on a Monkey’s Paw to get back on MLB Network again, because they had me talking about the Diamondbacks. This is closer to a generically bad system than the Marlins and Angels, and Anthony Banda wasn’t that far off of our Top 101. After that it is a parade of role 45 infielders and arms, but there is some actual depth here in potential major-league contributors, even if I did prep for my appearance by making flash cards to keep their back-end starters straight in my head. The Royals can make similar claims, and even have a bit more upside in the lower levels of their system. Hunter Dozier, Josh Staumont, and Matt Strahm could all be 2017 contributors to the big club.
“Crowd screaming like hounds at the heat of the chase / All the colors of the rainbow flood my face / I lift right off into space / I can see the future, it's a real dark place”
Now we get into the regular “just bad” systems. The Mariners might have topped this tier before they dealt Luiz Gohara, and the system could look better in a year even if they only add an “actually healthy Kyle Lewis.” Past Lewis and Tyler O’Neill though, it is every shallow Mariners system your grandpappy told you about. I do have “colleagues” who would like me to mention Dan Vogelbach and Mitch Haniger here. So consider it done. The Tigers lack impact talent, but they do have a collection of hard-throwing righties and some interesting athletes in the outfield. And 2016 first-round pick Matt Manning has a chance to jump into the top tier of pitching prospects if he starts to put things together with a full year of pro instruction.
The Giants haven’t ranked in the top half of our org rankings since the minor league days of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, but they’ve brought plenty of young, major-league talent through their system since then. I wrote about the folly of trying to rank their organization in the essay for their Top 10 list, but here they rank nonetheless. I do think you have to squint a little harder to see where they will get their random Role 6 guy from this year, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if Steven Duggar is hitting fifth for the next installment of even-year bullshit.
I can sum up my feelings on the Orioles system with this:
“Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive / Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away”
And now four systems that dropped like a stone from last year. The culprits here are obvious. The Red Sox, Nats, and Indians all traded major pieces from their system in the last twelve months. The Twins…did not, but did see Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler all graduate to the major league squad, and just lost Alex Kirilloff for the 2017 season. And unlike the other three teams in this tier, the Twinkies don’t still have impact talent at the top of their team list. Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Jason Groome, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Francisco Mejia, and Triston McKenzie can paper over a lot of depth issues. The balance of the Tribe’s top ten is a little more interesting than the Nats and Sox’s, so they top the group. At least the Twins will be able to reload with the first overall draft pick. And a full, healthy year from Fernando Romero wouldn’t hurt either.
“And in situations like these, it's sometimes useful to / Think of life as one long continuous evening / That never turns into night / Hey hey!”
This came up during my recent appearance on BP Boston’s podcast, The Red Seat, but would you rather have one of the top-heavy systems from the last tier, or the more balanced ones from the back of this one? I tend to weigh potential impact major-league talent quite heavily in these rankings. There is no doubt the Blue Jays, and especially the Reds, have much deeper organizations than the Red Sox, White Sox, and Nats, and rank higher here accordingly, but it’s a lot easier to find future Role 6 (or better) players in the tier below.
The Rangers and the Rays felt like bang-average systems when I was composing their team lists, and it worked out the same when composing org rankings. Though honestly 10-18 could be all one tier. This year it feels like there are nine really good systems, eight really bad systems and then a mushy middle. The Rangers system could look a lot better in a year if Leody Taveras and Anderson Tejeda establishing themselves as national Top 50 prospects in Hickory.
“Practicing my solitary scales 'till they grow heavy / Too heavy to carry / Watching them go / Where they will go?”
This starts the “good” systems I guess. Oakland is the deepest in Top 101 names, but also may just end up with a whole bunch of relievers. The Astros system feels similar to the A’s, but not quite as good. The Cardinals, Cubs, and Mets have a healthy mix of high-end prospects and close-to-the-majors role 5/4 types, but none of those three systems are particularly deep at the moment. The Cubs are another organization that could look a lot better a year from now as we get a better handle on the fruits of their 2015 IFA spending spree.
“I know you're changing / Damn you / I know you're changing / Goddamn you for that”
Some movers and shakers from last year. The White Sox moved from a bottom ten system to the top ten in the space of about two weeks and two trades. The system drops off badly after their top ten or else they would be in the next tier up. The Pirates system also drops off quickly, but their top five is as good as any in baseball. The Dodgers dropped from the top of our 2016 org rankings to seventh, but that actually speaks to the strength of their system considering they graduated Corey Seager and Julio Urias, both of whom ranked in the top ten of our 2016 101, and dealt Jose De Leon to Tampa. They won’t be able to use their deep pocketbooks in the IFA market anymore, but they will be reaping the benefits of their previous splurges on Yadier Alvarez and Yusniel Diaz for years to come. The Rockies graduated David Dahl and Jon Gray in 2016, and will likely lose Jeff Hoffman and Raimel Tapia this year, but the system continues to reload year after year. It doesn’t hurt that they are always picking pretty high in the draft I guess, though it is less good for their Hit List ranking than their Organizational one.
“I guess I'm supposed to figure things out / Or maybe it's supposed to be self-evident”
Three very deep systems that lacks the same abundance of potential impact talent of the top tier. The Phillies system is the easiest of the three to get a handle on, perhaps because it is mostly the same names as last year. The names themselves have actually gotten a bit better, as they swapped “Jake Thompson” for “Sixto Sanchez.” The Padres have some familiar names: Quantrill and Tatis to name a couple. Like the Cubs, there are a bunch of names you might be more familiar with by the end of 2017. The Brewers have rebuilt their system quickly by dealing almost anything that wasn’t nailed down or Ryan Braun over the last two years. The process hasn’t been all that different from the Braves, though it will be a bit tougher now to fleece the Diamondbacks to properly complete the parallel.
“Raise the trumpet / Sound the drum / He whom the prophet spoke of long ago has come”
These two orgs stand alone in both quantity of impact talent—they combined for 17 prospects in our Top 101—and quality of prospects in the teens and twenties of their org lists. I generally don’t care all that much if the seventeenth best prospect in your system has a chance to be a decent middle reliever or a useful bench piece. That’s true of the vast majority of systems in any given year. Now when you have thirty of those guys? It felt like half the Trenton pitching staff might pitch in the majors at some point. Atlanta’s thirteenth best prospect is Joey Wentz who might be a top tier pitching prospect by the time the 2018 list comes around. We didn’t even mention Christian Pache in the Braves list. We didn’t rank Dustin Fowler on our Yankees one.
The guys we did rank are some of the best prospects in baseball. Dansby Swanson, Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Ronald Acuna. There’s balance here in position players and pitchers, in upside and major-league certainty. These are two of the best systems I can remember in my six years of covering prospects. The Braves get the slight edge here, because while they don’t have quite the overall system depth of the Yankees, they have a few more potential impact prospects. This flag doesn’t fly forever—you don’t get an Organizational Ranking Pennant, but both these systems are well-positioned to help the next competitive editions of their major league franchises.