1. Tampa Bay Rays
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Why They’re Unchanged: Evan Longoria‘s full-season debut went even better than expected, and they added No. 1 overall pick David Price to the system.
Strengths: Yes. There are just tons of prospects everywhere, as 20 of MLB’s 30 teams don’t have one prospect ranked higher than Tampa’s fifth-rated player.
Weaknesses: It’s hard to figure out what to do with all of this talent. Seriously, they’re not just No. 1, they’re No. 1 by a mile.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Unchanged. Even with Longoria in the big leagues, the Rays have more than enough talent to remain at the top, and once again, they have the first overall pick in June.
2. Oakland Athletics
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Why They’re Up: Their rebuilding process got off to excellent start, as the Dan Haren and Nick Swisher deals brought in a bevy of excellent prospects to restock the system.
Strengths: Their High-A rotation will have three Top 100 prospects, and there are more arms worth noting at nearly every level in the system; Daric Barton is ready to step in at first base; Carlos Gonzalez is nearly ready as a five-tool outfielder.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: It’s hard to go up, but most of their talent, especially the pitching, has a maturation date of 2009 and beyond.
3. Texas Rangers
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Why They’re Up: Deadline deals filled the system with prospects, as six of Top 11 weren’t with the organization at the beginning of year; Chris Davis turned into legitimate power-hitting prospect.
Strengths: Young power arms; high-tools prospects; catching.
Weaknesses: Left-handed pitching; outfielders.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Holding the line, if not going up, as only Eric Hurley might lose eligibility.
4. Boston Red Sox
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
Why They’re Up: Clay Buchholz became the top pitching prospect in the game, Jacoby Ellsbury grabbed the center field job, and they had a strong ’07 draft.
Strengths: Right-handed pitching; toolsy outfielders.
Weaknesses: Catching; pure power prospects.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Down significantly, as Buchholz and Ellsbury move to the majors and leave no elite prospects in their wake.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Why They’re Unchanged: Clayton Kershaw became the top lefty prospect in the game, and the ’07 draft added even more pitching depth; Chin-Lung Hu added an offensive game to supplement his already Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Strengths: Andy LaRoche and Hu make one of the top left sides in the minors, and there are more third basemen and shortstops to brag about beyond them; power arms.
Weaknesses: Outfield prospects; catchers; right-side infielders.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Little movement, but possibly down if the Dodgers do the right thing and make LaRoche their everyday third baseman this year.
6. New York Yankees
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Why They’re Down: The performances of Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, along with Austin Jackson‘s breakout, were offset by Philip Hughes‘ graduation to the majors and injuries to Humberto Sanchez and Dellin Betances.
Strengths: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching; high-ceiling outfielders; big investments in Latin America.
Weaknesses: Infielders and catchers.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Down a bit, as Joba and possibly some others will lose eligibility.
7. Cincinnati Reds
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
Why They’re Up: Jay Bruce went from an excellent prospect to the best in baseball; Johnny Cueto proved that his ’06 breakout was for real; their ’07 draft added much-needed depth.
Strengths: Two top ten overall prospects and four in the Top 41; the system has at least one decent prospect at every position.
Weaknesses: The overall quality in the organization drops off significantly after the top four; they have few power arms after Homer Bailey and Cueto.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: A downward slide is inevitable, as Bruce and Bailey move up to the big leagues.
8. Atlanta Braves
Last Year’s Ranking: 14
Why They’re Up: Jordan Schafer‘s big step forward; the trade of Edgar Renteria added two Top 100 prospects; their 2006-07 drafts look strong.
Strengths: Tons of interesting young pitching; multi-faceted outfielders.
Weaknesses: Catching and infielders.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: They shouldn’t be down, as few of their top prospects will reach the major leagues this year, and some of these pitchers might end up as even better than advertised.
9. Colorado Rockies
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
Why They’re Down: For all the right reasons, as Troy Tulowitzki and other rookies took Colorado to its first World Series.
Strengths: Pitching depth; infield prospects.
Weaknesses: Outfielders; left-handed pitchers after Franklin Morales.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: They could be drop down even more as more players move to be big leagues, and the talent coming from the lower levels fails to offer the same potential.
10. Baltimore Orioles
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
Why They’re Up: They drafted the best college position player in Matt Wieters, and added a ton of talent in the Erik Bedard trade.
Strengths: Right-handers who throw hard; power prospects; just on his own, Wieters makes catching a strength.
Weaknesses: Athletic position players, especially in the middle infield and center field.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: They could be up if third baseman Billy Rowell and right-hander Brandon Erbe can return to previous form.
11. Los Angeles Angels
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Why They’re Down: No one big thing, as their stock of prospects Brandon Wood, Nick Adenhart, Sean Rodriguez and Hank Conger is all good it’s just not as good as it was last year.
Strengths: Infielders with power; right-handed starting pitching.
Weaknesses: Very few outfield prospects; there’s a bit of a gap between talent nearly ready for the big leagues and young players who will take a while.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: They could slip down further if Brandon Wood and Nick Adenhart lose their eligibility–otherwise, they’ll likely remain unchanged here.
12. San Diego Padres
Last Year’s Ranking: 29
Why They’re Up: Matt Antonelli and Chase Headley both exploded onto prospect lists; the team invested seven figures to add Matt Latos as a draft-and-follow; the windfall of ’07 draft picks added much-needed depth.
Strengths: Right-handed pitching, of both the power and finesse type; advanced hitters with on-base and power skills.
Weaknesses: Left-handed arms, upper-level pitching.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Down. Headley or Antonelli, and maybe both, will reach the big leagues this year, and it’s doubtful that the system will find that kind of lightning in a bottle (twice) for a second consecutive season.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
Why They’re Down: When you add players like Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo to the big leagues, you’re allowed to be drop down a bit.
Strengths: More of a well-rounded system than one that is overloaded in any one spot; top two prospects (Matt LaPorta and Manny Parra) should both be helping in the big leagues in short order.
Weaknesses: After Jeremy Jeffress, there aren’t a lot of power arms; after Matt LaPorta, there aren’t a lot of power bats.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Down a bit. The Brewers have turned themselves into a competitive team through scouting and player development, but the well might finally be running a bit dry.
14. Washington Nationals
Last Year’s Ranking: 30
Why They’re Up: Chris Marrero is one of the better young sluggers around; the only thing better than having a ton of draft picks is knowing what to do with them, as the Nats used the 2007 draft to load up the system with a potential front-line starter in Ross Detwiler and another outstanding young masher in Michael Burgess.
Strengths: Young power hitters; many good arms at the lower levels.
Weaknesses: No position players that are close to big-league ready; short in infielders and catchers.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: Looking good. While Detwiler could lose eligibility as early as this year, there’s still a lot of young talent here that could potentially step up and take his place in next year’s Top 100.
15. St. Louis Cardinals
Last Year’s Ranking: 27
Why They’re Up: Colby Rasmus emerged as one of the top power/speed prospects in the game; 2006 draftees Chris Perez and Adam Ottavino shone in their full-season debuts; catcher Bryan Anderson raked at Double-A as a 20-year-old; older prospects like Joe Mather and Jarrett Hoffpauir took big steps forward.
Strengths: More up-the-middle prospects than most, with Rasmus, Anderson, and middle infielders like Jose Martinez and ’07 first-round pick Peter Kozma; a good number of quality arms at Double-A or higher.
Weaknesses: Their pitching has depth but lacks a high-ceiling starter; not much speed and athleticism after Rasmus.
Outlook for 2009 Ranking: It depends. If Rasmus gets enough big-league playing time to lose eligibility, their ranking will go down because there’s no other elite prospect in the system, nor a player capable of making a step forward into the Top 10.