16. Kansas City Royals
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Why They Might Be Better Than This: We haven’t seen what Eric Hosmer is capable of in a full season; Kila Ka’aihue’s tremendous 2008 campaign was for real; young arms like those of Tim Melville, Daniel Gutierrez, and Mike Montgomery provide plenty of cause for optimism.
Why They Might Be Worse: Mike Moustakas might not really be an infielder; Daniel Cortes‘ inconsistency continues to frustrate; after the big two sluggers in the system, their team is rail-thin as far as position players.
Outlook For 2010: The Royals don’t have a top three pick for the first time in five years, but even the 12th overall pick should net them a significant talent; they have so many young players with room for growth that it’s hard to see them moving anywhere but up next year.
17. Seattle Mariners
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Greg Halman’s tools are ridiculously good; Phillippe Aumount was treated with kid gloves last year and is just scratching the surface of his abilities; now that he’s signed, 2008 first-round pick Joshua Fields could develop quickly as the team’s closer of the future.
Why They Might Be Worse: Halman’s strikeout rate is equally ridiculous; while they’re a minority, there is still a vocal group of scouts who thinks Aumont profiles better as a reliever; Carlos Triunfel is way overrated.
Outlook For 2010: With the second pick in this year’s draft, the Mariners should get an instant elite-level player in the organization this summer, while they have few rookie possibilities for 2009; after moving up seven spots from last year, they could be in line for an equally impressive jump next year.
18. New York Mets
Last Year’s Ranking: 28
Why They Might Be Better Than This: The system is improved and has room for even more growth, as six of their Top 11 prospects spent 2008 in short-season leagues, with Latin American infielders Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte both receiving raves from scouts; Brad Holt could be a real steal from the 2008 draft; Ike Davis‘ miserable debut could be a fluke.
Why They Might Be Worse: Davis’ debut was so bad that they can’t just write it off; the defensive home of fellow 2008 first-rounder Reese Havens is still uncertain; Holt needs to improve his secondary stuff to avoid being categorized as a reliever; will Fernando Martinez ever stay healthy for an entire year?
Outlook For 2010: Unless something strange happens with Martinez, all of these prospects should still be here come next year, which should move the Mets into the upper half of baseball after years spent near the bottom.
19. Cincinnati Reds
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Their big investment in Latin America has delivered a pair of high-ceiling outfielders in Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Duran; Drew Stubbs made significant progress on his contact issues; Chris Valaika‘s lack of tools underrates him, because he can really hit.
Why They Might Be Worse: Yonder Alonso‘s struggles versus lefties turns into a real problem; 2007 first-round pick Devin Mesoraco doesn’t recover from a sloppy full-season debut; is there a pitcher in the entire system worth getting excited about?
Outlook For 2010: With another top ten pick (eighth overall), Cincinnati gets a shot at adding another premium talent to the system, and after producing so much quality big-league talent last year, the system can afford a little patience.
20. Minnesota Twins
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks give the Twins two premium center-field prospects where plenty of organizations have none; Angel Morales‘ power is real; a core philosophy of their system that tends to favor command over stuff leaves their arms consistently underrated in scouting circles.
Why They Might Be Worse: While their top five prospects are all position players, the drop-off from there among hitters is massive; Deolis Guerra, one of the biggest names in the Johan Santana deal, faces a make-or-break year; top pitching prospect Shooter Hunt‘s command troubles hinder his development.
Outlook For 2010: A big year from Hicks and some of the 2008 draftees shining in their full-season debuts could move the system up in these rankings.
21. Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Many saw Ethan Martin as the top high school pitcher in the draft, and his upside is considerable; if Andrew Lambo‘s late-season Double-A showing is real, he could be a monster; as always, they have a good number of young athletes with breakout potential, headed by shortstop Devaris Gordon.
Why They Might Be Worse: Second-ranked LA prospect Ivan De Jesus Jr. is done for the year after breaking his leg in a spring training game; there isn’t a pitcher in the system with top-of-the-rotation potential; top power prospects like Pedro Baez and Kyle Russell don’t have enough hitting skills to take advantage of them.
Outlook For 2010: With no first-round pick this June, the Dodgers are stuck with the hand they’ve been dealt, and the loss of DeJesus hurts; one of the biggest drops from last year’s rankings, they’re not really in a position to move back toward the top.
22. Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Pedro Alvarez showed up in camp in shape and raking; Andrew McCutchen‘s approach continues to improve; outfielder Jose Tabata is a new man since his trade from the Yankees; willingness to spend in the draft could reap big dividends with a high-ceiling bat like Robbie Grossman.
Why They Might Be Worse: There’s a reason that no pitchers were mentioned; the quick demise of the prospect status of Daniel Moskos is a final stinging blow from the last administration.
Outlook For 2010: The Pirates have another top selection with the fourth overall pick in June, but they could lose some of their top talent, especially McCutchen, to the big leagues; the additional depth created by trades should move them forward, with room for more if some of the younger talent steps up.
23. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Scouts still believe in Nick Adenhart‘s stuff, and he showed up this spring throwing strikes; Hank Conger is one healthy season away from breaking out; pitchers like Trevor Reckling and Will Smith look like late-round finds.
Why They Might Be Worse: Jordan Walden‘s issues with secondary pitches could catch up to him as he moves up; Conger can’t stay at catcher; outfielder Peter Bourjos has a leadoff man’s skill set without the necessary approach at the plate.
Outlook For 2010: After not having a first-round pick in each of the last two drafts, the Angels return with a pair of late first-round selections (24, 25) this year, and historically they’re not afraid of spending on players who drop; the lower levels of the system added several players with promise in ’08, so this ranking should go back up.
24. Chicago White Sox
Last Year’s Ranking: 30
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Gordon Beckham might be ready now; third baseman Dayan Viciedo looks to be in good shape this spring, deflecting one of the main concerns about him; top hurler Aaron Poreda could be big league-ready now out of the bullpen, where his stuff is closer-worthy.
Why They Might Be Worse: Brandon Allen’s Double-A power surge is undependable; Tyler Flowers isn’t really a catcher in the end; Jordan Danks really is a tools over performance guy.
Outlook For 2010: The White Sox could be one of the worst systems in baseball for all of the right reasons if Beckham, Poreda, and Viciedo all end up with too much big-league playing time; if they stay in the minors, the system will look better, but only temporarily.
25. San Diego Padres
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Kyle Blanks is an offensive force who gets unfairly dinged by scouts for his size and unorthodox style; Kellen Kulbacki is one of the more unheralded hitting talents around; in any non-Ynoa year, Adys Portillo would be seen as the big prize of the international signing period.
Why They Might Be Worse: The system has a severe depth problem; top prospect Mat Latos has yet to pitch more than 60 innings in a season; most of the hitting talent is one-dimensional.
Outlook For 2010: The third pick this June should instantly become the best prospect in this system, and most of their other top prospects still have room for growth; it’s not a good system now, but at least it could be.
26. Chicago Cubs
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Josh Vitters is one of the best pure hitters in the minors; 2008 top pick Andrew Cashner‘s post-draft struggles were a fluke and his stuff will play; Jeff Samardzija finally began figuring things out.
Why They Might Be Worse: Other than Vitters, there is really not a single hitter in this system that excites anyone; the weakness in terms of the organization’s depth is the key reason that the long-rumored Jake Peavy deal never went down.
Outlook For 2010: Samardzija is the only player who is likely to lose his prospect status; there’s no reason to see them moving up considerably.
27. Detroit Tigers
Last Year’s Ranking: 27
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Rick Porcello is awesome; Cale Iorg’s full-season debut was very impressive when taken fully in context; Casey Crosby returns from Tommy John surgery and could be ready for a big step forward.
Why They Might Be Worse: The system lacks anything resembling an impact-level bat, and is especially weak up the middle; after Porcello, the Tigers have a lot of pitchers who throw hard, but who also have significant pitchability issues.
Outlook For 2010: Porcello is gunning for a rotation job this spring, and even if that doesn’t happen, chances are good that he’ll exceed the 50-inning rookie eligibility limit this season, which could easily drop this already near-bottom system even further.
28. Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Year’s Ranking: 19
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Jarrod Parker still has breakout potential and the ability to move into elite-level prospect status; 2008 top pick Daniel Schlereth could move quickly as a left-handed closer type; toolsy shortstop Reynaldo Navarro is another guy who could just click.
Why They Might Be Worse: Trades have created one of baseball’s most shallow systems; Parker is the only real high-ceiling arm that they have.
Outlook For 2010: Picking 16th and 17th in June will certainly help, but they have few prospects now who even seem capable of any kind of major step forward.
29. Washington Nationals
Last Year’s Ranking: 14
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Top prospect Jordan Zimmerman has been even better than advertised this spring; Ross Detwiler‘s second half provided cause for optimism; Chris Marrero returns from injury.
Why They Might Be Worse: Marrero was out of shape before he got hurt, and Detwiler’s season was still a disappointment by any measure; does outfielder Michael Burgess have too much swing-and-miss in him for the secondary skills to matter?
Outlook For 2010: With two of the first ten picks in the draft, including one almost undoubtedly getting used to select San Diego State star Stephen Strasburg, this ranking should go way up, if only by default.
30. Houston Astros
Last Year’s Ranking: 29
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Brian Bogusevic‘s transformation to successful everyday outfielder is for real; high-ceiling arms from the 2008 draft like Jordan Lyles and Ross Seaton are loaded with potential.
Why They Might Be Worse: They can’t be any worse than 30; top arm Bud Norris is looking more and more like a reliever in the end; highly regarded (at least internally) hitters like Chris Johnson and Drew Sutton have consistently been old for their levels.
Outlook For 2010: They’ve got nowhere to go but up, really; the good news is that the new scouting regime headed by Bobby Heck commands industry-wide respect.