1. Oakland Athletics
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Their Triple-A rotation, led by Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, could be better than some big-league rotations; Michael Ynoa is the best Latin American prospect of the decade; 2008 draftees Jemile Weeks and Rashun Dixon bring much-needed tools to an advanced group of hitters.
Why They Might Be Worse: Ynoa has yet to pitch in a pro game; expected to be the fifth starter, lefty Gio Gonzalez might fit better in the bullpen; there is plenty of debate among scouts concerning the ceilings of hitters like Aaron Cunningham and Sean Doolittle.
Outlook For 2010: Could depend as much on how well the big-league team does during the first half of the season as anything else, as the second half is either spent gunning for a post-season spot or the beginning of a rebuilding mode, which could mean that a number of players will lose their prospect status going into 2010.
2. Texas Rangers
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Why They Might Be Better Than This: A collection of pitching that is borderline embarrassing-good, because beyond more advanced studs like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland they had the best Low-A staff in baseball last season, and they will again this year with, with a new cast of characters no less; Justin Smoak could be the steal of the 2008 draft; Engel Beltre‘s tools rank with anyone’s.
Why They Might Be Worse: The position players fall a bit short, mostly due to a poor approach; Beltre, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and outfielder Julio Borbon all need to develop more patience to reach their potential; 2007 first-round pick Blake Beavan needs to rebound from a loss of velocity; catcher Taylor Teagarden‘s scouting reports range from big-league regular to simply “can’t hit.”
Outlook For 2010: Much depends on the years that Feliz and Holland have, and if they lose prospect eligibility, the system will obviously slip a bit; nonetheless they have enough depth to stay near or at the top.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Why They Might Be Better Than This: You all saw in the postseason what David Price is capable of; with the first pick in the draft, they added a possible impact shortstop in Tim Beckham; Desmond Jennings comes back from a season lost season to injury and still has one of the best packages of tools in the game; just when you thought they were running out of pitchers, along come Matt Moore and Nick Barnese, with over-slot 2008 signee Kyle Lobstein not far behind.
Why They Might Be Worse: Tim Beckham’s performance in his debut was significantly below expectations, and a cause for some concern; Reid Brignac‘s bat has gone consistently backward as he’s moved up; Jeremy Hellickson‘s numbers are more impressive than his scouting reports.
Outlook For 2010: Certainly down, as Price graduates, and after years of selecting at or near the top in every draft, they’ll select 30th this coming June.
4. Atlanta Braves
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson are the top hitting and pitching prospect pair in all of baseball; Jordan Schafer is looking nearly big-league ready this spring; the system has dozens of intriguing young arms.
Why They Might Be Worse: Gorkys Hernandez needs to rebound following a second-half slide and a hamstring injury; after Hanson and Schafer, the remaining prospects will require patience, so there’s plenty of time for things to go wrong.
Outlook For 2010: Hanson and Schafer could be gone, but the Braves select seventh this June, their highest selection in the draft since 1991; they’ll likely slip, but only a bit.
5. Florida Marlins
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
Why They Might Be Better Than This: With Cameron Maybin, Michael Stanton, and Matt Dominguez, the organization has three five-star position prospects, and many believe that Logan Morrison should be the fourth; Kyle Skipworth is unfairly downgraded by a tough pro debut; left-handed behemoth Sean West is a favorite sleeper among scouts.
Why They Might Be Worse: Stanton strikes out too much, and both he and Dominguez played in excellent hitter parks last year; the pitching offers no certainty, especially as far as starting pitchers; the depth is below average.
Outlook For 2010: Maybin is certainly gone, and it’s hard enough to move up from fifth overall as it is; a slip is expected, but the Marlins should remain in the upper half.
6. San Francisco Giants
Last Year’s Ranking: 25
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Madison Bumgarner had the best season of any pitcher in the minors, jumps to Double-A this year, and could move quickly; the team abandoned their previous approach to the draft (cheap, miserly) by taking Buster Posey in the first round; big spending in the Dominican has added high-ceiling talent.
Why They Might Be Worse: Angel Villalona is only 18 years old, and there are already questions about his conditioning; it’s one of the more top-heavy systems around, as two-star prospects creep into the back end of their Top 11; other than Posey, there is very little up-the-middle talent.
Outlook For 2010: The elite prospects in the system have ETAs of 2010, which should keep the Giants near the top; the sixth overall pick should add another outstanding player.
7. Baltimore Orioles
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Just a ridiculous amount of pitching, all of which could be big-league ready a year from now, turning one of the worst rotations in the major leagues into one of the best; and, oh yeah, this Wieters guy is pretty damned good as well.
Why They Might Be Worse: It’s the most unbalanced systems in baseball, as once Matt Wieters leaves the farm for good (in a few weeks), what’s left is one of the weakest groups of position players around; Brandon Erbe begins the year in Double-A, while still showing more promise than actual production.
Outlook For 2010: Likely down, because graduating the best prospect in the game can do that to an organization; once the pitchers make it to The Show, this could become a bad, bad system, but at that point Orioles fans won’t have much of a reason to complain.
8. Boston Red Sox
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Lars Anderson improved throughout the year in 2008, and there is still room for growth; the rebound of Daniel Bard was borderline shocking; the ’08 draft added a boatload of high-ceiling talent with explosive potential; Nick Hagadone could become a household name if he returns to form following Tommy John surgery.
Why They Might Be Worse: Josh Reddick‘s aggressive approach caught up with him in a big way at Double-A; Casey Kelly wants to pitch, while scouts like him better as a shortstop; Ryan Kalish-man or myth?
Outlook For 2010: For the most part, the Red Sox system is set up to help the team after 2009, so most, if not all of these players will still be prospects next year, and many of them have more room for growth than regression; if all falls right, this could be a top five system next year.
9. St. Louis Cardinals
Last Year’s Ranking: 15
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Despite an overall disappointing season, scouts still love Colby Rasmus; 2008 first-round pick Brett Wallace mashed at Double-A just weeks after signing and looks like a future mid-order lineup force who doesn’t need much more time in the minors; Daryl Jones is just beginning to tap into his athleticism.
Why They Might Be Worse: Rasmus looks as if he’s pressing once again this spring; Wallace isn’t really a third baseman in the end; they have some solid pitching prospects, but none of them look like stud big-league starters.
Outlook For 2010: Their top prospect will likely be ineligible next year, which will almost certainly lead to a drop; most of what’s left has significant certainty but a rather low ceiling.
10. Toronto Blue Jays
Last Year’s Ranking: 24
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Travis Snider could be the best hitter the Blue Jays have right now; J.P. Arencibia is a catcher with 25-30 homer potential; they have three pitchers in their top eight who are nearly big-league ready.
Why They Might Be Worse: The pitchers mentioned above lack much in the way of ceilings; Arencibia might not be aware of the rule that allows one to take a base if four balls are thrown to him outside the strike zone; the 2007 high school draftees didn’t do much on a statistical level in their full-season debuts.
Outlook For 2010: Losing Snider alone will bring with it a significant drop; there’s not a great deal of room left for growth in what remains.
11. Colorado Rockies
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Dexter Fowler is a five-tool stud who’s just a power surge away from becoming a monster; one scout called righty Jhoulys Chacin “Felix Hernandez Lite”; Willin Rosario is the best catching prospect nobody knows about.
Why They Might Be Worse: Casey Weathers is going to miss most of the year following elbow surgery; catcher Michael McKenry‘s hitting is a product of the high-octane California League; depth is a significant issue here.
Outlook For 2010: With no expectations for any of their players in 2009 and the 11th overall pick in June, they could move up a bit, unless Fowler gets the call earlier than September.
12. Cleveland Indians
Last Year’s Ranking: 20
Why They Might Be Better Than This: While it’s hardly star-laden, it’s certainly one of the deeper systems around, as their list of three-star prospects stretches far past their Top 11; they have four prospects who legitimately project as middle-of-the-order hitters; their work in Latin America brings some high-ceiling arms in Hector Rondon and Kelvin De La Cruz.
Why They Might Be Worse: Of those four sluggers, three could be limited afield as no more than first basemen; overall, the system is lacking athletic, toolsy, up-the-middle types; Adam Miller just can’t stay healthy, period; Matt LaPorta was a mess after the CC Sabathia deal.
Outlook For 2010: There’s not much breakout potential, but slow, base-clogging sluggers are rarely seen as breakout candidates; they’ll likely stay somewhere toward the middle, unless they lose talents like LaPorta or Miller (if healthy) to the majors.
13. New York Yankees
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Who knows? Maybe Jesus Montero really can catch after all; Andrew Brackman has breakout potential; so does lanky, ultra-projectable righty Dellin Betances; as always, there are plenty of young Latin American talents in the system.
Why They Might Be Worse: Austin Jackson is solid across the board, but he doesn’t really have any star-level tools; Brackman’s had breakout potential for six years without the breakout; after Montero and Jackson, there’s not much to talk about when it comes to position players.
Outlook For 2010: Lots of risk, and lots of upside; this one could go anywhere.
14. Philadelphia Phillies
Last Year’s Ranking: 26
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Carlos Carrasco is nearly ready for the majors and looking good this spring; 2006 first-round pick Kyle Drabek has made an impressive return from Tommy John surgery and could be poised to break out; the system is loaded with toolsy high-ceiling prospects who could explode.
Why They Might Be Worse: Some see outfielder Michael Taylor‘s breakout season as a bit fluky; those young, high-upside players also come with considerable risk; many of their more big-league ready prospects (Lou Marson, Jason Donald) don’t have star potential.
Outlook For 2010: It all depends on how guys like 2008 draftees/human toolsheds Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier look in their first full season, and if Dominic Brown can make any further progress; they could move strongly in either direction, or simply stick around here in the middle.
15. Milwaukee Brewers
Last Year’s Ranking: 13
Why They Might Be Better Than This: Alcides Escobar is an everyday shortstop who provides better defense and nearly equal offensive tools to Elvis Andrus; Jeremy Jeffress throws as hard as anyone anywhere and could become elite with some refinement; Angel Salome is an offensive monster who gets unfairly dinged because he’s built like a bowling ball.
Why They Might Be Worse: Before he’s even played a professional game, Brett Lawrie is already not a catcher; Matt Gamel’s error rate and second-half nosedive are glaring red flags; the system has precious little pitching.
Outlook For 2010: The Brewers are lined up for a down year from last year’s playoff squad, since players like Escobar, Gamel, and Salome could all be seeing enough playing time to lose their prospect status. This system could be settled firmly into the bottom half 12 months from now.