Ranking the Minor League Systems by Impact: #1-15 by Tony Blengino March 14, 2014 One of the many rites of the baseball offseason is the publication of minor league prospect and organizational rankings. It’s my turn to take a swipe at this process, and I’m going to take a little bit of a different tack. The organizations will be ranked from top to bottom, and a key word that you will see over and over again is “impact”. Each team’s inner core of impact prospects – those that project as likely above average major league regulars – will drive each team’s ranking, though the number of non-impact regulars and the system’s total number of viable future big leaguers will also play a role. Today, systems 1 through 15. Below, each team will have a brief section, containing the following information: – IMPACT – The number of impact prospects currently in the system, followed by their names in alpha order, with top-tier impact guys in ALL CAPS. – Other 2013 Impact – A listing of other players on the team’s prior year impact prospect list, with the positive (in the majors) or negative (downgraded prospect status) reason they are no longer on the impact list. – Strength/Weakness – Self explanatory – Depth Ratio – The number of total viable MLB prospects in the organizations divided by the average number of viable prospects in a system. – One I Like More – A prospect I like more than the industry consensus, and why. – One I Like Less – A prospect I like less than the industry consensus, and why. – Observation – One takeaway, big-picture thought on the organization at this moment in time. A couple of words regarding the methodology used here – a combination of analytical and traditional scouting methods were utilized. A Top 10 or Top 30 organizational list approach can obscure the difference between very strong and very weak systems. Holding all players to the same age and performance thresholds enables one to more easily cut each system’s prospects into tiers. I have seen many of the players discussed below in person, but far from all of them. That’s where video, MILBtv, scouting reports and other forms of research come in. There’s also a healthy dose of gut feel. The older, professional players who never played in a team’s minor league system – the Masahiro Tanakas, the Jose Abreus, etc., were not included in this analysis. Enough of this……let’s get on with the rankings. 1 – Houston Astros – IMPACT (8) – RHP Mark Appel, SS CARLOS CORREA, 2B Delino DeShields, RHP Lance McCullers, RF DOMINGO SANTANA, 1B Jonathan Singleton, RHP Kyle Smith, CF George Springer – Other 2013 Impact – None – Strength/Weakness – Quality depth around the diamond, solid group of non-impact regular prospects, led by a group of RHPs fronted by Michael Feliz and Mike Foltynewicz, are right behind the impact guys. System is a bit light on quality LHP. – Depth Ratio – 1.33 – One I Like More – Take your pick – Domingo Santana or Kyle Smith. Santana is a monster of a man who hit 25 HR and slugged .498 in the AA Texas League at age 20 last season. Very few positional prospects in the game can match that youth/production combo. Smith is not big at 5’11”, 175, but can really, really pitch. Plus curveball and command, and is very efficient. Will move fast, can max out as a #3 starter. – One I Like Less – Foltynewicz. Though he can sit in the upper 90’s with his fastball, Foltynewicz has never truly dominated. The arrow is moving in the right direction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a move to the bullpen is eventually in store for the big righty. – Observation – The Astros’ system is deepest at the top, and among the deepest in the middle and at the bottom. They’ve been flipping marginal big league talent for useful organizational pieces for a couple seasons now, and things are about to start paying off at the MLB level. 2 – Minnesota Twins – IMPACT (7) – RHP Jose Berrios, CF BYRON BUXTON, RHP Stephen Gonsalves, 2B Eddie Rosario, 3B MIGUEL SANO, RHP Kohl Stewart, LHP Lewis Thorpe – Other 2013 Impact – RF Oswaldo Arcia (MLB), RHP Kyle Gibson (MLB), RHP Trevor May (non-impact future MLB regular) – Strength/Weakness – Massive 1-2 punch of top-tier impact prospects in Buxton and Sano, who will miss 2014 after Tommy John surgery. Strong overall starting pitching depth. Beyond Buxton, limited OF depth. – Depth Ratio – 0.93 – One I Like More – Gonsalves. Pitched only 28 IP after being drafted on the 4th round last season, but dominated older hitters in the Appalachian League in three starts there. Lots of physical projection at 6’5″, 195, and the now stuff is just fine. A potential breakthrough name for 2014. – One I Like Less – RHP Alex Meyer – I like Meyer just fine, but hesitate to use the word “impact” to describe him. Is already 24, just reached AA last year, and has a lot of innings-building ahead of him before he can be relied upon in a big league rotation for a full season. – Observation – Sano’s injury is a real bummer. The Buxton-Sano combo, when healthy, ranked ahead of Correa/Springer (HOU) and Javier Baez/Kris Bryant (CUB) among position player 1-2 punches. Position players are a little thin beyond the impact group, but watch out for 2B/SS Jorge Polanco, who has an advanced feel for hitting. 3 – Pittsburgh Pirates – IMPACT (8) – RHP Tyler Glasnow, SS Alen Hanson, RHP Luis Heredia, RHP Nick Kingham, C Reese McGuire, CF Austin Meadows, CF Gregory Polanco, RHP JAMESON TAILLON – Other 2013 Impact – RHP Gerrit Cole (MLB) – Strength/Weakness – Plenty of up-the-middle talent, some of whom will eventually move to corners and maintain or even improve the Pirates’ already strong big league defense. System is a bit top-heavy, with a smaller than average number of projected regulars behind the impact group. – Depth Ratio – 0.93 – One I Like More – CF Jacoby Jones – The 2013 3rd rounder didn’t hit much at all in his last two years at LSU, but the tools are there, both offensively and defensively, and the early returns with the bat (.311-.358-.459) were good in an admittedly small 61 at-bat sample. – One I Like Less – Polanco. Going to tread very lightly here, as I really like Polanco. Though he did step up big in winter ball, Polanco’s bat has been quite uneven throughout his pro career, and it’s very difficult for me to place a stud-level bat descriptor on him. Very solid, impactful, Starling Marte-type player, but not the next Andrew McCutchen. – Observation – Excellent depth at the top, so-so depth at the middle and bottom, less than both of the clubs ranked ahead of them. Watch out for CF Harold Ramirez, who presently sits on the cusp of the impact group. 4 – Chicago Cubs – IMPACT (5) – SS Arismendy Alcantara, CF Albert Almora, SS JAVIER BAEZ, 3B KRIS BRYANT, RF Jorge Soler – Other 2013 Impact – 1B Dan Vogelbach (non-impact future MLB regular) – Strength/Weakness – Massive impact on the way from core position player group. System has exceptional depth at 3B. Very limited LHP depth. – Depth Ratio – 1.13 – One I Like More – Alcantara. Would stand out in almost any other system, but is obscured by Baez, Bryant, even Starlin Castro at MLB level. Probably winds up at 2B if he remains a Cub, and can be a .300 hitter who fills up the scoresheet, a 30-10-15-20 SB guy. – One I Like Less – RHP C.J. Edwards – As with Polanco, going with a guy I really like in this spot. Not going to argue with the stuff or the performance to date, but have him ranked on the cusp of “impact” simply because I question the frame (6’2″, 155) and durability over the long haul. Great draft by the Rangers, great acquisition by the Cubs, think his prospect stock has gotten just a bit speculative. – Observation – Things are going to beginning getting an awful lot brighter in Wrigley Field, likely beginning in 2015. No other club has more offensive thump on the way, and the impact group is complemented by a deeper than average group of non-impact regulars. 5 – Boston Red Sox – IMPACT (6) – 2B Mookie Betts, CF Jackie Bradley, SS XANDER BOGAERTS, 3B Garin Cecchini, LHP Henry Owens, RHP Allen Webster – Other 2013 Impact – None – Strength/Weakness – Strong position-player depth, particularly up the middle. Limited corner infield power options, though some of the middle guys, like Bogaerts, should eventually help out there. – Depth Ratio – 0.98 – One I Like More – Cecchini – This guy is a perfect fit for Fenway Park, with a Wade Boggs-like overall offensive portfolio. Has a career line of .312-.417-.457, with almost as many walks as whiffs. One cannot emphasize enough how much the Green Monster can help a lefthanded hitter, turning lots of routine opposite-field fly balls into wall doubles. – One I Like Less – C Blake Swihart – Another guy I like, but that I can’t call impact. I see a solid, everyday catcher who makes the trains run on time, not a star, though the arrows are moving in the right direction for the switch-hitter. – Observation – The Red Sox could get more value from their impact group in 2014 than any club, with Bogaerts and Bradley projected as starters and Webster and even Owens potential pitching contributors by season’s end. Just beyond the core group, RHP Matt Barnes could have his number called sometime in 2014 as well. 6 – Texas Rangers – IMPACT (3) – 3B JOEY GALLO, 2B ROUGNED ODOR, LF Nick Williams – Other 2013 Impact = SS Hanser Alberto (non-impact future MLB regular), RHP Cody Buckel (injured), 3B Mike Olt (CUB; non-impact future MLB regular), 2B Jurickson Profar (MLB) – Strength/Weakness – Deepest group of non-impact future MLB regulars in the game, fronted by C Jorge Alfaro. Superior middle infield depth, even with the graduation of Profar to the majors. System does lack a slam-dunk pitching ace. – Depth Ratio – 1.22 – One I Like More – Gallo. Ultra-high risk, ultra-high reward, but useable power like this doesn’t come along often. Think Chris Davis. – One I Like Less – SS Luis Sardinas – Like him, but not sold on his development with the bat. Has always been among the youngest at his level, probably needs to stick at AA for awhile – he doesn’t turn 21 until May – to see if he can ramp it up a notch. – Observation – Likely the deepest stockpile of Latin American talent in the game, with many of them lurking just beneath the current impact group. If one or more of Alfaro, Sardinas, Alberto, 1B Ronald Guzman, RF Nomar Mazara or RF Jairo Beras raise their game, watch out. 7 – St. Louis Cardinals – IMPACT (4) – LHP Tim Cooney, RHP Carlos Martinez, RF OSCAR TAVERAS, 2B Kolten Wong – Other 2013 Impact – RHP Shelby Miller (MLB), RHP Michael Wacha (MLB) – Strength/Weakness – Extremely deep group of non-impact regulars behind the impact group. Superior pitching depth, quality group of outfielders. Limited corner infield depth. – Depth Ratio – 1.00 – One I Like More – Cooney. The 2012 3rd rounder is quickly dicing his way through the minors, posting a 125/18 K/BB ratio in 118 AA innings last season. A typically efficient Cardinal pitching prospect, he could arrive later this season and eventually settle in as a 3rd starter. – One I Like Less – RF Stephen Piscotty – Another guy that I do like, but just don’t see as an impact guy. See as a hit-before-power non-profile corner OF, .275, 15 HR type. – Observation – No one drafts college players better than the Cardinals do, and no one gets the most from their prospects’ talent. Never bet against these guys. 8 – San Diego Padres – IMPACT (4) – LHP Max Fried, C Austin Hedges, RHP Burch Smith, RHP MATT WISLER – Other 2013 Impact – 2B Jedd Gyorko (MLB), RHP Casey Kelly (Inj; non-impact future MLB regular) – Strength/Weakness – A very deep group of non-impact future MLB regulars, including Kelly, support the impact group. Starting pitching is very deep, a good thing, as an entire wave of pitching prospects was seemingly waylaid by Tommy John surgery. Corner infield options are limited. – Depth Ratio – 1.07 – One I Like More – B.Smith. Though his overall performance in his major league debut was subpar, you have to love the K rate (46 in 36 IP). Big arm, strong frame, solid track record – he should be much more comfortable the second time around. – One I Like Less – RF Rymer Liriano – Always loved the tools, but if anyone needed the year’s worth of at bats he lost to Tommy John surgery last season, it was Liriano. Tough to call him an impact guy at this point. – Observation – Size of non-impact regular group stands out more than the quality and depth of the impact group. After a couple of years at or near the top of the heap, this system is starting to trend downward, and due to injuries, may never achieve its full promise. 9 – Kansas City Royals – IMPACT (4) – RF Jorge Bonifacio, SS Raul Mondesi, RHP YORDANO VENTURA, RHP KYLE ZIMMER – Other 2013 Impact – RHP Kyle Smith (HOU), CF Bubba Starling (non-impact future MLB regular) – Strength/Weakness – Two high-end, near-ready MLB starting pitchers in Ventura and Zimmer is the clear greatest strength. The system is thin in catching – not a big deal with Salvador Perez in place – and lefthanded pitching. – Depth Ratio – 0.87 – One I Like More – 3B Cheslor Cuthbert – Struggled in his first go-round in AA, but is still only 21 and possesses the all-around tools to be a regular major league 3B. – One I Like Less – 3B Hunter Dozier – Liked the budget-saver pick of Dozier at 8th overall that enabled them to afford LHP Sean Manaea later, but Dozier himself is not an impact prospect. Posted a .303-.403-.509 line in the Pioneer League last season, but there’s some serious altitude there. – Observation – The system has fallen from its heady peak, back in the Wil Myers era, and will fall quite a bit further once Ventura and Zimmer are entrenched in the big leagues. Their continuing ability to identify and develop under-the-radar types such as RHP’s Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford will keep them from falling too far, however. 10 – Cleveland Indians – IMPACT (2) – CF Clint Frazier, SS FRANCISCO LINDOR – Other 2013 Impact – RHP Trevor Bauer (non-impact future MLB regular), SS Dorssys Paulino (non-impact future MLB regular) – Strength/Weakness – As always, the Indians are very deep in non-impact regular and niche roster filler talent, and a little short on the impact side. The presence of a transcendent talent like Lindor in itself makes this a Top 10 system. There’s plenty of catching, but limited starting pitching depth. – Depth Ratio – 1.29 – One I Like More – C Francisco Mejia – This switch-hitting catcher made big noise as a 17-year-old in his pro debut, batting .305-.348-.524 in a small sample. Has lots to learn behind the plate, but has a big arm and big power. – One I Like Less – CF Tyler Naquin – His power has been slow to develop, and his defensive ability might not be good enough to stay in CF. Looking like a tweener/non-profile corner, hasn’t made the strides I thought he would out of college. – Observation – Typical Indians’ system, with lots of volume, but below average impact. Francisco Lindor, however, is worth about eight or nine ranking slots all by himself. 11 – Seattle Mariners – IMPACT (3) – LHP Luiz Gohara, 1B D.J. Peterson, RHP TAIJUAN WALKER – Other 2013 Impact – SS Nick Franklin (MLB), LHP Danny Hultzen (Inj; non-impact future MLB regular), SS Brad Miller (MLB), C Mike Zunino (MLB) – Strength/Weakness – With the graduation of Franklin, Miller and Zunino to the big leagues, the impact position player talent has been pretty well cleaned out. There is a larger than average group of non-impact regulars still in place, led by LHP James Paxton, who just misses the impact cutoff because of his uneven performance record. – Depth Ratio – 1.24 – One I Like More – RHP Carson Smith – It’s virtually impossible to elevate the baseball against this guy. He was a durable starter in college, and can be a valuable 2-IP relief option in the big leagues before long. – One I Like Less – RF Austin Wilson – The Mariners essentially hitched their 2013 draft to Peterson and Wilson by going way over slot for the Stanford outfielder. The physical tools are undeniable, but he has never really hit, and has a massive popup tendency. His chances of reaching his ceiling are small. – Observation – System has been thinned by promotions to MLB, a good thing, though some of them have been premature, a not so good thing. The minor league reloading process has been a bit slow at the lower levels, so the recent system decline could become a trend. 12 – Los Angeles Dodgers – IMPACT (4) – RHP Zach Lee, CF Joc Pederson, SS Corey Seager, LHP JULIO URIAS – Other 2013 Impact – None – Strength/Weakness – Lots of pitching depth is bubbling just beneath the impact group, lefties and righties, starters and relievers. Behind Seager, infield depth is very limited. – Depth Ratio – 1.13 – One I Like More – Urias. He pitched in a full-season league at age 16, and excelled. Needs to get stretched out, stay healthy, and continue to improve in all facets, but is one of the best pitching prospects in the game. – One I Like Less – RHP Chris Withrow – Had stagnated, going from arguably the Dodgers’ top prospect to a 3-plus year veteran of AA Chattanooga, before breaking out last season. Expect the pendulum to swing back the other way in 2014, though he still should be an effective 6th-7th inning type for the Dodgers. – Observation – System has made great strides in the last couple of years thanks both to shrewd selections throughout the draft and some solid Latin American signings. Though the Dodgers’ financial might at the major league level captures the headlines, their farm system is also on a positive trajectory. 13 – New York Mets – IMPACT (3) – C Travis d’Arnaud, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP NOAH SYNDERGAARD – Other 2013 Impact – RHP Zack Wheeler (MLB) – Strength/Weakness – Small, but very solid impact group is a strength, and 1B Dominic Smith is right behind them. Overall OF pickings are pretty slim, as is starting pitching depth behind the two impact guys. – Depth Ratio – 1.02 – One I Like More – RF Cesar Puello – Betting that he’ll remain productive after a 50-game PED suspension. There is serious power/speed potential here. – One I Like Less – SS Gavin Cecchini – Don’t like him nearly as much as brother Garin. Has been very ordinary in two rookie ball seasons to date. Below average power and speed, limited physical projection – I’m not seeing the impact. – Observation – Solid depth at the lower end of the system, one of the game’s pitching prospects in Syndergaard, and an immediate regular MLB catcher with bat potential is just enough to sneak the Mets into the top half of the rankings. Could drop a ways next year. 14 – Baltimore Orioles – IMPACT (4) – RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Hunter Harvey, RHP Eduardo Rodriguez – Other 2013 Impact – None – Strength/Weakness – Obvious strength is high-end starting pitching; obvious weakness is almost total absence of high-end offensive potential. – Depth Ratio – 1.00 – One I Like More – C Chance Sisco – It’s only 102 rookie ball at-bats, but for an 18-year-old to bat .363-.468-.451 at any position is a big deal. For a lefthanded-hitting catcher, it’s an even bigger deal. – One I Like Less – LHP Tim Berry – Can’t get too worked up by a 22-year-old putting up below league average numbers and peripherals in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. He’s a prospect, but not a major one. – Observation – As usual, the O’s system is top-heavy, but each of those four impact pitchers is extremely interesting. Harvey’s 2013 was scintillating – he could turn out to be one of the single best selections in last year’s draft. 15 – Colorado Rockies – IMPACT (4) – RHP Eddie Butler, RHP Jonathan Gray, SS Rosell Herrera, C Tom Murphy – Other 2013 Impact – CF David Dahl (non-impact MLB regular), SS Trevor Story (non-impact MLB regular) – Strength/Weakness – Biggest strength are the two impact starting pitcher prospects who could come very quickly. Overall organizational depth is below average, especially the pitching behind those two and RHP Chad Bettis. Middle infield depth is solid. – Depth Ratio – 0.87 – One I Like More – 3B Ryan McMahon – Not a clear choice here. I do like McMahon a little more than the industry consensus – his very impressive pro debut (.321-.402-.583 in the Pioneer League) at age 18 marks him as a potential future impact guy. – One I Like Less – Story. His rough 2013 batting line – .233-.305-.394 with 183 K’s – is bad enough, but considering that he posted it in the hitter-friendly California League, it looks even worse. He’ll play 2014 at age 21, so there’s still hope. – Observation – The Rockies certainly appear to now have a cohesive organizational pitching strategy, with a rotation full of ground ball guys in place at the major league level, and two potentially superior talents on the way in Butler and Gray.