Taking A Stab at Valuing the Farm Systems

This morning, Kiley McDaniel released the FanGraphs Top 200 Prospects list, providing a remarkable source of information. We’re obviously biased, but Kiley’s doing great work with the prospect information provided here on the site. One of my favorite things he’s doing is working to break down the barriers of the ordinal ranked list, providing Future Value grades that allow for more reasonable tiers of prospects, so that less time is spent arguing over whether a particular player should be #23 or #28 on a particular list.

So, I wanted to see if I could come up with a piece that would complement the information he’s presenting, using the value of having additional information beyond just ordinal ranking. To that end, I took latest prospect valuation estimates from Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli, and attempted to convert their tiered valuation estimations into numbers based on the Future Value calculations Kiley attached to each prospect on his list.

As I noted when we discussed the prospect valuation work a few months ago, the data is fascinating, but also slightly problematic for this purpose. For instance, here’s the table of values for prospect tiers according to Creagh and DiMiceli.

Tier Number of Players Avg. WAR Surplus Value % Less than 3 WAR % Zero WAR or less
Hitters #1-10 53 15.6 $48.4M 13% 9%
Hitters #11-25 34 12.5 $38.3M 32% 9%
Hitters #26-50 86 6.8 $20.3M 50% 31%
Hitters #51-75 97 5 $14.5M 57% 44%
Hitters #76-100 96 4.1 $11.6M 65% 42%
Pitchers #1-10 18 13.1 $40.4M 6% 0%
Pitchers #11-25 47 8.1 $24.5M 45% 28%
Pitchers #26-50 77 6.3 $18.7M 42% 25%
Pitchers #51-75 94 3.4 $9.4M 70% 48%
Pitchers #76-100 105 3.5 $9.6M 67% 45%

While there’s no clear right way to break prospects into larger groups, the #1-#10, #11-#25, #26-#50, #51-#75, and #76-#100 tiers don’t quite match Kiley’s FV tiers from his list. So, with the caveat that all of these are estimates based on estimates, I attempted to align the surplus value allocations from their research to Kiley’s FV tiers. This is what that matching produced.

Position Players

70 FV: $55M
65 FV: $45M
60 FV: $40M
55 FV: $20M
50 FV: $10M
45+ FV: $5M


70 FV: $50M
65 FV: $45M
60 FV: $25M
55 FV: $15M
50 FV: $10M
45+ FV: $5M

The counts don’t line up exactly with the tiers produced by Creagh and DiMiceli, but they are close, and this does seem to be somewhat of a weaker prospect class than usual, with a lot of high-risk guys ranking quite highly. As has been supported by essentially every analysis of prospect performance, the players at the high end are worth far more than the guys towards the bottom of the list, as one great prospect is likely to outperform even a half dozen lower level guys.

With these estimated values applied to each member of the Top 200, I then summed the data at the team level in order to give ourselves something like a overall valuation of for each team’s prospects who appeared on the Top 200. Again, these are estimates based on estimates, so none of this is intended to be precise to the dollar; it is simply an effort to expand a bit on Kiley’s information and give us an idea of the overall value of each team’s placement on his list.

Anyway, caveats aside, here is how each team’s farm systems stack up based on applying the valuation model to Kiley’s Future Value grades.


And a table for those who prefer such things.

Team Surplus Value
CHC $225,000,000
MIN $180,000,000
TEX $170,000,000
LAD $135,000,000
BOS $130,000,000
NYM $130,000,000
ATL $120,000,000
HOU $115,000,000
COL $110,000,000
CIN $100,000,000
CHW $90,000,000
NYY $85,000,000
TOR $85,000,000
WSH $85,000,000
KC $80,000,000
PIT $80,000,000
PHI $75,000,000
ARZ $65,000,000
BAL $60,000,000
CLE $60,000,000
SEA $60,000,000
STL $55,000,000
TB $50,000,000
SD $45,000,000
LAA $30,000,000
SF $30,000,000
MIL $20,000,000
OAK $20,000,000
MIA $15,000,000
DET $10,000,000

As you’d expect, the Cubs come out on top, with their collection of talent estimated to save them a little over $200 million over the team-controlled years of guys like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler. They have both premium talent and depth, and will probably grade out as the best farm system in baseball any almost any kind of measure you’d want to use.

Interestingly, however, the Twins jump to #2 on overall value by this method, as having Byron Buxton makes up for not having as much prospect depth as some other teams. For instance, the Braves placed three more players on the Top 200 than the Twins did, but this methodology values the Twins system at $60 million more in future savings, because Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios provide significant expected value to the organization.

While the Braves have more players on the Top 200 than any other organization, they’re all in that 45+ to 55 FV range, where the long-term values just aren’t as high as they are with more premium talent. There’s certainly value in having a large quantity of prospect depth, but history has shown that you’re probably better off with a few high-end guys rather than multiple mid-tier prospects. The Braves farm system still comes out looking quite strong relative to the rest of the league, but this knocks them down a few pegs for lacking a true standout talent.

When he finishes his team write-ups, Kiley will have his own farm system rankings, and they may or may not look anything like these. There are enough assumptions made in this attempt to not take these literally, or to say that these are the final word on farm system valuations. But as you look at the list, I think this serves as a useful reminder of how much more the guys at the top matter than the guys in the middle and at the end. Quantity is great, but when it to prospects, quality comes at a premium.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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9 years ago

So the Cubs have by far the best farm system in baseball, a decent team at the MLB level, have a smart and progressive front office, arguably the best manager in the game, an ownership willing to spend money, and one of the biggest fanbases in MLB…. I’m curious how they’ll find a way to continue to suck.

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

I feel the same way about the Dodgers, just replacing “suck” with “fall short of the World Series.” Sigh.

9 years ago
Reply to  Bip


9 years ago
Reply to  Sabertooth

Yes… that is the primary difference, but probably the smallest factor of those mentioned. And of course they don’t have the best farm system but it’s clearly upper third.

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Well, before Epstein came over, they had precisely 2 of those things (1 of which doesn’t directly help teams win games). I know this sounds crazy, but…give it a few years 🙂

Bartman and Goat
9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Blame us!

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Didn’t you see Back to the Future II? Cubs in ’15!

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Just ask any White Sox or Cardinals fan. They seem to always think of something. Usually it’s just because we’re the cubs.

Rational Fan
9 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Isn’t that all they need? Well that, and over 100 years of history. Take that sample size to the bank.

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

I find it simple — prospects aren’t MLB players and until they actually make it and prosper, it’s just so much hand waiving and opinion. Also, there seems to always be too much emphasis on measurables and not enough ‘he’s a ball player’ and how he might fit in a team as an integral component.

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

They won’t suck, that would be too easy. They will be good, but will find new cruel and unusual ways to lose in the end. Talk to A’s fans if you want to know how to prepare for this type of thing.