25 and Under (ALW Edition)
After completing a top 100 prospects list, my comments were filled with requests of farm system rankings. To correctly evaluate a team's system though, it's hard to look just below the major league surface. If so, Tampa would've taken a huge loss when B.J. Upton graduated, which should be more of a reward than a punishment. In fact, often times those young Major Leaguers offer a better evaluation of a system than their prospect counterparts. So I've tried to combat this, not using the typical 'organizational prospect rankings' title. Instead, I'll spend the next 6 weeks on my organizational 25 and under rankings.
No, this name does not derive from pornography, but refers to youth in a Major League system. I've debated changing the age requirement, or even using service time rather than birth years. But in the end, we come out with a very similar and much simpler outcome with 25 and under. So ignore the occasional freak like C.C. Sabathia, who at age 24 is more accomplished than 90% of Major League pitchers. Another rule is the player must have been a product of the minor league system. So Joe Nathan, who was raised a Giant and turned a Twin, will not factor into the rankings. Get it? Got it? Good.
Before we get started, let me explain the ranking process. Every week I'll handle a new division, starting today with the AL West. On Mondays I'll rank strictly the farm systems, which include players with zero Major League experience. Fridays will be Major League youth rankings, along with an updated breakdown. Wednesdays will be open for my own thoughts, ranging from the AFL, to the Justin Upton futility battle, to a special treat this week. This present will delay part two of the AFL article, which should be excusable when seeing my excuse. But for that, check back Wednesday. Today...is the AL West.
Moneyball may have briefly glorified the A's farm system, which is in divisional ranking freefall due to surrounding excellence. It appears the A's are slowly going dry, especially with the graduation of players like Bobby Crosby and Jairo Garcia. The infamous 2001 draft has struggled, with the traded Mark Teahen appearing to be their best selection. Luckily, Beane has already built a solid young core that won't need much revamping.
Heading down the state, the Angels are prepared for a slight makeover. Prior to the season there were no questions the Angels had one of the game's top systems. While Bobby Jenks and Jeff Mathis fall into the underachieving pile, Casey Kotchman has reached the Majors with Dallas McPherson nipping at his heels. And to improve things even more, Anaheim's low minor clubs feature more middle infield depth than you can imagine. With Arte Moreno throwing dollars at players like crazy, Anaheim will need a few working for the minimum.
Seattle's Major League explosion is already happening, with Jose Lopez, Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley all donning Seattle aqua. But the only true validation of the system will be the performance of Felix Hernandez, one of the game's top prospects. A bad year has equaled chances for youth, giving hope for outfielders Snelling, Reed and Choo. And while depth isn't existent in the Northwest, breeding the next Doc Gooden would excuse that.
Opposite the Mariners are the Texas Rangers, a team with immense depth built by Grady Fuson. Beane's former top man, Fuson is the reason for the Hudsons, Tejadas and Giambis of the world. Front office controversy has led to the departure of Fuson, who could be one of the offseason's best buys. He leaves behind him a solid system, built behind trades and late round steals. Teixeira, Nix and Gerald Laird have just began to show the system's strength, with Adrian Gonzalez and John Hudgins on the next tier. Expect John Hart to carefully pick and choose who, over time, gets kept or dealt.
Below are better descriptions of the farm systems, arranged from best to worst. Remember, this only includes players with no Major League experience. Let's begin with the AL West's best...Anaheim.
In case you're keeping track, half of that list is made up of middle infielders, three of whom are shortstops. This group is led by Erick Aybar, who is currently in a battle with Brian Stavinsky for the California League MVP. Aybar is tops in the league in stolen bases, and top three in batting average. A little raw, Aybar has 29 errors and 34 caught stealing. This is a little concerning, but forgivable when remembering his age of 20. He reminds me of Josh Barfield, indicating a possible rough 2005, though Texas League inflation will surely help.
In his spot goes Brandon Wood, the Angels first-round pick of 2003. Thought of as a bit of a reach last year, Wood has shown nice power and speed in the Midwest League. He's already hit the 100 strikeout mark, though, and like Aybar is nearing in on 30 errors. The final shortstop is Sean Rodriguez, currently tearing up the short-season Pioneer League to the tune of .366/.496/.629. Only 19 years old, Rodriguez already has won the first half MVP award, and is destined for a great future.
There are five other hitters in the top ten, most notably Dallas McPherson, who I've written about in the past. McPherson's loss of patience in the PCL is concerning, making me wonder more and more if the Angels have the reincarnate of Jeremy Burnitz. Is that really a bad thing? Jeff Mathis and Alberto Callaspo have both disappointed in the Texas League, failing to show averages that are even worthy of 2005 promotions. Who knows, maybe reuniting with Aybar will help the 21-year-old second basemen. As for Mathis, the Angels have delayed re-signing Ben Molina just for him, making his failures the most frustrating.
Failure has always been predicted upon Bobby Jenks, a hard-throwing righthander that always had high gun readings and walk totals. An arm injury has basically derailed his season, which has been nothing to right home about. As for Santana, while an injury kept him out the first month-and-a-half, he's bounced back and is in line for a September start and 2005 rotation spot.
Worth mentioning is the Angels latest draft, when they ruffled a few feathers paying more than $2 million for Nick Adenhart and Mark Trumbo. Both considered first-round talents, Adenhart dropped to the fourteenth round because of arm surgery, while Trumbo's bonus demands saw him fall to the 18th round. Adenhart will resume pitching in 2006 at the age of 20, and was always considered a more favorable prospect than fellow New Englander Mark Rogers, who was drafted fifth overall. Trumbo can pitch or play third base, making him extremely versatile and athletic.
As Rich Lederer has written about, the Angels are also currently negotiating with Jered Weaver, and stand as far as $1 million apart. Weaver is playing hardball, and Peter Gammons has rumored the LBSU right-hander may opt to stay a dirtbag for one last hurrah. Also worth mentioning from the '04 draft are 2B Josh LeBlanc and 3B Andrew Toussaint, both former teammates of Rickie Weeks at Southern University. Both are playing fantastically with Rodriguez in the Pioneer League, and Toussaint should be in the California League next season.
So while deep, the Angels system stands to get even deeper if Weaver gets signed, Adenhart gets healthy, and Trumbo plays the right position. Watch out.
It was a tough decision to rank the Mariners over the Rangers here, and the play of Matt Tuiasosopo could change things by season's end. Tui, brother of the Oakland Raiders QB, was given a record third-round bonus to spurn University of Washington and play baseball full-time. After tearing up the Arizona League, the shortstop has stayed challenged in the Northwest League, still solid at .304/.365/.464. He reminds me of a shortstop version of Lastings Milledge, showing raw power and speed with a complete lack of polish. But without worrying about throwing a spiral, Tuiasosopo could burst into the spotlight soon.
His arrival led to the position-switch of one of my favorite sleeper picks, Asdrubal Cabrera. The switch-hitting 18-year-old is hitting a solid .284, and sports an ISO of .179. He doesn't strike out nearly as much as most young players, and walks a little. He'll be in the Midwest League at 19, but could stay under the radar until the Texas League boosts his numbers. I ranked him ahead of Mike Morse, one of the acquisitions for Freddy Garcia. Morse is simply too big to stay at shortstop, and doesn't hit enough to play third. I'm not a fan at all, and would urge fantasy players to stay far away from.
Impressing me this year has been the pitching of Bobby Livingston, a southpaw with a 3.48 ERA in 165 innings so far in the California League. Allowing a prospect to throw that many innings is negligent, and Livingston should draw as much a red light as Felix Hernandez. And while you hate to see a H/9 more than 9.00, I love K/BB ratios of four-and-a-half. He would normally rank behind Rett Johnson, who broke out last year before getting injured. Johnson has just returned, and could be #4 in these rankings real soon.
Descriptions of these ten players are so different, it shows the strength of Grady Fuson: he ain't narrow-minded. Kinsler was a college shortstop who couldn't hit, and was drafted past the 20th round. Danks was a top ten choice, a hard throwing southpaw out of a Texas high school. Hudgins was a second rounder out of Stanford, completely polished and having thrown WAY too many college innings. Diamond was a college right-hander from New Orleans, lacking the polish of most 21-year-olds. Arias is a 19-year-old shortstop acquired in the A-Rod deal, while Sinisi was a second rounder with huge numbers from Rice. Further down the list, you have Chris Young who stands at 6-10 and was acquired for Einar Diaz.
So, you get the point. Unlike the A's, Fuson's former home, Rangers prospects don't fit one profile. Unlike the Braves, Fuson won't draft from one area, one type of player. He's the ultimate scout, seeing things in players that others won't, choosing players that others wouldn't. I really like this guy, if you haven't noticed.
Kinsler's rise has been well documented, and I should say that Hudgins is closer to Danks than ever. Diamond has pitched fantastically, and is already throwing in the Midwest League. Roberts, who was overlooked as a Sooner, has some fantastic peripherals in the Pioneer League. Also in that draft was Nickeas, a catcher from Georgia Tech also playing fantastically in short-season ball. Between them stand Rupe, a four-pitch ex-White Sox in the Josh Fogg mold, and Chris Young, who's promotion to the PCL has worked out great.
Texas will soon show how valuable Grady Fuson was, and I can guarantee the system strength will start dropping in about three years, the time it took him to establish himself. But hey, John Hart sure has reaped the benefits.
If you say anything about this system, mention the latest draft. With the most picks he's had since 2001, Beane was able to find a ton of players right in his mold. Street was a closer at Texas that is already pitching in Midland. If he has a Chad Cordero-like rise, the A's could let Street and Jairo Garcia close games next year. Putnam was great at Stanford, and showing power in the Midwest League he didn't display as a Cardinal. Windsor is like John Hudgins from above, a great arm that threw a ton of innings at a college powerhouse. I also love Kurt Suzuki, Windsor's bat-first catcher from Cal-State Fullerton. Beane did a great job this June, and for his system's strength, it simply must not flop like 2001 has.
Still kicking from 2001 are Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher. I can't even begin to guess what Joe Blanton's problem is, though it looks like he caught the Jeremy Guthrie disease. Guthrie, a well-established college hurler, was a fantastic prospect until the International League halted his development. But the A's need Blanton to work out, as they are depending on him to fill the hole that an offseason Barry Zito trade will open. If he doesn't improve, the A's might get cold feet on this one, possibly preventing them from re-signing any of the Big Three.
Who I really like here is Quintanilla and Dan Johnson. Quintanilla just missed my top 100, and immediately after, sought out to prove me wrong. He has, as the left-handed shortstop is hitting .407 in nine games since a promotion. Quintanilla shows power and patience, but hasn't been great at defense this year. Beane will probably expirament with moving Quintanilla to second in the AFL, as Bobby Crosby would block him at the Major League level anyway. But lord does Quintanilla remind me of a worse-fielding version of Khalil Greene, another accomplished college shortstop who might just win the Rookie of the Year.
Scott Hatteberg, also glorified in Moneyball, will likely be too expensive a commodity for Beane this offseason. In his spot will come Dan Johnson, who has been blocked for far too long. It has even forced the A's to try Johnson out in the outfield, which works out about as well as Durazo playing there. But the patient, powerful Johnson will get his chance next year, saving the A's about $2 million at first base. And if he screws up, there is always Graham Koonce.
So that's all for today, though I urge everyone to come back Wednesday for a WTNY special.