Nightmare on the Farm
Ranking farm systems is a practice that I generally avoid. It's simply too difficult to come up with a solid ranking, as one should effectively balance the number of and degree of top-heavy players, the depth in a system, as well as those that have recently graduated and been traded. It's a lot to balance.
Instead, most of the time I like to stick to tiers. We know that at the top of any organizational ranking list, in no particular order, should be the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Angels. These come as no surprise. We know about the other good systems: the Devil Rays, Red Sox, Braves, etc. The successes of these teams are well documented.
We criticize General Managers for bad trades, for bad signings, for not making any trades or any signings. We bash managers and players, and after the occasional draft, we criticize scouting directors. However, very seldom do we talk about organizations that need to improve their farm systems.
In the mailbag following my top 75 prospects, I made a chart of the number of prospects that each organization brought to my list. There were no teams that completely missed out; however, six clubs had just one prospect in my top 100 players. Today I'd like to look at those six in more detail in hopes of narrowing down the worst of the bunch. For each of the teams, I will give you the next best three prospects (in my mind), along with a brief look at what else the system provides.
Top 100 Prospect: Ryan Zimmerman (12)
Things were looking really, really bad about eight months ago. Top prospect Clint Everts was injured, Larry Broadway was struggling, and Mike Hinckley was looking like a different pitcher. There was very, very little to like in this system. And then came Ryan Zimmerman, the fourth pick of the 2005 draft. Zimmerman shot through the system, going from the University of Virginia to the Major Leagues in about two months. Next year, Zim is a favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year. He is the Washington system.
In my mind, the second best prospect in the Washington system is a different third baseman. Kory Casto, a third round pick in 2003, broke out in a big way last season. Casto has very good power and patience, but is lacking a bit in contact skills and athleticism. After Casto is 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts, who has progressed very slowly in the system, especially after being injured last season. His potential is that of a #2/3 starter, but it remains to be seen if he can reach that. After those three players, there is very little that I like in the system.
New York Mets
Top 100 Prospect: Lastings Milledge (17)
I've talked very much this winter about Omar Minaya's moves this winter that have mortgaged the Mets future for the present. For Carlos Delgado, he traded the likes of Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Jacobs and Grant Psomas. Paul Lo Duca cost Gaby Hernandez. Once upon a time, this system had some very good players at the top, and then enough average talent in the system to be middle-of-the-road. Then, suddenly, all but Milledge left the system, and there was just one player at the top. Suddenly, those average players are among the organization's best.
One player not mentioned in this debate is Mike Pelfrey, who adds considerably to this system. He provides the team with one of the top 50 talents they lost in Petit. We also should give the team credit for having the players from which to deal, as much of the success in 2006 will be a result of the farm system. The Mets aren't the worst system in the Majors, but after losing so much, they are near that bottom tier.
Top 100 Prospect: Felix Pie (19)
The Cubs had very high hopes for their farm system last year, as they were planning on having Felix Pie turn a corner, and they had a minor league home run king in Brian Dopirak. Angel Guzman was supposed to be healthy again, Ryan Harvey was entering his first full season and Jason Dubois was ready to get his big break. The Cubs were very, very well thought of, with probably one of the top 15 systems in the game.
If you had told me that Matt Murton would hit over .300 in the Majors, and Ronny Cedeno's bat would prove to be real, I would have said top ten. But, that was not the case. Brian Dopirak fell apart, Angel Guzman stayed hurt, and Billy Petrick got hurt. Jason Dubois struggled in a limited opportunity, and Felix Pie was hurt for the year by July. Still, Pie had a very good season, and the team's draft pick -- Mark Pawelek -- showed fantastic potential. There is still hope for this system, but they simply need to have a year in 2006 that is as good as 2005 was bad.
St. Louis Cardinals
Top 100 Prospect: Anthony Reyes (31)
For years, the Cardinals have floated near the bottom of Baseball America's organizational rankings. Last year, they were dead last. Simply put, Walt Jocketty does not put a lot of stock in minor leaguers, and the team has never had a great number of players from which to trade from. However, it does appear that, with a more college-oriented philosophy, the tide might be changing in St. Louis.
In 2004, Anthony Reyes had a modest start to the season in high-A before dominating the Southern League. And whatever potential he showed that year, Reyes proved to be for real in AAA, as well as limited Major League action last season. While the Cardinals haven't showed a ton of faith to give him a spot yet, they expect very high things down the road. Much further down the road lies much of the rest of the system. The Cardinals are very highly invested in their 2005 draft, which includes Rasmus, Greene, Mark McCormick, and Nick Stavinoha. We'll see how much of this is for real next season, but for the first time in awhile, there is reason for hope.
Top 100 Prospect: Brian Anderson (33)
In the past, I have criticized Omar Minaya for trading most of the Mets top prospects. If I do that, it's only fair to do the same with Kenny Williams, who acquired Javier Vazquez and Jim Thome in part because of Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Haigwood and Chris Young. Young broke out in big ways last year, Gonzalez turned out to be a fantastic draft pick, and Haigwood is the kind of solid, young starter that good systems have lots of. However, with those three players gone, there is not much depth left in this system.
At the top is Brian Anderson, who was part of the reason behind Young's trade, as was organizational favorite Jerry Owens. Joining Owens atop the White Sox thoughts is Ryan Sweeney, who has been touted highly since his first Spring Training, and former first-rounder Josh Fields, who finished the season better than you might think. Besides that group, there is very little else in this system. I like southpaw Ray Liotta more than I did Haigwood, and Broadway was certainly not the worst first-rounder they could have made.
Top 100 Prospect: Homer Bailey (40)
It isn't a good sign for an organization when their top prospect can be found on my breakouts list. Bailey is a fantastic talent that I think highly of, but he's still pretty raw, and his presence atop the Reds prospect list speaks more of the organization than it does Homer. For years the Reds have tried to fix their pitching weakness by cultivating it in the minors, and for years, the results have been ugly. Their pitching prospects continually get hurt.
Like the Cardinals, much of the future of the Reds farm system is predicated upon the 2005 draft. The early results are promising, as Jay Bruce showed fantastic athleticism as a top pick, and Travis Wood looked like a steal. If those two continue to break out in 2006, this system will prosper. I should also note that I think very highly of Denorfia, who would be in my top 125 and should make an excellent fringe outfielder (CF or 4th OF) for some system. However, this team lacks any form of depth you could imagine, and Bruce, Wood and Bailey are all very far away from being Major Leaguers.
In the end, none of these systems look to be particularly impressive. However, I think the Nationals and Reds clearly stand out as the two worst teams. Given the potential of Bailey and Bruce, and my high thoughts for Denorfia, I think Cincinnati probably has the better system.
This gives the Washington Nationals, understaffed for years, the worst system in Major League Baseball. As this team finds an owner, and likely a new staff in the coming year, we can only hope an emphasis is placed on a farm system that offers very little hope.