Farm Futures: Ranking the Farm Systems

Farm Futures: Ranking the Farm Systems

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

The genesis for this idea came when I started to hear people refer to the White Sox's farm system (post-Jose Quintana trade) as the best system in baseball. My immediate reaction was, "no, it's not the best system in baseball." However, I had no way of quantifying why I felt that way, I just knew, as someone who ranks prospects for a living, that the White Sox's lack of overall depth was too significant for its top-end talent to overcome in a debate of which system was the best in baseball. The idea was further spurned by a common refrain I had been hearing recently that the Angels still had the worst system in baseball. I knew this notion to be false -- it has been for at least a year now -- but again, I had no way of properly quantifying why I felt that way.

So I devised a formula for ranking farm systems. It's not perfect, but I tested it out, and it passes the smell test. Here is how it works:

Prospects in the top 25 of the top 400 prospect rankings multiplied by five + prospects in the top 50 of the top 400 multiplied by four + prospects in the top 100 of the top 400 multiplied by three + prospects in the top 200 of the top 400 multiplied by two + prospects in the top 400 multiplied by one = each team's farm system score.

As you can figure out, this

The genesis for this idea came when I started to hear people refer to the White Sox's farm system (post-Jose Quintana trade) as the best system in baseball. My immediate reaction was, "no, it's not the best system in baseball." However, I had no way of quantifying why I felt that way, I just knew, as someone who ranks prospects for a living, that the White Sox's lack of overall depth was too significant for its top-end talent to overcome in a debate of which system was the best in baseball. The idea was further spurned by a common refrain I had been hearing recently that the Angels still had the worst system in baseball. I knew this notion to be false -- it has been for at least a year now -- but again, I had no way of properly quantifying why I felt that way.

So I devised a formula for ranking farm systems. It's not perfect, but I tested it out, and it passes the smell test. Here is how it works:

Prospects in the top 25 of the top 400 prospect rankings multiplied by five + prospects in the top 50 of the top 400 multiplied by four + prospects in the top 100 of the top 400 multiplied by three + prospects in the top 200 of the top 400 multiplied by two + prospects in the top 400 multiplied by one = each team's farm system score.

As you can figure out, this simple formula rewards teams with high-ranking prospects while also rewarding teams with a lot of prospects represented in the top 400. The flaws are obvious, it doesn't factor in non top-400 prospects, and also doesn't have a perfectly linear weight to the rankings, so the No. 1 prospect carries the exact same significance as the No. 25 prospect. That said, I stand by these rankings on the whole, as 400 is a large enough sample where most of that noise gets canceled out.

Each team's farm system score is in parenthesis, so you can see how big or small the gap is between the next closest system. Tie-breakers were awarded to the team with the most prospects in the highest qualified tier, or the highest prospect in the highest qualified tier if the quantity in that tier is equal.

1. Braves (106)
Overview: While they can't quite match the White Sox's talent at the very top of the system, the Braves have nine players in the top 100 -- the most of any team. Atlanta has excelled on the international market and in the draft, while only picking in the top 10 in 2016 and 2017, so they have not been purposely terrible for all that long. They have supplemented the talent they have scouted and signed by making some keen under-the-radar trades. There aren't any pieces left to trade that will bring back big hauls, and the big-league team is set to compete going forward, so this system is at its peak in talent. The White Sox will likely pass the Braves after next year's draft, but for now, Atlanta is a distinct cut above.

2. White Sox (90)
Overview: The White Sox are the only team with two players in the top 10 and the only team with three players in the top 25, despite getting somewhat regrettable returns in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades. The headliners in those deals, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, have each seen their prospect stock take a hit since switching organizations. The Quintana trade was general manager Rick Hahn's best move of this rebuild, as Eloy Jimenez is now the top prospect in the system. There are some intriguing Rookie-level pieces who could jump into the top 400 this winter or next summer, and Chicago is primed to inject more high-end talent into the system in the next couple drafts, so this system should remain elite even after some of its current top prospects graduate.

3. Padres (88)
Overview: Over the past two years, no team has bested general manager A.J. Preller on the international market. The Padres specialize in shelling out for the right international free agents. They are also well-known for trading for hidden gems in other team's systems before their prospect stock explodes. The Padres lead all farm systems with 26 prospects in the top 400, 19 of which are 20 years old or younger. San Diego has another dozen or so prospects who could earn a spot in the offseason top 400, and should be drafting near the top of the draft for the foreseeable future. Preller's treasure chest should swell to epic proportions by the end of the decade.

4. Brewers (83)
Overview: Since taking over as general manager at the end of the 2015 season, David Stearns and his staff have made more lopsided trades than any other team in baseball, turning players like Adam Lind, Jason Rogers and Tyler Thornburg into legitimate prospects, while also selling at the perfect time on players like Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith. The Brewers are also among the best in baseball at finding value after the first round of the draft. This might be the deepest system in baseball, as there are players you can dream on who don't even crack their top 50. The Brewers' competitive window is opening, but the foundation and emphasis is clearly here for Milwaukee to remain among the best in baseball at maintaining a high-quality farm system.

5. Astros (82)
Overview: This system is all about tools and upside, and remains a top five system even after Francis Martes recently exhausted his prospect eligibility. General manager Jeff Luhnow and his crew took Mark Appel over Kris Bryant in the 2013 draft and quite clearly lost the Carlos Gomez trade with Milwaukee, but they have still come out way ahead on the transaction front over this regime's tenure. The Astros' pro scouting department is excellent, pioneering the art of scouting the backfields and the Dominican Summer League and trading for teenagers before the other teams realize what hit them. Considering the strong foundation in place, and the fact that there aren't many areas on the big-league roster in need of an upgrade, this should remain a top 10 system in baseball for the foreseeable future.

6. Rays (75)
Overview: The Rays have a hoard of underperforming toolsy teenagers in the lower levels, yet they are still pretty easily a top 10 system in the game. They lead all of baseball with five prospects in the top 50. Tampa Bay is very active on the international market and the trade front, and while they have had some lean drafts this decade, there have been enough big hits that drafting should also be considered a strength of this front office.

7. Phillies (75)
Overview: While not as successful in their rebuild as some of the teams ahead of them on this list, the Phillies' farm system should be considered the average result of a rebuild. They've had middling returns on big trades of Cole Hamels and Ken Giles, but at the time, both of those return packages were largely praised. Being active on the international market has helped keep a steady stream of high-upside players flowing up the pipeline. There have been some hits in the draft -- most notably Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery -- but that can hardly be seen as a major strength of the organization at this point. The Phillies don't appear all that close to competing, so they should have plenty of opportunities to continue to improve the system in the coming drafts.

8. Yankees (67)
Overview: In what was perhaps the shortest rebuild of all time, the Yankees compiled arguably the best farm system in baseball a year ago, and have wasted little time unloading some of that prospect gold for win-now pieces. There are other teams that have taken more of a long view, but considering the Yankees still have a top 10 system in the game and one of the best big-league rosters in the American League, it's hard to not applaud almost every move they have made. That said, they are the only team in the top 10 that does not have a representative from the 2017 draft class in the top 200. In fact, not a single player they drafted in 2017 appears in the top 400. Their fans won't complain, given the talent at or near the big leagues, but the rebuild is officially over, and this system should continue to trend down in the coming years.

9. Dodgers (66)
Overview: While they are not quite as stacked as they were a week ago, the Dodgers trail only Atlanta with 14 prospects in the top 200, so there is still plenty of impact talent on its way. They may never pick high in the draft, but they are the best team in baseball at finding talent in the middle rounds, thanks in part to a cutting edge player development department that gets the most out of young players. The Dodgers have the biggest, smartest front office in the game, so it's no surprise that they grade out extremely well in all facets of player procurement. Assuming they continue with the philosophy of not trading their best prospects for win-now pieces, it's hard to see the Dodgers' farm system ever not being above average.

10. Reds (56)
Overview: I often joke about how the Reds will soon have the best and deepest bullpen in baseball, because that's where all of their starting pitching prospects will end up. Only about 25 percent of that statement is meant in jest. They really are quite awful at developing/targeting starting pitchers. That said, they crushed their first two picks in the 2016 draft and had the privilege of taking Hunter Greene this year, so it would be nearly impossible for this system to not rate as above average. If the Braves and Brewers are the model examples of a rebuild and the Phillies are the median example, then the Reds might be the best example of how a rebuild can go awry. Failing to cash in at all on Aroldis Chapman could haunt this franchise for the next decade. But if they are somehow able to make the playoffs in the coming years, they won't be short on fresh relievers.

11. Twins (54)
Overview: Even though they appear to have blown the No. 4 overall pick in 2013 (Kohl Stewart) and the No. 6 overall pick in 2015 (Tyler Jay), the Twins have simply been too bad for too long to not compile enough quality young players to rate as an above-average farm system. With a what appears to be a competent front office and a trio of unique, toolsy, up-the-middle prospects at the top, brighter days are on the horizon. They remain very thin on high-upside/high-probability starting pitching prospects, though, which is bad news given the long-term outlook of the big-league rotation.

12. Rockies (51)
Overview: The Rockies have had a good, not great, system for almost a half decade, and the big-league club is finally starting to reap the rewards. There is an endless amount of position player depth coming, thanks to some shrewd drafting and July 2 signings (Pedro Gonzalez in 2014 and Daniel Montano in 2015), so it would not be surprising to see the Rockies deal from that depth to augment the pitching staff when they decide to go for it in 2018 or 2019.

13. Cardinals (50)
Overview: If Alex Reyes had not needed Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals would be quite a bit lower on this list, but he remains a prospect, propping up what is otherwise a pretty lackluster system. Given the impending graduations of six of their top eight prospects, their 2017 draft bonus pool sanctions and the lack of a clear vision regarding contending/rebuilding, the Cardinals' system is trending in the wrong direction.

14. Blue Jays (45)
Overview: This is what having Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette does to a system. Without those two building blocks, the Blue Jays would rank 27th on this list. While Alex Anthopoulos was bashed for trading prospects by the new front office on his way out the door, those prospects haven't amounted to much of anything, and at least the big-league club contended as a result of those trades. Bichette is the only prospect in the team's top six that the new front office can take credit for, so it's hard to be excited by the direction the Blue Jays are headed.

15. Indians (43)
Overview: Through trades and graduations, the Indians' farm system isn't as deep as it was a couple of years ago. There are plenty of interesting, yet flawed, prospects who would be ranked in the 400-500 range if our rankings went that deep, and in truth, most of the prospects who did crack the top 400 are quite flawed, with the obvious exceptions of Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie. Given how competitive the team should be for the foreseeable future, this system should continue to decline as the top players graduate.

16. Nationals (42)
Overview: No other system in baseball benefits from its top two prospects to the extent Washington does. After Victor Robles and Juan Soto, there is very little to get excited about in terms of impact or probability. Still, they should be credited with holding Robles and Soto at this year's deadline and selling Lucas Giolito last year when he still had immense trade value. The goal of any organization is to hang flags at the big-league level, and the Nationals are attempting to do just that without completely mortgaging the future.

17. Athletics (42)
Overview: The A's added three of their top six prospects in the Sonny Gray trade, so imagine how much lower they would rate if they did not have that asset to deal. It has become understandably en vogue to criticize the moves of this front office, but I like the big swing of taking on a lot of risk and upside in that package. However, if they took Jorge Mateo (whose speed makes him better in fantasy than reality) over Estevan Florial, that would be a move worthy of criticism.

18. Rangers (40)
Overview: It is hard to get a big return for a rental most years, and this year was even more extreme, as there seemed to be very few buyers and the Wild Card candidates seemed to be too afraid of the top teams in each league to make competitive offers for players like Yu Darvish. With that in mind, I think the Rangers did well to get three legitimate prospects from the Dodgers. The acquisition of three more top-400 prospects helped them climb into the top 20 on this list. This was a down system coming into the year, but the underperformance of several lower-level hitters and several upper-level pitchers has really hurt the Rangers' standing. Still, they appear to have had as good of a 2017 draft as anyone, as Bubba Thompson, Chris Seise and Hans Crouse are all ascending players.

19. Mets (37)
Overview: When Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith graduate from this list later this year or early next year, the Mets will immediately have one of the worst systems in the game. While I am very high on David Peterson, relative to others in the industry, this team has really struggled in the draft in recent years, so pessimism is understandable. Fortunately the Mets remain fairly opportunistic on the international market, with players like Andres Gimenez and Ronny Mauricio serving as potential saviors.

20. Red Sox (36)
Overview: President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski gets a lot of heat for dealing prospects, but he deserves some credit for holding Rafael Devers, who appears to be the best of the bunch (although in real life Manuel Margot might be better). Michael Chavis has emerged as a solid prospect, which is good, because the other exciting hitters in the system (Danny Diaz and Daniel Flores) are 16 years old. This is one of the shallowest systems in baseball, as I only keep tabs on what roughly 30 players are doing, and in an average system I'm looking at what 40-60 players are doing throughout the year.

21. Pirates (35)
Overview: The Pirates have very little to show for the 2015 and 2016 drafts, and while there is still upside scattered throughout the system, a lot of their top prospects have taken significant steps backward this year. Their 2013 and 2015 July 2 signing classes are starting to bear fruit, but it's back half of the top 400 fruit, so the impact on the international front is lacking. I would expect them to once again explore blockbuster trades this offseason with Andrew McCutchen and possibly Gerrit Cole, so the system could see a major injection of talent this winter.

22. Mariners (27)
Overview: The Mariners traded away Luiz Gohara (No. 66 overall), Alex Jackson (No. 114 overall), and Carlos Vargas (No. 296 overall), and don't have much to show for it. They clearly don't value Dan Vogelbach's bat very much, so it's anyone's guess why they targeted him in a trade with the Cubs last year. I commend them for trading Tyler O'Neill while he still had trade value, but they got a No. 5 starter back, so it's hard to get too excited. They appear to have nailed their first-round picks in each of the last two drafts; otherwise, they would be in the mix for the worst system in baseball.

23. Orioles (27)
Overview: Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle are two of the biggest breakout prospects this year. If it were not for those two emerging as high-end young hitters, this could be the worst farm system in baseball. Their lack of long-term moves at the trade deadline was puzzling, but not unexpected, given this franchise's past errors. If they do not embrace a rebuild this winter, then they will be passing up a major opportunity to positively alter the next 10 years of Orioles baseball.

24. Cubs (23)
Overview: There's no shame in being this low on these rankings when you hung a flag last year and have as much young talent at the big-league level as any other team in the National League. The Cubs continue to make win-now moves, dealing prospects who are blocked at the major-league level to fill pitching vacancies they can't address internally. That is what teams are supposed to do. Things on the farm will likely continue to get worse, but the big-league team will be competing for World Series rings, so who cares?

25. Tigers (21)
Overview: Well, they tried to start the rebuild, sort of. Isaac Paredes and Jeimer Candelario are now the Tigers' second and third best prospects for fantasy purposes (their top pitching prospects could reasonably be higher on real-life lists). Detroit's front office faces the difficult task of convincing ownership that the only way to really kick-start the rebuild is to eat as much of the remaining salary on the contracts of their top players as possible. That's a tough sell, and for now, the Tigers hang in this non-competitive/non-rebuilding limbo. This is a team that hasn't been good at drafting and developing for many years, and while they have been somewhat active on the international market, they are not a major player there, so it's hard to be optimistic about this rebuild whenever it does get fully underway.

26. Diamondbacks (21)
Overview: It may sound weird to say, considering I have them ranked 26th, but perhaps no other system in the game has improved as much as the Diamondbacks have since the start of this season, when I had them ranked as the worst system in baseball. They have had some unexpected breakouts, a very solid 2017 draft (and I didn't even like the Pavin Smith pick) and their international activity is starting to be rewarded. This system is trending up, which is good, because they may not be picking in the top 10 again anytime soon.

27. Angels (19)
Overview: This system has some really nice upside pieces, but they are all forever away from the big leagues. Still, that's major progress for a farm system that was openly mocked by everyone for years. For those of you who still enjoy poking fun at the Angels' lack of prospects, just know that you are no longer operating with facts. They have at least a half dozen legitimate high-ceiling prospects, which is why this system is on the rise.

28. Royals (12)
Overview: The Royals haven't been particularly good at amassing minor-league talent over the past several years, but they have also been understandably making win-now moves. As with the Cubs, there's no shame in being where they are at on the farm. The eight players they have in the top 400 are predominantly high-risk/high-reward hitters (they don't have a single pitcher in the top 400), so if a couple of those guys hit in the upper levels, things could turn in a hurry, especially considering they project to be picking high in the draft, starting in 2019.

29. Giants (8)
Overview: When a team is not particularly good at bringing in quality international free agents, is making win-now moves and drafting near the back of the first round for almost a decade, things will eventually start to get ugly on the farm. San Francisco may not get brought up much when people discuss the worst farm systems, but there is no sugarcoating the fact that the cupboard is bare. They are one of only two systems (the Royals being the other) with zero pitching prospects in the top 400. Heliot Ramos has a ton of upside, and could single-handedly prevent this system from remaining among the worst in baseball for the rest of this decade.

30. Marlins (4)
Overview: This is the new prototype for terrible. The top rated player in this system (Braxton Garrett) underwent Tommy John surgery in June and the No. 3 prospect in the system (Brian Anderson) reasonably projects as a utility player. The Marlins haven't had a good draft in years. They haven't signed a good international free agent in almost a decade. They haven't gotten the better of another team in a prospect-laden trade in recent memory. There's just nothing about acquiring young talent that they seem to have a good grasp of. Those moves they made at this year's deadline don't count as rebuilding moves. Those were salary clearing moves.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only MLB Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire MLB fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
AL FAAB Factor: Waiver Pickups of the Week
AL FAAB Factor: Waiver Pickups of the Week
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals & More MLB Expert Picks & Predictions for May 26
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals & More MLB Expert Picks & Predictions for May 26
NL FAAB Factor: Waiver Pickups of the Week
NL FAAB Factor: Waiver Pickups of the Week
College Baseball Best Bets: Conference Championship Sunday
College Baseball Best Bets: Conference Championship Sunday