Midseason top five farm systems 

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesTheo Epstein has stocked the Cubs' farm system with elite prospects such as Addison Russell.
Ranking all 30 organizations based on their minor league talent is a major undertaking each winter, which is why I always decline to do a re-ranking during the season. There's simply no way I could do it justice given the amount of work it requires.

We've had a couple of major news events that affected two of the teams near the top of last offseason's rankings, however, and a slew of questions from readers about whose system is now at the top of the heap. So here's a revised look at the top five, considering only what's in the systems right now and excluding anyone on major league rosters.

1. Chicago Cubs

I know Cubs fans have heard this before, but just wait 'til next year, because this club is going to get good in a hurry, at least on the run-scoring side of the ledger.
Huston StreetStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHuston Street fills a need for the Angels, but they paid a hefty price for his services.
The Los Angeles Angels were desperate for a closer in the best year they've had since acquiring Albert Pujols and the San Diego Padres had a spare closer lying around whom they didn't need, but the amount of talent heading to San Diego in exchange for Huston Street is baffling.

The Angels seem to have paid for name value or the Proven Closer™ tag rather than for production; Street hasn't been worth more than 1.0 fWAR -- a metric that derives a pitcher's WAR using FIP -- in any season since 2009, coincidentally the last time he reached 60 innings in one year.

Street is a good fit for the Angels' park -- a fly-ball pitcher who throws a ton of strikes -- and wasn't just a Petco Park fabrication, but he's also not going to strand every runner he lets reach base indefinitely. There are only a few right-handed relievers in the American League working with a below-average fastball, like Street has, and only one of them, Koji Uehara, is a successful closer. Street is probably worth half a win on paper to the Angels, more than that in the standings because of the high-leverage work he'll get and who he's replacing, but I don't foresee him adding enough W's in the standings to justify all they gave up to get him.

I said on Twitter that I wouldn't have dealt shortstop prospect Jose Rondon straight-up for two-plus months of Street's services, so I certainly don't like the total price for the Angels in this trade -- and love it for San Diego.

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In the story of the Houston Astros' failure to sign two of their top draft picks on Friday, there are neither villains nor victors, only victims left holding empty bags. The first overall pick in the draft, Brady Aiken, declined to sign with the Astros, marking just the third time in the June draft's history that the top player did not sign and the first since 1984.

The greatest victim of all in this fiasco is Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round pick, a high school pitcher from Southern California who agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and passed his physical but was not allowed to sign his contract because of a medical issue involving Aiken. While, practically speaking, everyone involved knew that Nix's deal was contingent on Aiken's, that's not permissible under MLB rules and couldn't be made explicit or put in writing, which will likely be the basis of any grievance filed by Nix against the Astros -- or potential litigation seeking to enforce the verbal contract between the parties.

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Josh BellHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesPirates prospect (and Futures Game player) Josh Bell is hitting .333 at high Class A this season.
Here are a some stray notes and observations from Sunday's 16th annual MLB Futures Game. If you missed my first batch, here they are.

• Pirates outfield prospect Josh Bell, the team's second-round pick in 2011 and the recipient of a $5 million bonus that year, earned the "best hit tool" nod in my Futures Game preview, and it was evident in batting practice, where his bat speed was improved and he looked better swinging right-handed than he had in the past. He's still stronger from the left side, setting up more consistently by his rear shoulder with a more pronounced pause when he loads, but right-handed, it's just a question of getting the bat to the zone at a consistent time. He had just one at-bat in the game -- he was left in the hole with James Ramsey on deck for the (winning) USA team in the bottom of the eighth -- and, hitting right-handed, he grounded out to shortstop on a 95 mph fastball leading off the bottom of the seventh.

• Toronto southpaw Daniel Norris has had a breakout year in the Blue Jays' system, which team execs credit to Norris and his coaches working with him in the offseason and this spring to get his delivery more online to the plate and his arm swing more consistent. His delivery isn't perfect, but it's better.

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Standouts from MLB Futures Game 

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
9:11
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Joey GalloAP Photo/Paul SancyaJoey Gallo, a Rangers prospect, hit a towering home run during the MLB Futures Game.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2014 MLB Futures Game might someday be remembered as the baseball world's formal introduction to Texas third baseman Joey Gallo, as his grade-80 raw power was on display both during BP and during the game. Gallo still has things to work on as a hitter, but his power is absurd -- he put baseballs into the top deck and onto the right field concourse during batting practice, then hit a mammoth homer off a fastball right down the chute from Astros prospect Michael Feliz. It was a blast that gave the U.S. team a 3-2 lead it never relinquished.

Gallo's bomb followed strikeouts on sliders in his first two at bats -- one swinging on a pitch down and in at his back foot, the other looking on one from Yankees prospect Luis Severino. Gallo wasn't challenged inside like you'd expect, as his power comes when he can get his arms extended on pitches middle to away, but he's already succeeded in improving his coverage from the past season to this spring. If you can live with the strikeouts, he's one of the highest-impact bats in the minors.

Here are more notes from the game.
[+] EnlargeBaez
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsCubs prospect Javier Baez showed off what might be the quickest hands in the minors with an opposite field blast.

• Speaking of power

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Joey GalloAP Photo/Brian WesterholtTexas prospect Joey Gallo isn't just blessed with plus-plus power; he has a huge arm at third base.

The 16th annual MLB Futures Game will take place Sunday at Target Field in Minneapolis, and yes, I'll be there, my ninth Futures Game. It's an event that brings some of the best prospects from around the minors together on one field for a nine-inning exhibition that is far more interesting than the actual All-Star Game on Tuesday. The first one I attended featured Joey Votto, Alex Gordon, Homer Bailey and Hunter Pence; the 2007 game included a 19-year-old lefty named Clayton Kershaw. Here's a quick guide to some of the 2014 players, focusing on which players grade out the best in the five hitting tools or in some of the major scouting categories for pitchers.

Best hit tool

Josh Bell, OF, Pittsburgh: Bell missed just about all of 2012 because of a bad knee injury and spent much of 2013 shaking off the rust from losing his entire first pro season. This year, however, Bell's promise in high school is showing up on the field, as he's making a ton of contact, much of it hard, with a .380 average since the start of June, and nearly equal triple-slash lines from the left and right sides. Sean Coyle, Corey Seager, D.J. Peterson and Francisco Lindor also have above-average to plus hit tools.

Best power

Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas: There's a ton of power in this year's Futures Game, with Gallo leading the way. He has enormous left-handed pull power, comparable to Giancarlo Stanton's, producing 93 homers already in 254 professional games, 31 this year. The U.S. team alone has at least four players with grade-70 power or more:

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Chris SaleAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhFor reasons unclear to many, White Sox ace Chris Sale was left off the All-Star roster.
The MLB All-Star Game rosters always spur controversy for who's out and who's in, but also because there aren't clear rules on what makes an All-Star in the first place. I've never bought the maxim that it should just be the players who are having the best current seasons, because that's the ideal way to leave out a few legitimate stars while including a bunch of guys who had two fluky hot months.

But that philosophy also ignores the original purpose of the game, one that still matters today: This is Major League Baseball's one night to get all of its best players on one field in front of a worldwide audience. The focus should be on getting as many of the game's current and emerging stars into the game, and if that means a one-hit wonder gets left off the roster, so be it.

With that in mind, here are my main guidelines when critiquing the All-Star rosters: No player should go to the game for a first half that might easily be a fluke, but the sport does have a vested interest in getting a few rising stars into the game so they can play before a national audience. Of course, you don't need those guidelines to realize there's an enormous mistake on the AL roster. …

American League

Scott Kazmir or Mark Buehrle over Chris Sale: These two player selections are the dumbest of anything this year, and there's a fair amount of ridiculousness going on for both rosters, so the bar is high. Sale would be second in the league in ERA if he qualified, just .05 behind leader Felix Hernandez. He's sixth in the league in WAR and tenth in rWAR, despite having 20 fewer innings pitched than any of the pitchers ahead of him. He's 8-1 if you actually care about something as useless as a pitcher's won-lost record. And Sale was a top five pitcher in the league last year, too.

Did the players just look at the ERA rankings and forget Sale because he doesn't have enough innings to qualify (he's one inning short) for the chart?

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Brandon McCarthyNorm Hall/Getty ImagesThe Yankees upgraded their rotation with the acquisition of Brandon McCarthy.
The New York Yankees' acquisition of Brandon McCarthy upgrades a beleaguered rotation that's not getting any help from the farm system, while the Arizona Diamondbacks don't capitalize on one of their most valuable trade assets and get nothing in return but some financial savings.

McCarthy turned out to be a poor fit for Arizona's hitter-friendly ballpark and almost as hitter-friendly defense, but he fared well in the three things a pitcher can do to help himself most: miss bats, avoid walks and keep the ball on the ground. While some things out of McCarthy's control have gone against him, he's also had trouble keeping his sinker -- his best pitch -- from drifting up in the zone. He has given up 15 homers -- that's one out of every five fly balls he's allowed -- and all but two came on sinkers or cutters, pitches designed to generate ground balls or at least weaker contact. All 13 homers off sinkers or cutters were pitches left at or above the midpoint of the strike zone.

Although Yankee Stadium isn't a pitcher's paradise, McCarthy has never been this homer-prone before, and there almost has to be some element of misfortune in there, even if there has been a true drop in his ability to avoid home runs. That's a long way of saying I think McCarthy will be better for the Yanks than he was in Arizona and will likely post an ERA around 4, rather than 5.

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Addison RussellMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesThe Cubs have added one of the top prospects in baseball in Addison Russell.
The A's have added a huge injection of both quality and depth into their rotation, but it does come at a cost -- their last two first-round picks, both excellent prospects right now, who will boost a Cubs system that was already among the top five in baseball. In a significant deal, both sides add impact, with different timelines in mind.

Jeff Samardzija has gone from DFA candidate after 2011 to mid-rotation starter in 2012. Now, he's throwing

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SALISBURY, Md. -- Baltimore Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey threw for the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds on Monday night, and it was another outstanding effort from the 19-year-old who learned on Tuesday that he'll represent the Orioles in this year's MLB Futures Game. This was my second time seeing Harvey this year, and he had a better fastball Monday than he did when I saw him in April on a 46-degree day, and had better results, too.

Harvey started the game working from 93 and 96 mph with 70-grade life on his fastball, getting tremendous bore on the pitch; he broke at least three right-handed hitters' bats over the course of the outing. He located the fastball well to both corners and in the lower third of the zone, especially working inside to righties. By the fifth and sixth innings, he was down to 90-94, but he still had the same command and life to the pitch. His curveball, which was plus when I've seen him in the past, was just average Monday night, although he did punch out four hitters with it (with three others striking out on fastballs). The breaking ball was 77-80 mph with good rotation but less depth than before, and he left a few of 'em up over the course of the game, including one that led to a single, plating West Virginia's only run of the game. Harvey threw only one changeup, a good one at 84 mph. He'll have to use that pitch more often, though Sally League hitters aren't going to make him do that.

Harvey is ready to move up, at least to high-A but possibly all the way to Double-A, because he has the fastball velocity, life and command to eviscerate low-A hitters without needing to work on developing his changeup or tightening his curveball.

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Kris BryantAP Photo/Tony FarlowCubs prospect Kris Bryant has 26 homers in 73 games this year and will be at the Futures Game.
The Futures Game, which takes place at Target Field in Minneapolis on Sunday, July 13, will offer a tremendous look at the best young talent in the minor leagues, featuring 13 of the players from my May update of the top 25 prospects in the minors . The rosters, which were announced today, include the No. 1 eligible prospect from at least 10 different systems, with several others who will be contenders for that title by year-end. I always think the game is a must-watch -- and I'll be there in Minneapolis on July 13 -- but this year looks exceptionally fun.

(The complete roster for the U.S. team can be found here, while the World team roster is here.

Among those top prospects are six middle infielders, one of them hurt, all of whom look like they'll be stars at the major league level.

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Josh ByrnesChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsAfter a number of missteps in player development and contract management, Josh Byrnes is out.
The San Diego Padres' decision to relieve Josh Byrnes of his duties as general manager is unsurprising, and was probably overdue, given the team's poor performance at the major league level and lack of production from young players, especially those acquired in trades or handed long-term contracts. The move, by itself, solves no problem, however. The Padres need to hire the right successor, a GM who has experience in scouting and player development, because there is no way a team with the Padres' low payroll can succeed without a productive farm system and coming out even or ahead in trades.

Byrnes struck out in the trade market more than once, and he has been stung by long-term deals -- some of them appearing to be smart at the time -- to players who subsequently got hurt or just weren't good afterward. The trades can be more galling to ownership or fans, because a player you used to have is now producing for another club -- often a rival.

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Bundy close to pre-surgery form 

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22
2:04
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Dylan BundyGreg Fiume/Getty ImagesPrior to his injury, Dylan Bundy was one of the top pitching prospects in MLB.
Dylan Bundy -- the No. 31 prospect on my Top 100 in January -- is still not quite a full 12 months off Tommy John surgery (he had the operation on June 27, 2013), but made his second rehab start on Saturday night at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, throwing five quick innings and showing he's close to pre-surgery form, but not all the way there yet.

Bundy faced 17 batters over five innings, striking out nine and walking just one while allowing two hits, both well-struck but going to the opposite field. He was pitching 90 to 94 mph all night, with some downhill plane and a little tailing life to it even at 93, although I noticed he rushed his arm on many of the fastballs at the higher end of the range. He also threw at least one true cutter at 91 mph, the first pitch of the third inning, and I think he cut a few others over the course of his outing, just not as prominently.

Roughly 80 percent of Bundy's 64 pitches (48 strikes) on the evening were fastballs, but he did mix in a few straight changeups at 86-87 and at least seven curveballs, three of which punched out hitters. The curveball was at 73-75 mph, nearly 12/6 with good depth, and he threw it for strikes aside from one he shanked at 76 right into the dirt. He threw just one off-speed pitch in the first inning, but increased the mix as the game went on because he seemed to need that extra effort to dial up the fastball, and in the process lost some command of the pitch.

Bundy is back pitching in games earlier than most pitchers who've had ligament transplant surgery, which is the result of a quick rehab with no real setbacks; this is also the most likely explanation for the slightly reduced velocity and command he showed on Friday. His delivery was pretty similar to how it was before the injury, perhaps a slightly more pronounced downward stab in the back but nothing significant. I don't think he's close to ready in terms of helping the major league team as a starter. But, I could see him in the Baltimore Orioles' pen in September or going to the Arizona Fall League to help him build up some more innings and stamina before shutting it down for the winter.

• The Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets affiliate) started one of their better prospects, right-hander Marcos Molina, who boasts above-average stuff with a below-average delivery.

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Projecting Yasmani Tomas 

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
3:04
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Yasmani ThomasAP Photo/Koji SasaharaHow does Yasmani Thomas compare to other Cuban sluggers?
Earlier Friday we learned that Yasmani Tomas, a young star in Cuba, had defected. I've already received many questions asking what I think of his potential, which is no surprise given the early impact provided by a pair of recent Cuban imports. Tomas might get paid like Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig, but

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Manuel BanuelosKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsPitcher Manuel Banuelos, who underwent Tommy John surgery, has lost velocity on his fastball.
Yankees left-hander Manny Banuelos missed nearly all of 2012 and 2013 because of Tommy John surgery and subsequent rehab setbacks. But he has pitched all year in short stints of mostly three innings and fewer than 60 pitches per outing. His stuff during Wednesday night's game in Trenton wasn't where it was prior to the initial surgery, and I couldn't tell you if or when it will come all the way back.

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