Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Top MLB teams at each position
By Keith Law
For starting pitching depth throughout an organization, it's tough to top St. Louis.
For this post I was asked to take a look at every position and pick which team has the most overall talent if you look at the organization as a whole. So if a team has a strong shortstop at the major league level but no depth within the organization, it could come in behind a team with a decent shortstop but a couple of really good prospects at the position. So think of this as the sum of current MLB talent plus what's in the pipeline.
It's worth a reminder that strong depth at one position is a good way to fill holes via trades. Anybody saying too much talent at one position doesn't matter because you can't play three shortstops is clueless from a business and personnel standpoint. As a note: outfield and pitching have been consolidated because of how we calculate value at those positions.
The Yankees have more prospect depth at the catcher position than any other team, with Gary Sanchez a potential star if he can improve his receiving enough to remain at the position, while J.R. Murphy is emerging as at least a strong backup. Austin Romine should be getting regular playing time in the majors down the stretch, at least once the Yankees decide their playoff odds are too low to ... well, playing Chris Stewart isn't exactly pushing them toward the playoffs anyway, so why not just play Romine and see what you've got?
That said, the Pirates probably have more present value than the Yankees because of Russell Martin, with Tony Sanchez probably a solid major league backup and 18-year-old Reese McGuire among the game's top dozen or so catching prospects. There is so little catching in full-season minor leagues right now that you would be hard-pressed to identify 10 clear everyday starters without reaching down to short-season leagues.
There just aren't many first-base prospects in the minors right now. Jonathan Singleton of Houston is the only clear top-100 prospect at the position, with Dominic Smith, the Mets' first pick this year, the next-most-likely candidate. The teams in the best shape at this position in the majors -- the Reds (Joey Votto), Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt) and Orioles (Chris Davis) -- are all thin at the position in the minors, with the Orioles boasting the best first-base prospect of those teams in Christian Walker. Call it a split decision between those teams.
The Angels don't have much depth at any position in their minors but at least have some potential at second base, which could make the team willing to move Howie Kendrick or Erick Aybar for pitching this offseason. Grant Green has no position, if we're being honest here, but second base is the least bad option for him. Taylor Lindsey will be a passable defender at second, but his bat will make him a regular, with a pretty left-handed swing and high contact rates throughout his career. Their second pick in the 2012 draft, Alex Yarbrough, looks like a second-division starter, hitting for average in high-A (as he did in college) but with an awful walk rate for an SEC product at that level. Shortstop prospect Jose Rondon, currently raking in short-season Orem, could also end up at second base, with the potential to be an above-average regular or better at either position.
No team has more at shortstop than the Rangers, who have the resurgent Elvis Andrus (.295/.373/.393 since the break) blocking top prospect Jurickson Profar, while Luis Sardinas showed a similar skill set in pitcher-friendly Myrtle Beach before a recent promotion to Double-A. The Rangers' second first-round pick this year, Travis Demeritte, played shortstop in high school but has split time between short and third in rookie league, with third base his most likely destination. Honorable mention goes to Cleveland, who could trade Asdrubal Cabrera this winter if they believe Francisco Lindor is ready, with Dorssys Paulino still promising despite a disappointing first year in full-season ball.
The Cubs were already deep at third base before trading for Texas prospect Mike Olt but are now deeper at the hot corner than any team in baseball. The group is led by Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in this year's Rule 4 draft, now hitting well in high-A Daytona after tearing apart Boise (where he was old for the level). Jeimer Candelario is a work in progress on defense, but has a patient approach and a simple swing that has many evaluators, myself included, believing he'll hit for average when he's a little older. Christian Villanueva, acquired from Texas last year in the Ryan Dempster trade, could end up a second-division starter. And shortstop Javier Baez may end up at third base, just adding to the team's stockpile at third -- which could prove useful for a future trade for pitching.
The Twins have a surfeit of center fielders with Aaron Hicks, whom I still like in the long term despite his rough ride in the majors this year; Byron Buxton, the top overall prospect in the minors right now at age 19; and second baseman Eddie Rosario, who was a full-time center fielder until 2012 and could return to center if the need arose in the future. Cedar Rapids shortstop Niko Goodrum may end up in center field, although his bat has been slow to develop, while the Kernels' right fielder, German-born Max Kepler, is back on the field after missing two months due to injury and is one of the team's top 10 prospects.
However, for overall system value, including the majors, I'd take the Pirates' outfield crop, with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the majors, Gregory Polanco probably their best long-term option in center field, and first-round pick and five-tool talent Austin Meadows performing very well in the Gulf Coast League. Josh Bell, their big bonus baby from the 2011 draft, still has big offensive potential, although he'll almost certainly end up in left field and lost nearly all of 2012 to a knee injury, while I still think Jose Osuna will end up in the majors as at least a part-time outfielder due to his power. I'd even throw JaCoby Jones in there as a high-ceiling but low-probability center-field candidate, drafted in the third round this year and in need of a lot of help with his swing to help his athleticism translate into performance.
The Cardinals have pitching depth that most other organizations can only dream of (although the Rays and Pirates can stay awake to see something comparable). With Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, and Lance Lynn locked into the rotation, with Joe Kelly serviceable while they wait for one of their many pitching prospects to take over, they're in superb shape at the major league level. Potential starters who are in or close to the majors include Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Trevor Rosenthal, the latter perhaps locked into a relief role that doesn't take full advantage of his arsenal or athleticism. The Cards then added low-ceiling but high-probability lefty Marco Gonzales, a very athletic pitcher with a plus-plus change and above-average curveball, in the first round this year, as well as polished prep lefty Rob Kaminsky, who sits in the low 90s with a future plus curveball as well. They could eventually see some more value from lefty Jaime Garcia or right-hander Tyrell Jenkins, both out with injuries for the rest of this year, or Jordan Swagerty, coming back slowly from March 2012 Tommy John surgery.
The Rays have the strongest major league rotation right now, with David Price, Chris Archer and Matt Moore all showing top-of-the-rotation stuff this year, but top prospect Taylor Guerrieri is out until at least late 2013 after Tommy John surgery, while 2013 first-rounder Ryne Stanek has yet to take the mound in a professional game as he works through some hip soreness. The Pirates' major league rotation isn't as good as it's appeared this year, thanks to huge help from their defense (including positioning), but with Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow all marching toward the big leagues, the rotation's eventual quality may end up surpassing its current reputation.