- Keith Law, ESPN Insider
As a prelude to Thursday's publication of the top 100 prospects in baseball for 2009, I've ranked all 30 organizations on the current states of their farm systems. These rankings consider only players who still have rookie eligibility for 2009, so the Dodgers get no credit for Clayton Kershaw, nor do the Mets get credit for Daniel Murphy, who lost his eligibility by one at-bat. Some systems ranked near the bottom are there because they have been very productive over the past few years and have entered fallow periods. Other systems are ranked near the bottom because they're just bad.
I considered the entire list of prospects in each system in ranking the organizations, but I gave much more weight to top prospects, particularly high-impact prospects, than to organizational depth in average to fringe-average prospects. I also considered how much major league value each organization is likely to produce over the next few years; Boston had a number of very promising, high-upside prospects in short-season leagues this past year, but even in a best-case scenario, that group of players will not produce any major league value before 2012. So a system with high-impact prospects who are relatively close to the majors ranks high, even if the system lacks depth in second- and third-tier prospects.
1. Texas Rangers: The Rangers have far and away the best farm system in the game right now, with impact prospects, lots of depth (particularly in very young pitching) and plenty of prospects close enough to the majors to help the big league club in 2009 and 2010.
What is most impressive about the restocking of Texas' farm system is that the additions have come from across the board. Texas has been one of the most aggressive bidders on talent in the international market, landing Martin Perez, Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan and Esdras Abreu. The Rangers also have integrated their international scouting with the rest of their baseball operations -- for most teams, it's still a separate fiefdom -- and have acquired several top international prospects in trades a year or so after missing out on them as free agents, including Neftali Feliz, Engel Beltre and Carlos Melo. Having one person, A.J. Preller, heavily involved in both international and pro scouting has made this integration easier, and the Rangers also use adviser Don Welke heavily in both areas. In addition, they have been aggressive in the draft under scouting director Ron Hopkins, signing several players who fell due to bonus demands and giving them above-slot bonuses that were appropriate to the players' talents, including Justin Smoak and Robbie Ross in 2008 and Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez in 2007. And the Rangers have worked the trade market to add prospects, cashing in Mark Teixeira for a huge package that included Feliz and Elvis Andrus, flipping Kenny Lofton for Max Ramirez and more recently dealing Gerald Laird for Melo and Guillermo Moscoso.
GM Jon Daniels has implemented a clear and consistent philosophy for baseball operations, centered on building pitching depth with an emphasis on upside, a tacit acknowledgment that pitching in Arlington requires better stuff or a stronger constitution than pitching in Seattle or Oakland. The integration across departments -- amateur scouting, pro scouting, international scouting and player development -- is still unusual in baseball, although the success of similar efforts in Boston and Tampa Bay is causing more teams to reevaluate their organizational structures.
Whether this translates into major league success for Texas largely will come down to the young pitching: Can these pitchers succeed in the Rangers' ballpark, and can they stay healthy? If so, the wave of arms coming through Texas over the next five years will give the Rangers the best chance in their history to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
2. Tampa Bay Rays: They just keep churning out the prospects, although they'll have a new challenge in 2009: no draft picks in the top 10 -- or even 20. Success with high school pitchers taken after the first round has been a big part of their system's depth, including another wave of kids who spent 2008 in short-season ball. However, their recent efforts in Latin America have yet to yield any significant prospects.
3. Oakland Athletics: Now that's how you restock a farm system. Between the trades of Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher, the A's added six of their current top 10 prospects, most of whom would fit in the top 10 of any club, not including Fautino de los Santos, who is still out after having Tommy John surgery. They added pitching depth and up-the-middle players, and the group is supplemented by a few successful selections of high school pitchers and the big prize in this year's international market, 16-year-old right-hander Michel Inoa.
4. Atlanta Braves: Still one of the best and deepest systems in the game despite the trades for Mark Teixeira and Javier Vazquez. Scouting director Roy Clark and his staff are among the game's best, with a knack for finding talent beyond the first round while they remain quietly productive on the international front.
5. Cleveland Indians: The trades of Casey Blake and CC Sabathia combined with some depth-oriented drafts have filled out this system over the past two years, although it's arguable how many impact guys the Indians have after Carlos Santana. A healthy Adam Miller, who has No. 1 starter stuff, would have had them a little higher on the list. They are one of a half-dozen teams whose prospect lists genuinely run 12 to 15 names deep.
6. St. Louis Cardinals: St. Louis' system features three potential star prospects followed by a stack of average or slightly above-average prospects, giving the Cardinals both impact and good depth. Their efforts in the Dominican Republic are just starting to bear fruit.
7. Boston Red Sox: Probably an aggressive ranking, but their 2008 draft class has the potential to be one of the best. They have become more aggressive at going over slot to obtain premium players in the draft and have become more active internationally. Their system probably had more prospect depth on 2008 short-season rosters than any other but Texas'.
8. Florida Marlins: Something of a top-heavy system, with six or seven excellent prospects, but pitching injuries and a few graduations to the majors have thinned out the system. The Marlins sent one of the more interesting contingents to the Arizona Fall League, with top prospects Logan Morrison and Sean West (still coming back from 2007 shoulder surgery) and lower-profile tools players John Raynor and Scott Cousins.
9. San Francisco Giants: Speaking of top-heavy, the Giants' front four prospects rival just about anyone's, but after those guys and Conor Gillaspie, the quality drops off quickly, even in the face of two very good recent drafts. The Giants do have some interesting names who will be in extended spring training or the Sally League this year, but no impact guys beyond the top four.
10. Baltimore Orioles: Once again, a great front four, or perhaps three, without much depth behind them. Two lost picks in 2007 didn't help, but the Orioles took some upside players after Brian Matusz in 2008 and could slide up if one or two of them have strong full-season debuts in 2009.
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