- Keith Law, ESPN Insider
As it has the past two years, this complements my annual Top 100 list of prospects. This ranking includes only players who are still eligible for the Top 100 prospects ranking -- that is, players who still retain rookie status for 2011.
A system that recently "graduated" a number of top prospects -- Florida and San Francisco are two recent examples, with Buster Posey, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison -- will rank lower on this list because I'm considering only what is currently on the farm. It's a snapshot look rather than a look back over a year or two of farm productivity. So if you see a team at the bottom, it might be because its system recently graduated or traded good prospects in the past year. Of course, it also will reflect teams that just haven't done a very good job of stocking the system.
Within each system, I considered the entire list of prospects but gave much more weight to top prospects -- particularly high-impact prospects -- than to organizational depth based in average to fringe-average prospects. I also considered how much major league value each organization is likely to produce the next few years. 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. Of course, a couple of impact prospects plus organizational depth is ideal. With that all clear, on to the list:
1. Kansas City Royals
About a month or so after Dayton Moore took over as the Royals' GM, he told me that he was alarmed to find how little pitching inventory he had in his new farm system and that addressing that vacuum would be a major priority for his front office. The phrase "Mission Accomplished" has acquired an ironic connotation of late, but if anyone could use the phrase earnestly to describe his own efforts, it would be Moore, as the Royals have arms coming out of their ears.
That's particularly impressive when you consider that Kansas City's top two prospects are bats, and there are some solid position player prospects further down in the system. But what truly sets the Royals apart, and not just this year but from prospect lists of years past, is their stable of left-handed pitchers. Southpaws are harder to find and valued very highly by most front offices, meaning the Royals have promising arms for their own use as well as a hoard for future trades if they find themselves in the running for a playoff spot. They've acquired those arms every which way they could -- mostly through shrewd drafting (Mike Montgomery in the sandwich round, Chris Dwyer in the fourth, John Lamb in the fifth), but also through trades and on the international front, where they've become major players since Moore took over. And Kansas City will add another impact player with the fifth pick in this year's draft, and probably will graduate only one or two prospects to the majors before we reach 2012. It's to the credit of Moore, the Royals' amateur scouting staff (led by J.J. Picollo after two solid drafts by Deric Ladnier after Moore took over), their international scouts and player development that a farm system that was a borderline laughingstock has, inside of five years, turned into the toast of baseball.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Probably second even before they dealt Matt Garza, they're now No. 2 with a bullet and not far behind Kansas City for No. 1. They're absolutely loaded, with top-end talent near that of K.C., but not the extensive depth of prospects the Royals have. The Rays have focused on arms and impact bats in the middle of the field, mixing in the occasional corner bat (Josh Sale), but mostly recognizing that replacement level is so low right now for certain positions and roster spots that there's still some hidden value to be found. They also boast more picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft than any other club, so look for the prospect-rich to get richer.
3. Atlanta Braves
Those top three Latino arms keep marching to the big leagues, and the Braves will produce at least two other rookies who'll spend all or most of 2011 in Atlanta in regular roles. They have a knack for getting good signing useful players off the waiver wire and scrap heap and getting good young talent back in deals, including Arodys Vizcaino as a sort of throw-in to the Javier Vazquez trade.
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