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Talent Rankings

Indians’ move to rebuild shows immediate results

April 2, 2003

Baseball America’s annual minor league talent rankings are based on the quality and quantity of prospects in each organization, with higher marks to organizations that have more high-ceiling prospects or a deep system. The best systems have both. Organization rankings were made by Allan Simpson, Will Lingo, Jim Callis and Josh Boyd, with text written by Boyd.

1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians were a perennial contender in the American League in the 1990s, though they never won a World Series. They sacrificed minor league talent to the point that their farm system soon ranked among the weakest in the game. All that has changed as second-year general manager Mark Shapiro is rebuilding the organization from the bottom up. He dealt veterans for prospects en masse last year, with 10 of the organization’s top 20 prospects coming in trades. Rookies Josh Bard, Travis Hafner and Brandon Phillips should be in the Opening Day lineup, and Jason Davis, Billy Traber, Brian Tallet and Ricardo Rodriguez should be important members of the pitching staff. Scouting director John Mirabelli has used a slew of extra draft picks to restock the lower levels, and his 2001 and 2002 efforts ranked among the best in the game. The Latin American program is also stronger than it’s ever been.

2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves rebuilt through scouting and player development in the late 1980s, and have kept the cupboard stocked ever since, while supplementing the parent club with the talent to win 11 straight National League East titles. The Braves’ philosophy hasn’t varied much over the years. Their emphasis has been on power arms along the lines of Adam Wainwright, and international prospects such as Wilson Betemit and Andy Marte. Betemit lost his foothold atop the organization’s prospect list with a disappointing, injury-plagued 2002 season, but he still has a lofty ceiling. He’ll move to third base when he eventually cracks the Braves lineup.

3. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ minor league talent was No. 1 a year ago. They’ve continued to bolster the lower levels through strong drafts and a successful Latin American program, while promoting frontline prospects Mark Prior, Corey Patterson, Bobby Hill, Hee Seop Choi, Carlos Zambrano and Juan Cruz to Chicago. Now the trick will be to translate all the potential into performance at the big league level. The only real weakness in the system is a lack of pure middle-infield talent, as Ronny Cedeno faltered last year and Luis Montanez has yet to live up to his potential.

4. Minnesota Twins
Not only did the Twins go from the brink of extinction to the American League Championship Series in 2002, but they also have one of the best-stocked farm systems in the game. A future lineup with Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Restovich would provide wallop not seen in Minnesota since Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Even with a small budget, the Twins have done an excellent job of combining winning with development. Few teams stick to their development roots better. If there is a weakness it’s in the middle infield, which the organization addressed in the Rule 5 draft with Jose Morban, and in a deal with the Padres for shortstop Jason Bartlett.

5. Anaheim Angels
From the World Series to a budding farm system, everything clicked last year for one of the game’s traditional underachievers. The Angels boast a largely homegrown lineup at the big league level, with premium prospects in the minors and a balance between pitchers and position players. Under Donny Rowland’s direction, the scouting staff has put together three good drafts while re-establishing a solid Latin American connection. The potential impact of Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and Dallas McPherson from the 2001 draft heads a wave of talent that should keep the Angels in contention. Chris Bootcheck looks like he could be this year’s version of John Lackey, while Joe Torres is returning to form.

6. Toronto Blue Jays
While under orders to slash the budget, GM J.P. Ricciardi is incorporating ideas into the Blue Jays’ player-development and scouting operations that he developed while working in Oakland as Billy Beane’s right-hand man. Ricciardi inherited a strong farm system and saw Roy Halladay, Orlando Hudson, Josh Phelps and Vernon Wells blossom in his first year on the job. He added Baseball America Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske from Oakland before the 2002 season, and prospects Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin in deals with the A’s after the season. The 2002 draft brought in a nice group of polished prospects. They suffered a blow when fast-rising Francisco Rosario had Tommy John surgery last fall.

7. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies opened their checkbooks in the offseason to create a new look one year before they move into a new ballpark. But those moves would not have been made if the farm system were not flourishing and ready to fill in the missing pieces. Marlon Byrd should be an offensive upgrade over the departed Doug Glanville in center, and Brett Myers took the first step toward fulfilling Curt Schilling comparisons by joining a young rotation of Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf and Brandon Duckworth. The system is rich in pitching, particularly righthanders, with Taylor Buchholz and Gavin Floyd leading the next wave. With Bell and Placido Polanco in the majors, Chase Utley should return for a second year in Triple-A despite a solid spring.

8. Florida Marlins
After the Marlins swapped front offices with the Expos before last season, it’s not surprising they continued to emphasize scouting and player development, with a priority on premium athletes, high school bats and lefthanded pitching. The new administration inherited a strong crop of prospects and made trades with the Cubs, Expos and Reds that brought in pitchers Dontrelle Willis, Don Levinski, Justin Wayne and Ryan Snare. If Fred Ferreira still has the magic touch that enabled him to sign players like Vladimir Guerrero on the international market, it will be a nice supplement to the steady drafts of unheralded scouting director Jim Fleming and his successor Stan Meek.

9. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners’ winning percentage in both the majors and minors suffered the greatest decline in baseball from 2001 to 2002. More significantly, the talent level slipped as lefthander Ryan Anderson, their top prospect five years running, was lost to injury for a second straight season and the Mariners failed to sign two premium draft picks. They hope a spring meeting between Anderson and his idol Randy Johnson will get him back on the right track. The Mariners were handicapped in the 2000 and 2001 drafts by losing picks to free-agent compensation but have been resourceful in their scouting efforts. Their top four prospects are international products, while Aaron Taylor was a minor league Rule 5 pick and Greg Dobbs was undrafted. Jose Lopez’ emergence has also been a pleasant surprise.

10. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
While 1999 No. 1 overall draft pick Josh Hamilton is becoming a giant enigma, the Devil Rays still have one of the deepest crops of outfielders in the game. Rocco Baldelli was Baseball America’s 2002 Minor League Player of the Year, and manager Lou Piniella quickly named Baldelli his Opening Day center fielder. Dan Jennings’ last draft as scouting director produced high-ceiling outfielders in Wes Bankston, Jason Pridie and Elijah Dukes in addition to No. 2 pick B.J. Upton. None of the other positions is as deep, but the Devil Rays could have a foundation for future success. Early gambles on Matt White and Bobby Seay haven’t paid off, leaving the pitching thin, but not many organizations can match the Devil Rays’ collection of frontline prospects.

11. San Francisco Giants
The Giants farm system has improved significantly in recent years. It is well stocked with live arms, led by righthanders Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth and Jerome Williams. All are on the cusp of breaking into the big leagues, and it looks like Ainsworth will be the first to join the rotation this spring. Throw in power lefties Francisco Liriano and Ryan Hannaman, and the Giants have filled out a five-man rotation. As strong as their pitching is, though, there is a gaping hole in overall infield depth. Todd Linden’s powerful bat provides potential for future offensive help.

12. Detroit Tigers
Dave Dombrowski arrived last year, quickly took over as GM from Randy Smith and set out to build a team for the future. Suddenly the Tigers are on the upswing. Some questioned dealing ace Jeff Weaver to the Yankees, but Dombrowski netted a sweet-swinging, young first baseman with power in Carlos Pena, Weaver’s eventual replacement at the front of the rotation in Jeremy Bonderman, and a potential power closer in Franklyn German. A January deal with the Marlins, Dombrowski’s former club, landed three more prospects. The only major setback came from righthanders Matt Wheatland and Kenny Baugh, first-round picks who missed the 2002 season with injuries.

13. New York Mets
Solely on the strength of their frontline prospects, the Mets have taken a leap forward. Shortstop Jose Reyes is one of the brightest prospects in the game, and he could be an altering force in the Mets lineup by midseason. Power lefthander Scott Kazmir fell into their laps in the draft last year, as teams passed on his price tag–which didn’t turn out to be as high as rumored–and worried about the durability of his undersized frame. David Wright and Justin Huber showed plus bats and power potential. The Mets’ track record for developing pitchers is abysmal, but Aaron Heilman should change that. Overall depth remains the organization’s main weakness.

14. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are heading in the right direction after spiraling in the aftermath of the Kevin Malone regime. They have become the antithesis of the Athletics’ philosophy, relying on traditional scouting with a focus on high-ceiling prospects from the prep ranks and Latin America. Logan White’s first draft as scouting director established the trend, as he tabbed eight high schoolers with his first 10 picks, including first-rounder James Loney, who jumped straight to the front of the system’s prospects. The system is rich in lefthanders, unproven power arms and athletes.

15. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox’ depth isn’t what it was a couple of years ago, when their minor league talent was rated the best in the game and they were our 2000 Organization of the Year. That is due in part to their success at graduating prospects to the big leagues. Last year, though, they tried to rush 2000 Minor League Player of the Year Jon Rauch back from shoulder surgery and it cost them. Aside from Joe Borchard and catcher Miguel Olivo, the system doesn’t have much talent near major league-ready. With pitchers in 20 of the 30 places on the organization’s prospects list, that is clearly the deepest position in the organization.

16. Milwaukee Brewers
When Dean Taylor took over as GM before the 2000 season, the Brewers system ranked dead last among the 30 big league organizations. Considering where they were, the Brewers have made tremendous strides. Taylor was replaced by Doug Melvin last year, and Melvin kept scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who deserves credit for hitting on his first-rounders and uncovering mid-round gems like Corey Hart. Most of the Brewers’ prospects are at least two years away and many will spend this season at Double-A Huntsville, so it will take time to develop depth and balance.

17. New York Yankees
The outlook for the Yankees was much bleaker before they signed international stars Jose Contreras (Cuba) and Hideki Matsui (Japan). But the system can’t take credit for developing either player. The farm system was decimated by injuries, trades and disappointing performances in 2002, and much of the Yankees’ hope for the future has been pinned on inexperienced, low-level prospects with high ceilings. Lefty Mark Phillips, obtained from the Padres in the Rondell White-Bubba Trammell deal, fits with the organization’s affinity for southpaws. Where Drew Henson’s career heads in 2003 could be a major factor in the system’s direction.

18. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have been maligned for their lack of success in player development, but 2002 saw considerable improvement. New farm director Brian Graham deserves credit for instilling a winning attitude in his first year. Both Class A clubs won championships. Ed Creech’s first draft shows promise, though the previous scouting regime, led by Mickey White, is responsible for eight of the Top 10 Prospects. Even with injuries to J.R. House and Bobby Bradley, the Pirates could have several quality major leaguers on the verge of breaking through.

19. Texas Rangers
It was difficult for assistant GM/scouting director Grady Fuson to put his stamp on the organization in his first year because the Rangers had only one draft pick in the first five rounds. But changes are in motion, as Fuson implements many of the same player-development ideas practiced by the Athletics, his former organization. While the Rangers’ depth took a hit after they dealt Travis Hafner in the offseason, they still boast premium talent on the infield corners in Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock, who are ready to make an impact in Arlington this year.

20. San Diego Padres
A year ago, the Padres had one of the strongest systems in baseball with a blend of premium bats and arms. Thanks to injuries and a lack of depth in the big leagues, though, the Padres had 16 players make major league debuts last year, including half of the organization’s top 10 list. They also lost two quality lefthanders this spring: Eric Cyr to the Angels on waivers and Mark Phillips to the Yankees in a trade for Rondell White. Still, this is not a system without prospects. Now that they’ve developed a corps of promising young pitchers, the Padres need everyday prospects like Xavier Nady, Khalil Greene, Tagg Bozied and Jake Gautreau to step forward.

21. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks reached the postseason in three of their five years of existence with little help from a farm system that was regarded as the weakest in baseball two years ago. With an aging big league club, financial pressures and few blue-chip players on the horizon entering 2002, there were worries about the future. Then late bloomers like Erubiel Durazo (since traded to the A’s), Junior Spivey and Lyle Overbay–all products of the maligned Donnie Mitchell scouting era–provided a boost. Now the organization believes it has young players to take over as expensive veterans are gradually replaced.

22. Oakland Athletics
Oakland doesn’t have the same talent it did two years ago, but not because of the departures of former scouting director Grady Fuson (Rangers) and director of player personnel J.P. Ricciardi (Blue Jays). GM Billy Beane has used the farm system’s depth to acquire talent for the parent club. The A’s replenished their system with seven of the top 39 picks in last year’s draft. Top prospect Rich Harden was impressive in spring training, and the A’s continue to tout 2002 supplemental first-rounder Jeremy Brown as their top prospect. This will be a crucial season for shortstop Bobby Crosby, as the A’s said they will not try to re-sign MVP Miguel Tejada after this season.

23. Houston Astros
Everything went right for the Astros in 2001 when they claimed Baseball America’s Organization of the Year award. Nothing worked out quite as well in 2002, both at the major and minor league levels, causing Houston to slide 20 spots. Not having a high Class A affiliate last year was a leading cause of their problems, as several prospects didn’t handle a two-level jump well. John Buck, Jason Lane, Chris Burke, Brad Lidge, Anthony Pluta and Morgan Ensberg all struggled more than expected. Shoulder injuries to lefties Carlos Hernandez (2002) and Wilfredo Rodriguez (2000), both former No. 1 prospects in the organization, are a cause for concern.

24. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds move into a new ballpark, but the euphoria that generally accompanies such moves isn’t apparent in Cincinnati. GM Jim Bowden enters the final year of his contract, and organizational instability led to the offseason departure of several top player personnel officials. The 2002 draft brought top prospect Chris Gruler, but the Reds again had difficulty signing top picks on a shoestring budget ($3.5 million last year). Brandon Larson is ready to join the big league lineup at third base, but his impact will be less than the Reds’ last two prospect graduates: Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. Wily Mo Pena returned from hamstring surgery ahead of schedule and looked good in spring training.

25. Colorado Rockies
Developing pitchers Shawn Chacon and Jason Jennings over the last two years gives the Rockies hope in mile-high Coors Field. Jennings’ stuff isn’t spectacular, but his heavy sinker, which also is top prospect Aaron Cook’s best pitch, is one of the prerequisites in the Coors Survival Guide. The organization’s focus on drafting and developing pitchers has often come at the expense of securing frontline hitters, though the Rockies signed a potential first-round talent last year in fourth-rounder Jeff Baker, who slid out of the first three rounds because of signability. Choo Freeman’s turnaround was a pleasant surprise last year, and Brad Hawpe will have to repeat his monster season to gain more believers.

26. Kansas City Royals
The Royals depend on their farm system for success. Unfortunately, it hasn’t provided much help as the big league club has continued to struggle. The Royals haven’t been able to develop first-round picks such as Jeff Austin, Dee Brown, Chris George, Dan Reichert and Mike Stodolka. Future success is riding on young, homegrown players Ken Harvey, Mike MacDougal and Jeremy Affeldt, while a turnaround from Angel Berroa could salvage the deal that cost them Jermaine Dye and Mark Ellis. A high-risk 2001 draft produced a wild card in Colt Griffin, who has averaged a walk an inning, and Roscoe Crosby, who finally gave up college football this spring. The organization has a laundry list of needs, and the front office hasn’t been able to fill them despite dealing off the likes of Johnny Damon and Dye.

27. Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox filed their 40-man roster in November, it included just 28 players. That was a commentary on the lack of talent in the upper levels of the farm system. Still, the Sox have done an effective job of dealing minor leaguers for established major leaguers. New GM Theo Epstein has incorporated a new philosophy, blending performance with tools, which can only help an organization that has not produced much homegrown talent. The new regime also pledges a renewed commitment to player development and scouting in the U.S. and Latin America, efforts that suffered as the team was combing the Far East in recent years. Phenom Hanley Ramirez is set to jump on the fast track after dominating in short-season ball in 2002.

28. St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis’ depth has improved only marginally over the last few years. Though they lacked first- and second-round picks last year because of free-agent compensation, the Cardinals signed a first-round talent, Blake Hawksworth, to a $1.475 million draft-and-follow deal. The development of most of the organization’s top pitching prospects has been stunted by injuries, but the biggest hope in the system still rides on young arms like Dan Haren, Jimmy Journell, Chris Narveson, Justin Pope and Hawksworth. There is a distinct absence of impact bats.

29. Montreal Expos
Any organization that traded one-third of its top 30 prospects would see a significant reduction in talent. That’s what GM Omar Minaya has done since Major League Baseball took over the franchise. Shortstop Brandon Phillips and lefthander Cliff Lee would have ranked Nos. 1-2 had they not been sent to Cleveland with outfielder Grady Sizemore, another top 10 lock, to rent Bartolo Colon last season. The return for Colon didn’t come close to replenishing the system. Scouting director Dana Brown did a noble job on the fly in his first draft, but as long as MLB operates the Expos it seems clear the system will be sacrificed without regard for the future.

30. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles’ front-office makeover, which resulted in the hiring of co-GMs Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan in the offseason, addressed player development first when farm director Don Buford was replaced by Reds assistant GM Doc Rodgers. The minor league system had the worst winning percentage in the game last year (.434) and mirrors the big league situation in its lack of impact talent. Injuries have affected many of the farm’s best players, including No. 1 prospect Erik Bedard and 2001 first-rounder Chris Smith. Tony DeMacio remained as scouting director and is respected by his peers, but Rodgers has a big challenge in front of him.

Prospect Perspective

Here we take you back five years to see how an organization’s rankings have changed over time and give you a historical perspective on each organization’s performance.

 

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Cleveland Indians

1

20

26

19

4

Atlanta Braves

2

7

5

4

1

Chicago Cubs

3

1

2

16

26

Minnesota Twins

4

6

15

10

10

Anaheim Angels

5

17

25

29

30

Toronto Blue Jays

6

13

17

8

4

Philadelphia Phillies

7

11

12

17

21

Florida Marlins

8

10

9

2

2

Seattle Mariners

9

2

4

24

20

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

10

15

6

13

29

San Francisco Giants

11

12

22

28

22

Detroit Tigers

12

18

18

25

16

New York Mets

13

27

20

22

23

Los Angeles Dodgers

14

25

28

23

24

Chicago White Sox

15

9

1

6

12

Milwaukee Brewers

16

26

30

30

27

New York Yankees

17

5

7

1

3

Pittsburgh Pirates

18

22

19

14

15

Texas Rangers

19

8

13

7

8

San Diego Padres

20

4

8

11

5

Arizona Diamondbacks

21

23

29

12

18

Oakland Athletics

22

19

11

3

6

Houston Astros

23

3

10

9

11

Cincinnati Reds

24

14

3

20

28

Colorado Rockies

25

24

16

26

25

Kansas City Royals

26

21

14

5

13

Boston Red Sox

27

28

24

21

17

St. Louis Cardinals

28

30

23

27

9

Montreal Expos

29

16

21

15

7

Baltimore Orioles

30

29

27

18

19

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