1. ANAHEIM ANGELS
Owner Arte Moreno has pumped a bunch of money into the Angels since buying them in 2003, and while agent Scott Boras and Jered Weaver may not agree, his willingness to spend extends to the amateur market as well. Though Weaver, the 12th overall pick in the 2004 draft, remains unsigned, the Angels hedged with late-round fliers on unsignable players such as third baseman Mark Trumbo and righthanders Nick Adenhart and Bobby Cassevah-and signed them all. Anaheim continued to be aggressive in the offseason, signing Cuban defector Kendry Morales for a club-record $3 million bonus. Those moves further strengthened a system that boasts the game's best collection of infield talent, led by first baseman Casey Kotchman, third baseman Dallas McPherson and shortstops Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood.
2. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta comes from “Moneyball” roots, but the National League's best farm system most decidedly does not. Just two of the players on our Dodgers top 30 prospects list were signed out of four-year colleges. DePodesta didn't meddle with scouting director Logan White's successful draft approach last June, as Los Angeles took high schoolers Scott Elbert and Blake DeWitt with its two picks in the first round. While other teams have focused more on collegians, White has succeeded taking preps such as righthander Chad Billingsley and first baseman James Loney and juco players such as third baseman Andy LaRoche and catcher Russell Martin. Pioneers on the international front, the Dodgers have continued to do well there, finding shortstop Joel Guzman and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (the key player in the Milton Bradley trade). They put seven players and signed eight on our Top 100 Prospects List, more than any organization.
3. MILWAUKEE BREWERS
The Brewers' streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons should come to an end soon, possibly as early as 2006, and realistic hopes of contending aren't much further away. Shortstop J.J. Hardy and righthander Ben Hendrickson are ready for major league duty, and the franchise's cornerstone players, second baseman Rickie Weeks and first baseman Prince Fielder, aren't far behind. It's amazing that the Brewers have restocked almost solely through scouting director Jack Zduriencik's five drafts. They haven't had extra picks, they haven't exceeded MLB's slot recommendations in the draft, they haven't made much of a dent in Latin America and they haven't brought in much talent in trades. Yet they placed five players among the top 55 slots on our Top 100 list, a claim no other team can make
4. MINNESOTA TWINS
Though owner Carl Pohlad continues to pinch pennies, the Twins just keep on rolling thanks to unified and loyal player-development and scouting departments that continually provide talent. Minnesota won its third American League Central title and second BA Organization of the Year award in three years in 2004. Catcher Joe Mauer (before he injured his knee), first baseman Justin Morneau, infielder Michael Cuddyer and outfielder Lew Ford all became regulars last year. Shortstop Jason Bartlett is poised to do the same in 2005, and outfielder Jason Kubel would have made a push had he not hurt his knee last fall. On the pitching side, Grant Balfour and Jesse Crain were valuable bullpen contributors in 2004, and fellow righthanders J.D. Durbin and possibly Scott Baker could make an impact this season. And the Twins restocked with the game's best draft in 2004, when they spent four of their five first-round choices on pitchers.
5. ATLANTA BRAVES
The top five teams on this list remain unchanged from a year ago, and no club is more consistent than the Braves. They've won 13 consecutive division titles, in large part because their system has ranked no lower than seventh on this list for 14 straight years. Atlanta still has homegrown stars Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz in place, has worked Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles in during recent season and unveiled first baseman Adam LaRoche last year. GM John Schuerholz aggressively used minor league talent in trades this offseason to bolster the big league staff. Another wave of hitters is on the verge of reaching the majors, most notably third baseman Andy Marte and outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
6. COLORADO ROCKIES
Improving nine spots, the Rockies tied the Athletics for the biggest jump on the list. While Oakland made its move with offseason trades, Colorado did so on the strength of signing its own players. As the Rockies try to make their way out of last place in the NL West, they're giving jobs to a number of rookies: lefthander Jeff Francis, shortstop Clint Barmes, third baseman Garrett Atkins, catcher J.D. Closser and outfielder Brad Hawpe. Most of their best prospects, with the exception of BA Minor League Player of the Year Francis, are still a couple of years away. Third baseman Ian Stewart and shortstop Chris Nelson eventually will give Colorado the best left side of the infield in baseball..
7. CLEVELAND INDIANS
Ranked No. 1 two years ago, the Indians system remains strong despite promoting a bevy of talented young players to the majors over the last two seasons. Cleveland didn't do much with multiple first-round picks in 2000, 2001 and 2002, but went 3-for-3 in 2003 with first baseman Michael Aubrey, outfielder Brad Snyder and righthander Adam Miller. No GM in recent years has traded for as much prospect talent as Mark Shapiro, and he was at it again in 2004, getting outfielder Franklin Gutierrez from the Dodgers. Shapiro's efforts helped Cleveland complete its rebuilding project in just two years, going from consecutive losing seasons in 2002-03 to right back in contention last year.
8. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Three years later, the Athletics' fabled “Moneyball” draft looks ordinary considering they had seven first-rounders. Outfielder Nick Swisher is a Rookie of the Year candidate, righthander Joe Blanton is a candidate for the back of the rotation and third baseman Mark Teahen was a key component in the Carlos Beltran/Octavio Dotel trade last year, but the rest of the 2002 crop doesn't look like it will produce much. The A's may get more out of their first-round choices from 2003 and 2004, most notably righthander Huston Street and outfielder Richie Robnett. GM Billy Beane gave the system a huge boost with the decision to trade Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, acquiring one of the best hitters (first baseman/catcher Daric Barton) and one of the best lefthanders (Dan Meyer) in the minors. Oakland also is putting more into its Latin American program, yielding such talents as outfielder Javier Herrera and righty Jairo Garcia.
9. TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
The Devil Rays finally avoided last place in the AL East for the first time last year and have a promising nucleus of young talent. Outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford are established big leaguers at 23, and shortstop B.J. Upton is on the verge of becoming one at age 20. Tampa Bay couldn't have exercised premium picks any better than it did with the No. 2 choice in 2002 (Upton) and the No. 1 selection in 2003 (outfielder Delmon Young, the best hitting prospect in the minors). After years of spending big money on pitching with little to show for it, the Rays landed quality arms in 2004. They drafted Jeff Niemann with the fourth overall pick in June and stole Scott Kazmir from the Mets in the Victor Zambrano trade in July.
10. CHICAGO CUBS
The Cubs' 2004 season may have gone down in flames, but they finished with consecutive winning records for the first time since 1971-72 and shouldn't stop anytime soon. Their system may be more balanced now than it was in 2002, when pitchers such as Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano carried it to a No. 1 ranking. Chicago's three best prospects are first baseman Brian Dopirak and outfielders Felix Pie and Ryan Harvey. There's still plenty of pitching as well, with righties Angel Guzman and Billy Petrick and lefties Renyel Pinto and Sean Marshall. Scouting director John Stockstill has done a solid job running the club's last four drafts. The Cubs are aggressive in the draft and pursuing talent on the international market.
11. SEATTLE MARINERS
More than any other organization, the Mariners rely on foreign prospects to make up for a lack of success with the draft. Seattle has made a habit of forfeiting first-round picks to sign free agents, and hasn't made good use of the choices it has kept. Willie Bloomquist may turn out to be the best draft pick from 1998-2002. Yet their system hasn't fallen apart thanks to a willingness to span the globe for talent. Seattle has landed players from 17 foreign nations, most notably Ichiro (Japan); the game's best pitching prospect, Felix Hernandez (Venezuela); and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (Korea). The Mariners made strides on the domestic front last year, trading for outfielder Jeremy Reed and giving a $2.29 million bonus to buy shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo away from college football.
12. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Ranking 12th is quite an accomplishment for the White Sox, considering GM Kenny Williams has traded 17 prospects over the last three seasons, including Jeremy Reed. Chicago still has a lot of talent, thanks in part to former scouting director Doug Laumann's 2001-03 drafts. Reed was part of that harvest, as were outfielders Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney and Chris Young. So was righthander Brandon McCarthy, who led the minors in strikeouts last year and has been a spring-training sensation. The White Sox have continued to bring in talent since, drafting third baseman Josh Fields and a slew of promising lefthanders last June.
13. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
The Diamondbacks suffered through an embarrassing 111 losses last season, but they have offensive firepower on the way as they climb back toward respectability. Outfielders Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson and Jon Zeringue plus shortstop Sergio Santos should form the heart of the future lineup, along with second-year big leaguer Scott Hairston. Shortstop Stephen Drew, the club's as-yet-unsigned 2004 first-rounder, would be another valuable blue-chip prospect. The next task is to find pitching. Most of Arizona's top arms took a step back last season, especially Dustin Nippert (Tommy John surgery) and Ramon Pena (identity fraud).
14. FLORIDA MARLINS
The Marlins system paid huge dividends in 2003, when they won both the World Series and our Organization of the Year award. Callups Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis gave the team a midseason boost, bonus baby Josh Beckett delivered on his promise in the postseason and prospects such as righthander Denny Bautista (to the Orioles for Jeff Conine) and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (to the Rangers for Ugueth Urbina) were used in key trades. Florida’s minor league depth took a hit with all that activity, but the club still has a pair of impact players in outfielder Jeremy Hermida and lefty Scott Olsen.
15. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Toronto’s “Moneyball” approach to the draft has flooded the system with advanced college players who have quickly reached the majors, such as David Bush and Russ Adams. But the Blue Jays have passed on higher-ceiling players and don’t have the cornerstone prospects they were known for under former GM Pat Gillick. No team drafted more successfully in the 1990s, when Toronto spent first-round picks on high schoolers such as Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart, Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells. The Jays also haven’t been as diligent in Latin America, where they used to acquire more talent than most clubs. Toronto has depth but not the superstars it will need to battle the high-spending Red Sox and Yankees.
16. TEXAS RANGERS
The Rangers made a major change in mid-2004 when they squeezed out assistant GM Grady Fuson, the heir apparent to John Hart, and split up his duties among three men. In three years in Texas, Fuson significantly improved the club’s supply of pitching prospects, led by first-round choices Thomas Diamond and John Danks. The Rangers also have worked the trade route to bolster their system, landing shortstop Joaquin Arias (from the Yankees for Alex Rodriguez), righthander Chris Young (from the Expos for Einar Diaz) and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (from the Marlins for Ugueth Urbina).
17. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The Giants are nothing if not consistent. They haven’t cracked the top 10 in these rankings since 1992 and haven’t developed a significant everyday player since drafting Bill Mueller in 1993. But they always seem to have the pitching to bolster their big league club and to use as trade bait, and most important, they have contended in the NL West for the last eight years. Jerome Williams, Noah Lowry and Brad Hennessey propped up the rotation last year, and minor league righthanders Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez have exciting arms. San Francisco addressed its shortage of position players by drafting outfielders Eddy Martinez-Esteve, John Bowker and Clay Timpner with its first three picks last June.
18. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
The Pirates are tied with the Brewers for the longest active run of losing seasons in pro sports with 12. Pittsburgh has steady but less spectacular prospects. The Pirates have had injury problems with recent first-round picks Bobby Bradley and Sean Burnett (Tommy John surgery for both) and John Van Benschoten (labrum surgery that will knock him out for all of 2005). Choosing another pitcher, Bryan Bullington, over B.J. Upton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2002 satisfied owner Kevin McClatchy’s demand for a college player—and has proven to be a colossal mistake. Lefthander Zach Duke emerged in 2004 and last year’s first-round pick, Neil Walker, is the most athletic catching prospect this side of Joe Mauer. But Pittsburgh will need a lot more than those two.
19. NEW YORK METS
The Mets take the biggest drop after ranking 10th a year ago. Part of that was to be expected, as David Wright and Kazuo Matsui graduated to the big leagues. But New York also dealt Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, short-sighted deals that revealed a dysfunctional front office and led to the hiring of GM Omar Minaya in the offseason. The Mets have shown a willingness to spend aggressively on players who fall in the first round (Kazmir and outfielder Lastings Milledge) but fared less well in lower rounds. The Mets have three potential all-stars in Milledge and righthanders Yusmeiro Petit and Philip Humber, but little depth behind them.
20. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Like the Mets, the Phillies have three standout prospects and not a whole lot behind them. First baseman Ryan Howard led the minors with 46 homers but is blocked by Jim Thome. Righthander Gavin Floyd has made continual progress and is ready for big league duty after an impressive September callup. Lefty Cole Hamels has a 1.31 career ERA, but he pitched just 16 innings in 2004 and then broke his pitching hand in an offseason altercation. Surrendering five early picks to sign free agents over the last five years also has handicapped the system.
21. BOSTON RED SOX
Winning the World Series accomplished the goal that had eluded the Red Sox since 1918. A secondary objective is to rebuild the farm system, which grew fallow in the latter days of former GM Dan Duquette’s reign. Boston has made incremental progress, but the fact remains that only one regular (Trot Nixon) on the championship club was homegrown. In the two drafts since Theo Epstein became GM, the Red Sox have emphasized polished college players, yet many of their best prospects were signed out of Latin America (shortstops Hanley Ramirez and Luis Soto, righthander Anibal Sanchez) or high school (outfielder Brandon Moss, lefty Jon Lester).
22. HOUSTON ASTROS
Lost in the Astros’ thrilling playoff run that fell one game short of the World Series was that no front office endured more upheaval in 2004. Frustrated by owner Drayton McLane, respected GM Gerry Hunsicker resigned after the playoffs and was replaced by assistant GM Tim Purpura. Tigers farm director Ricky Bennett replaced Purpura in that role, while coordinator of pro scouting Paul Ricciarini took over as scouting director for David Lakey in June. The new regime will have to breathe life into a farm system that has tumbled since ranking third three years ago.
23. CINCINNATI REDS
Owner Carl Lindner hasn’t exactly opened his wallet to bring in talent. Financial concerns played a large role in the selection of righthander Chris Gruler with the third overall pick in 2002, and he has pitched just 78 innings since because of shoulder problems. Injuries have struck several of Cincinnati’s other pitching prospects, including Ty Howington and Bobby Basham. Not signing first-round lefty Jeremy Sowers in 2001 also hurt, as he went sixth overall to the Indians last June. Early returns on the Reds’ last two drafts are promising, yielding righties Homer Bailey, Richie Gardner and Thomas Pauly and outfielder B.J. Szymanski.
24. NEW YORK YANKEES
Years of neglect have caught up to the Yankees system, which ranked No. 1 in 2000 and No. 5 as recently as three years ago. They’ve concentrated on the foreign market, which has delivered both hits (Hideki Matsui) and misses (Jose Contreras), while being conservative in the draft. New York got next to nothing out of the 1997-2002 drafts and have been left with one premium prospect (third baseman Eric Duncan) and little trade bait, so they’ve had to take their payroll north of $200 million. They reassigned scouting director Lin Garrett and replaced him with Damon Oppenheimer after the 2004 draft.
25. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The Orioles player-development and scouting departments haven’t worked well together in recent years, and now they have new men in charge. Baltimore replaced farm director Doc Rodgers after just two years, turning to hitting coordinator David Stockstill, and scouting director Tony DeMacio after six, tabbing Marlins crosschecker Joe Jordan. The Orioles want the two departments to get on the same page, but they also need Peter Angelos to stop meddling. After last year’s draft had started, Angelos pulled the rug out from under DeMacio by demanding a college pitcher with the eighth overall pick. Making matters worse, Baltimore failed to sign its choice, Wade Townsend. The thin system took another hit when its brightest prospect, lefthander Adam Loewen, tore his labrum.
26. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
The former Expos have a home, but they still need a real owner. The player-development and scouting budgets should increase after scouting director Dana Brown had to make do with meager resources for his previous three drafts. Brown and his skeleton staff did find players such as Chad Cordero, first baseman Larry Broadway and righthander Clint Everts (out with Tommy John surgery), but that wasn’t enough to stem the talent flowing out of Montreal. Former GM Omar Minaya traded away the likes of Jason Bay, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore and got little to show for them. He reversed course in 2004, acquiring prospects such as Ryan Church and Brendan Harris, but the system is still worse off than when MLB bought the Expos.
27. SAN DIEGO PADRES
It’s never a good sign when your scouting department acknowledges that its 2003 draft was bad one year later and gets undermined by upper management, forcing it to settle for a budget pick with the No. 1 overall draft choice. The players still have time to improve, but the Padres don’t look like they’ll get full value out of the fourth overall pick in 2003 (righthander Tim Stauffer had a previously undisclosed shoulder problem) or out of the first selection last year (shortstop Matt Bush had a rocky pro debut and projects to hit toward the bottom of a lineup). Second baseman Josh Barfield is the only farmhand with obvious all-star potential.
28. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The good news is that the system produced a potential No. 1 starter (Zack Greinke) and a leadoff hitter (center fielder David DeJesus) in 2004. The bad news is that there’s not enough talent to close the gap between the 104-loss Royals and the rest of the AL Central. GM Allard Baird stole righthander Denny Bautista from the Orioles and acquired third baseman Mark Teahen from the Athletics. But there’s only so much he can do with a low-revenue franchise. Kansas City has had to seek first-round picks who sign for below-slot money.
29. DETROIT TIGERS
The Tigers have repeatedly misfired on their early picks, from Eric Munson to Matt Wheatland to Kenny Baugh to Scott Moore. Outside of outfielder Curtis Granderson and shortstop Tony Giarratano, few of their prospects made progress in 2004. Detroit has a deep stock of hard-throwing righthanders, but few of them have shown pitching savvy. Detroit will strive to do better with a new farm director (Dan Lunetta replaced Ricky Bennett, who left for the Astros) and a new scouting director (David Chadd took over for Greg Smith, who was reassigned).
30. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
GM Walt Jocketty has excelled at spinning minor leaguers for veterans. The Cardinals won 105 games and reached the World Series with just two homegrown regulars, Albert Pujols and Matt Morris. Jocketty was at it again in the offseason, including first baseman/catcher Daric Barton—by far St. Louis’ best prospect—in the Mark Mulder deal with the Athletics. However, there isn’t much trade fodder left, and the Cardinals’ new college emphasis resulted in a draft widely panned by other clubs. Righthander Anthony Reyes’ blossoming was a pleasant development, though it was offset by injuries to the club’s previous top pitching prospects, Blake Hawksworth and Adam Wainwright.