Where Are They Now

Looking back at our 2003 talent rankings six years later




Scientists often laud the merits of longitudinal studies. The ability to follow a subject for years, collect data and report on findings is vital for the advancement of scientific knowledge. With that in mind, Baseball America decided to report its own results. We looked back at our 2003 organizational rankings, then flashed forward five years to see how all 30 teams fared on the field, and how they look for the future. Teams are listed in the order of their 2003 minor league talent rankings, with five of the best prospects from the 2003 Top 10 Prospects lists (in the order they appeared) and 2008 records.

Cleveland Indians
2003 Ranking: 1
Top 2003 Prospects: Brandon Phillips, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore
2008 Record: 81-81

The list above merely covers a portion of the Indians' top prospects at the time, omitting capable major leaguers such as Jeremy Guthrie, Coco Crisp, Ben Francisco, Josh Bard, Jhonny Peralta and others. The depth of the system could best be expressed by the fact that Baseball America ranked Sizemore as the No. 7 prospect in the organization. When a future top-10 major league talent is your seventh-best bet for major league success, you're probably going to be pretty good for a long time.

So why haven't the Indians started a dynasty yet? The contraction-is-coming heist of Sizemore, Phillips and Lee from the Expos and the steal of Hafner from the Rangers for Einar Diaz gave Cleveland a great foundation. But the organization also made its share of mistakes, among them losing patience too quickly with Phillips and dropping Guthrie onto the waiver wire. Still, the Indians have fallen victim to everything from bad luck (missing the playoffs with 93 wins in 2005 and finishing 11 games below their expected Pythagorean record in 2006) to bad roster design (lousy bullpens have come back to bite them more than once). The core of young stars remains mostly intact, and the Indians are the pick of many prognosticators to claim the American League Central in 2009.

Atlanta Braves
2003 Ranking: 2
Top 2003 Prospects: Adam Wainwright, Wilson Betemit, Andy Marte, Macay McBride, Jeff Francoeur
2008 Record: 72-90

The Braves have graduated a huge number of rookies onto the big league club over the past five-plus years, including 19 in 2005. That's been by design, as they parted ways with aging stars like Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine while winding down their 15-year dynasty with three more division titles from 2003-2005. So why hasn't this group of youngsters come together to lead a new era of Braves' dominance? Turns out they weren't all that good in the first place. The team's top-rated prospect, Wainwright, never played a major league game for Atlanta, getting traded to St. Louis in the deal for J.D. Drew after the 2003 season. After that, you've got a bucketful of busts. Betemit's a utility player on another team, McBride's a fringe reliever who didn't pitch in the big leagues last year, and No. 4 prospect Bubba Nelson never made it. Marte and Francoeur (who was No. 6) have been the biggest disappointments to date, with Marte traded 812 times in the past half-decade and Francoeur still trying to convert his copious tools into major league skills.

In fact, Francoeur's problem is a decent proxy for what has happened to the Braves' once unstoppable player-development machine: When you live by toolsy high school and international signings, occasionally you die by them too. Betemit had plenty of tools as well as youth on his side, but didn't put up the kind of minor league results that might portend future stardom. Nelson's high profile was largely a product of his makeup and some mirage stats at Myrtle Beach's pitcher's haven. Marte's ugly strikeout-walk rates, in retrospect, should have warned us that something was wrong.

Chicago Cubs
2003 Ranking: 3
Top 2003 Prospects: Hee Seop Choi, Angel Guzman, Andy Sisco, Felix Pie, Nic Jackson
2008 Record: 97-64 (won National League Central)

So how does a team with such underachieving top prospects reel off consecutive division titles four and five years later? By ending the long charade as lovable losers and embracing the big-market, big-revenue behemoths the Cubs always should have been. They have aggressively and successfully courted some of baseball's best veteran players since the 2003 list came out, adding the likes of Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Rich Harden. The Ramirez and Lee acquisitions qualify as grand theft by general manager Jim Hendry, snatching Ramirez (at age 25!) from the Pirates for dryer lint, then spotting the holes in Choi's swing soon enough to parlay his lofty prospects status into a deal for Lee.

Combine those moves with a rise to stardom by farm system products Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto and well-placed moves for complementary players like Mark DeRosa, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster, and you've got a franchise that has defied the five-year plan model, at least where top homegrown prospects are concerned.

Minnesota Twins
2003 Ranking: 4
Top 2003 Prospects: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel
2008 Record: 88-75

Mauer and Morneau form the foundation of the next generation of contending teams in Minnesota. That's after Rule 5 steal of the century Johan Santana laid waste to the league for most of the decade, Torii Hunter hauled in an armful of Gold Gloves, and a batch of homegrown products guided the team to four division titles in manager Ron Gardenhire's first five seasons.

The Twins' recent history of prospectdom can be broken down into two parts. First came the outfielder onslaught of the early aughts, with Cuddyer, Span and Kubel  joining the likes of Michael Restovich, Lew Ford, B.J. Garbe and Mike Ryan to form what appeared to be the deepest group of pasture patrolers in recent memory. Five-plus years later, it's a group that delivered decent but not great results, with Cuddyer becoming a useful but flawed big leaguer, Span and Kubel taking longer than expected to come into their own, and the others failing to pan out. The second stage for the system has produced a bumper crop of good, young pitching. Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Scott Perkins look primed to join Mauer and Morneau in leading the Twins back to the postseason in the near future.

Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels
2003 Ranking: 5
Top 2003 Prospects: Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Kotchman, Bobby Jenks, Jeff Mathis, Joe Saunders
2008 Record: 100-62 (Won American League West)

Has any team done a better job of scouting and player development this decade than the Angels? K-Rod set the single-season saves record and anchored a bullpen that closed out games for four of the past five division winners. Saunders joined the likes of fellow minor league graduates John Lackey, Mike Napoli, Ervin Santana, Erick Aybar, Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick and Jose Arredondo in forming the nucleus of a team that could win several more AL West crowns before it's done. Meanwhile, Kotchman was the big piece in the biggest go-for-it deadline trade in franchise history, while Jenks has grown into one of the game's elite closers in Chicago. The Angels have also become more aggressive in pursuing top-tier major league talent since Arte Moreno bought the team, adding the likes of Mark Teixeira, Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter.

Still, one can't help but wonder if the Angels' failure to repeat their 2002 World Series win is due to bad luck and the usual long odds of being the last team standing, or because of the front office's reluctance to cash in some of that young talent for win-now players (the Teixeira deal being the glaring exception). The team's inability or lack of interest in making a splash this offseason—either by signing a marquee free agent or dealing a top prospect for a big-gun vet—has left the Angels vulnerable to a challenge from the A's now, and from the rest of the division soon.

Toronto Blue Jays
2003 Ranking: 6
Top 2003 Prospects: Dustin McGowan, Jayson Werth, Kevin Cash, Francisco Rosario, Alexis Rios
2008 Record: 86-76

Well, playing in the AL East certainly doesn't help. For years, the Jays have fielded the kind of talent that could equal a contender in just about any division other than the one they're in. To beat the Yankees and Red Sox, though, a team needs to be pitch-perfect in building a productive farm system and making well-timed deals—as the Rays showed in 2008. The Jays' good but not great crop of '03 prospects, combined with average to slightly above-average spending on big league talent, has produced predictable third- and fourth-place results.

Rios (No. 7 on this list), Brandon League (No. 6) and McGowan have mixed flashes of stardom with bouts of injuries and ineffectiveness. But the Jays gave up too soon on late bloomers Werth and Gabe Gross (No. 11). Cash and Rosario didn't pan out, and a short-lived strategy of focusing excessively on college talent wasted first-round picks on busts like Russ Adams. The Yankees and Red Sox are still loaded, the Rays are coming off an AL pennant armed with one of the best young cores in the game, and the Orioles are suddenly stacked with young talent. Mediocrity might soon give way to last-place finishes, if the Jays don't start keeping up with the Joneses.

Philadelphia Phillies
2003 Ranking: 7
Top 2003 Prospects: Gavin Floyd, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Ryan Howard
2008 Record: 92-70 (Won World Series)

Uh, yeah . . . those guys will get it done. Other than the ill-advised trade of Floyd and Gio Gonzalez for Freddy Garcia in late 2006, the Phillies held onto their nucleus of top '03 prospects, parlaying them into the franchise's first World Series win in 28 years. Few teams can boast of a two-time MVP first baseman, an MVP-caliber second baseman, a Cy Young-caliber starting pitcher and a lights-out set-up man from any one prospect class.

The Phillies now face a situation similar to the one the Angels faced after their '02 title: Can they make the right moves to retain a strong supporting cast around their homegrown stars? Non-tendering Pat Burrell and thus losing draft pick compensation when he signed with the Rays, then compounding the problem by signing comparable but older left fielder Raul Ibanez for millions more and sacrificing another high pick, wasn't a great way to start a title defense.

Florida Marlins
2003 Ranking: 8
Top 2003 Prospects: Miguel Cabrera, Jason Stokes, Adrian Gonzalez, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Hermida
2008 Record: 84-77

Any team would gladly take that 80 percent success rate when it comes to top prospects from any one class. It has been a circuitous journey for the Marlins' farmhands, though. Cabrera and Willis vaulted straight from Baseball America crush status to leading roles on a shocker of a 2003 World Series champion. The Fish avoided the apocalyptic fire sale that followed its '97 championship, but still lost key players such as Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina to an offseason cost-cutting drive. Florida traded Gonzalez to land Urbina for the '03 stretch run, costing the team a future star. Willis went from star status to a throw-in for the Cabrera deal with the Tigers, caused by more management penny-pinching.

Marlins management continues to do a lot with a little, though. The team has traded for a new generation of top, young talent, including Hanley Ramirez and Ricky Nolasco, while graduating Hermida, Chris Volstad and others to the big club. Shoestring budget and all, the Marlins are a threat once again.

Seattle Mariners
2003 Ranking: 9
Top 2003 Prospects: Rafael Soriano, Chris Snelling, Jose Lopez, Shin-Soo Choo, Clint Nageotte
2008 Record: 61-101

These are the seeds of a franchise on the verge of collapse. The Mariners' failures in drafting, international signings and player development helped turn a 116-win team into a 63-win squad just three years later. Seattle compounded those problems by trading much of what turned out to be a thin prospect stable for pennies on the dollar (Soriano, Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera) and misfiring on free-agent signings. The old regime spent big bucks on busts such as Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva and Richie Sexson. Erik Bedard could complete a deadly rotation top three with Felix Hernandez and Brandon Morrow, but the steep cost to acquire him (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and others) won't help the M's in their quest to right the ship.

On the plus side, the early returns look good for new GM Jack Zduriencik and his analytically inclined sidekick Tony Blengino, and their efforts to restock the farm system should only gain momentum this season, as some of those high-priced players whose contracts are expiring could get shipped out to contenders.

Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays
2003 Ranking: 10
Top 2003 Prospects: Rocco Baldelli, Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Dewon Brazelton, Seth McClung
2008 Record: 97-65 (Won AL pennant)

In his summary of the Rays' 2003 prospect class, Bill Ballew wrote: "The Devil Rays hope 2002 will represent the bottom for the franchise. Financial woes and hints of contraction permeated the season, while a lifeless team inside lifeless Tropicana Field lost the most games (106) in the Rays' short history."

It took six more years for the Rays to merely field a winning team. Baldelli never reached his potential, Hamilton became a star somewhere else, Brazelton washed out and McClung caught on elsewhere. But Tampa Bay's 55-win season in 2002 did indeed prove to be the bottom. A blend of talent acquired during the Chuck LaMar Era (Upton, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Carl Crawford) and others snagged during the new regime (Evan Longoria, David Price, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza) has the Rays dreaming of bigger things after their fairytale run to the AL pennant last season.

San Francisco Giants
2003 Ranking: 11
Top 2003 Prospects: Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth, Jerome Williams, Francisco Liriano, Todd Linden
2008 Record: 72-90

For most of the aughts, the Giants built a reputation as a veteran-laden major league club that successfully drafted and prodded young pitching through the minor league system but couldn't do anything with young hitters. Turns out even that lukewarm endorsement was too generous. Foppert, Ainsworth, Williams and several other prospects from the recent era have failed to pan out in the majors. The most successful names have been Liriano and Boof Bonser, who along with Joe Nathan, found success in Minnesota after the Giants' frighteningly one-sided trade for A.J. Pierzynski. At the nadir of the Giants' non-prospect era, the team would sign mediocre free agents early in the offseason, ensuring the forfeit of high draft picks. Michael Tucker, take a bow.

Given that context, it's jarring to see how far San Francisco's new batch of young talent has come, in so short a period of time. Tim Lincecum may already be the best pitcher in the game at age 24, fellow 24-year-old Matt Cain's shaping up as a worthy No. 2 starter, and farmhands like Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner appear ticketed for future stardom.

Detroit Tigers
2003 Ranking: 12
Top 2003 Prospects: Jeremy Bonderman, Preston Larrison, Franklyn German, Omar Infante, Eric Munson
2008 Record: 74-88

As bad as the 55-win 2002 season was for the Tigers, few could have foreseen the 43-win Armageddon that ensued in '03, causing a once-proud franchise to hit rock bottom. From those lowly depths, GM Dave Dombrowski and his lieutenants built a team that would win 95 games and the AL pennant just three years later. Little credit goes to the '03 prospect class, though, as Bonderman grew into the only frontline player, with a few utility types like Infante making minor contributions. Veteran free-agent pickups like Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers and trade acquisitions like Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco formed the backbone of the '06 club, with '04 top pick Justin Verlander and off-the-radar '02 draftee Curtis Granderson maturing into the team's trademark homegrowns.

The Tigers have accelerated their spending spree since '06, bringing in the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Gary Sheffield. But the farm system continues to deliver below-average results. Heading into this season, the '06 run remains the Tigers' only playoff berth of the last 21 years.

New York Mets
2003 Ranking: 13
Top 2003 Prospects: Jose Reyes, Scott Kazmir, Aaron Heilman, David Wright, Justin Huber
2008 Record: 89-73

You're wincing if you're a Mets fan, aren't you? You're thinking: "Every year, we're one pitcher short. If only we had one more young arm with lights-out stuff, we'd be talking trash to Cole Hamels, and not vice-versa."

It's not easy to feel cheated when you look at a prospect list that has produced two of the best players of this generation in Reyes and Wright. But such is the fate of Mets fans, forced to ponder what Kazmir (even the injured version who struggled to throw sliders and make it out of the sixth) might have done for a team that's fallen just short for the past two seasons.

Two other unfortunate deals added to the drain on a farm system that graduated the best young left side of an infield in years, yet failed to reach its full potential: Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres in November 2006 for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson; and Jason Bay, also to the Padres, in a five-player deal in July 2002 with no one else of note involved, during the period when Bay got dealt three times in a year and a half. Forget Kazmir for a moment. Add a lights-out set-up man and a big corner outfield bat to the game's best four-player nucleus in Reyes, Wright, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, and you've got a team that would have been very tough to beat.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2003 Ranking: 14
Top 2003 Prospects: James Loney, Jonathan Figueroa, Edwin Jackson, Reggie Abercrombie, Joe Thurston
2008 Record: 84-78 (Won NL West)

Plenty of tools in this group, without a lot to show for them. The Dodgers did hit on Loney, nurturing him from an 18-year-old with doubles power and a "stroke that reminds scouts of Shawn Green" into a core player for a team that's the favorite to win its second straight NL West title. But Figueroa never could master his deceptive stuff, Abercrombie never could lay off the low-outside breaking ball, and Thurston earned his prospect chops largely through an eye-popping season in Las Vegas, a place where Tommy Lasorda could probably hit .300. The Dodgers made matters worse by bailing too soon on players like Jackson, Dioner Navarro, Joel Hanrahan and Willy Aybar.

To be fair, every team has a few missed evaluations in its closet. And the Dodgers will be vying for their fourth playoff berth in the past six years, with a homegrown core of Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Broxton at the head of the table. Looks like 2003 was merely a so-so point in what has otherwise been a hugely productive half-decade for the Dodgers system.

Chicago White Sox
2003 Ranking: 15
Top 2003 Prospects: Joe Borchard, Miguel Olivo, Anthony Webster, Kris Honel, Jon Rauch
2008 Record: 89-74 (Won AL Central)

If it's possible for a team to be both young and old, unproductive in its farm system yet hugely productive in bringing in young talent, that's the White Sox.

Judging from the uninspiring names above, and other prospect lists leading up to last season, it's fair to say the White Sox haven't exactly ridden homegrown prospects to glory. But the 2005 World Series championship team, and especially the team that won the division in '08, did include its fair share of young talent. The team simply traded to get a lot of it. At the forefront were John Danks and Gavin Floyd, two young starters acquired in separate deals who zoomed to the top of the White Sox rotation. The third young gun, Carlos Quentin, came over in a buy-low deal with Arizona that gave Chicago a middle-of-the-order masher and MVP candidate for the league-minimum salary.

Though the White Sox have been criticized in recent years for being old and slow, that's only because their most recognizable names remain the core of the 2005 team, players like Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and A.J. Pierzynski. Danks, Floyd and Quentin, along with Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and others, figure to be the new face of the White Sox very soon.

Milwaukee Brewers
2003 Ranking: 16
Top 2003 Prospects: Brad Nelson, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Manny Parra
2008 Record: 90-72 (Won NL wild card)

There's a reason Jack Zduriencik is now a major league general manager. The job he did in building the Brewers' top-notch farm system helped turn one of baseball's most downtrodden franchises into a contender. Though Nelson never fulfilled his early hype, the Brewers struck gold with multiple prospects further down the list. Fielder, Hart and Hardy are just three of the many power threats that have made Milwaukee one of the most prolific home run-hitting teams in the game. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and others would join the big three from '03 to form one of the game's most potent young rosters.

The question now is, can the Brewers keep winning with C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets gone? Parra, Yovani Gallardo and others will have to do for Milwaukee's pitching staff what Fielder and Co. have done for the lineup.

New York Yankees
2003 Ranking: 17
Top 2003 Prospects: Juan Rivera, Bronson Sardinha, Drew Henson, Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano
2008 Record: 89-73

It seems strange to see Juan Rivera's name atop a Yankees prospect list, doesn't it? Rivera's post-New York travel adventures aside, this decade has brought its share of colossal busts and home runs for the farm system. Henson ranks as one of the biggest busts in prospect history, flaming out and returning to football after the Yankees initially bought out his NFL career with a guaranteed six-year, $17 million contract after re-acquiring him from the Reds. On the other hand, Wang and Cano offered strong reinforcements to the Jeter-Posada-Williams-Rivera core of the 1990s.

The old guard are now all well into their 30s (or in Williams' case, out of baseball), while Alex Rodriguez has plenty of problems of his own. The Yankees thus need Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes and company to become productive major leaguers for years to come, even as C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett become the new marquee names in town.

Pittsburgh Pirates
2003 Ranking: 18
Top 2003 Prospects: John VanBenĀ­schoten, Sean Burnett, Bryan Bullington, Jose Castillo, Duaner Sanchez
2008 Record: 67-95

It's not easy going 16 years without a winning season, while simultaneously getting almost nothing out of a decade and a half of high draft picks (and international signings). But the Pirates have turned the trick, thanks to a combination of miserly spending, poor player evaluation and bad luck. The draft has been a graveyard of bad pitching picks in particular for the Pirates, with VanBenschoten, Burnett and Bullington perhaps the three most famous failures on that front.

You'd like to hope that the Bucs' legacy of passing on great talent is now behind them and that the team can become a contender soon, especially with Pedro Alvarez primed to become the franchise bat the club has long been seeking. Sadly, the team is still lacking for talent at most levels. Making matters worse, Pirates fans may end up with another painful 15-year reminder of what went wrong: the potentially epic career of Matt Wieters, the latest big fish who got away.

Texas Rangers
2003 Ranking: 19
Top 2003 Prospects: Mark Teixeira, Colby Lewis, Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, C.J. Wilson
2008 Record: 79-83

From No. 19, the Rangers have since soared to the No. 1 spot in Baseball America's organizational rankings. The reasons are numerous: four out of five losing seasons brought in more high draft picks, the team made more of a concerted effort to trade established veterans for promising kids (e.g. the five-player haul from the Teixeira deal), and some of the franchise's younger prospects are now starting to come of age.

Perhaps the biggest factor, though, is what the Rangers are no longer doing: Ditching future stars before they have a chance to fully develop. Imagine a Rangers team with Ludwick as a late-blooming masher, Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez as core players in Texas instead of San Diego, and John Danks as a frontline lefty in Arlington, not Chicago. By not only finding the best available talent, but also learning to recognize what they already have, the Rangers have built a foundation that figures to make them a scary team for a long time.

San Diego Padres
2003 Ranking: 20
Top 2003 Prospects: Xavier Nady, Khalil Greene, Mark Phillips, Tagg Bozied, Jake Gautreau
2008 Record: 63-99

You can add Josh Barfield (No. 7 on this list) to the Xavier Nady/Khalil Greene cohort of promising Padres prospects who underachieved, then got dealt away. After that, this Padres prospect class was an unimpressive bunch that would only look worse with time—the Friars' organizational rating dropped to 29th in 2006.

Credit GM Kevin Towers and his front office for making the most of a bad situation, though. San Diego rode a veteran team to two straight division titles in 2005 and 2006, with Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Dave Roberts and Trevor Hoffman playing starring roles on just-good-enough teams (the Padres won the West with 82 wins in '05, '88 in '06). The team's best offensive player during this period was Brian Giles, deftly acquired as part of trade that cashed in Jason Bay, a lightly regarded prospect at the time. Giles and Co. have since moved on, leaving behind a last-place team that will need at least a few years to rebuild from within.

Arizona Diamondbacks
2003 Ranking: 21
Top 2003 Prospects: Scott Hairston, Mike Gosling, Lyle Overbay, Brandon Webb, Chad Tracy
2008 Record: 82-80

In retrospect, this was an underrated group. Webb in particular wasn't quite loved enough by scouts, getting drafted in the eighth round in 2000, then coming under scrutiny for a wild streak that caused a slew of hit batters and wild pitches. Everyone liked Webb's burrowing sinker, though, and when he learned to harness it, the Diamondbacks had a perennial Cy Young candidate and staff ace. Likewise, Overbay was an 18th-round pick and late bloomer (though he only lasted 98 games as a D-back before being dealt), while 2002 draftee Chris Snyder needed time to impress prospect hounds.

The Snakes quickly got their just rankings, moving up to 13th in 2004, holding at that spot in '05, then vaulting to the No. 1 organizational ranking in 2006, with the drafting of Justin Upton in '05 injecting further enthusiasm. Arizona rode that youth movement to a division title in '07, their first since the team's 2001 World Series win. The team retains a young nucleus heading into '09, with a blend of high-upside pre-arbitration players as well as players such as Danny Haren, acquired when the team sold off some of their excess prospects. Of course if Carlos Quentin hadn't been considered an excess player behind Eric Byrnes, we'd probably be talking about a possible three-peat in the west for Arizona.

Oakland Athletics
2003 Ranking: 22
Top 2003 Prospects: Rich Harden, John Rheinecker, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Brown, Joe Blanton
2008 Record: 75-86

It's the "Moneyball" draft! Turns out Jeremy Brown couldn't sell jeans, or play in the big leagues. On the other hand, Blanton, along with fellow 2002 draftees Mark Teahen and Nick Swisher, have to be considered resounding successes, even if all three are now plying their trade elsewhere. In fact, not one of the players in the A's Top 10 Prospects for 2003 is still a starter for Oakland, with Crosby's multi-year run at short ending with Orlando Cabrera's recent signing.

As much as Billy Beane and Kenny Williams were portrayed as rivals in "Moneyball," the two GMs have similarities, most notably refusing to stand pat, even with winning teams. Williams has reloaded the White Sox since their '05 World Series win, trading veterans for a fresh batch of young talent. Beane has taken the practice a step further, dealing young vets still years from free agency like Danny Haren and Swisher to reload the farm system as quickly as possible. Sensing an opening in '09, Beane loaded up on win-now players. With a division title possibly within reach, the A's must now hope the latest group of kids grows up in a hurry.

Houston Astros
2003 Ranking: 23
Top 2003 Prospects: John Buck, Jason Lane, Brad Lidge, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls
2008 Record: 86-75

Years of leaning on the Killer B's, drafting low in the first round and failing to bring along young talent has turned the Astros into a top-heavy team, reliant on stars like Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Roy Oswalt, without the strong supporting cast that a fruitful farm system can deliver. Still, Houston's pipeline hasn't been entirely empty. Lidge grew into one of the elite relievers in baseball. So too has Qualls for that matter, just without the closer's fanfare. Buck was a key piece of the blockbuster deal that brought Carlos Beltran to Houston as the Astros made a playoff run in 2004, and has since become a starting major league catcher.

The biggest question is what's next. The Astros won nine more games than their expected record would suggest in 2008. Berkman's a lock to feel some Plexiglass Principle sting after his monster season, the Astros field one of the oldest rosters in the game, and the farm system is in worse shape now than it was when it earned its No. 23 ranking six years ago.

Cincinnati Reds
2003 Ranking: 24
Top 2003 Prospects: Chris Gruler, Bobby Basham, Wily Mo Pena, Edwin Encarnacion, Dustin Moseley
2008 Record: 74-88

The next time a major league team opts to spend millions on mediocre veteran free agents, only to draft a lesser first-rounder to save a few bucks, Gruler should be offered as a cautionary tale. The Reds agonized over which high school pitcher to draft third overall in the 2002 draft, ultimately deciding on Gruler because he was cheaper. He has never pitched an inning in the big leagues. The pitcher the Reds passed over, Scott Kazmir, has already justified his draft-day price tag many times over.

Flameouts by Gruler, Basham and other Reds pitchers in the past few years have held the team back, even as Cincinnati has produced some top-flight hitters. Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto are now poised to become the 1-2 rotation punch the Reds hoped to have years ago, and Cincy should field one of the youngest rosters in the game in '09.

Colorado Rockies
2003 Ranking: 25
Top 2003 Prospects: Aaron Cook, Chin-Hui Tsao, Jeff Baker, Jeff Francis, Brad Hawpe
2008 Record: 74-88

Another class that turned out better than expected. Hawpe in particular was considered a fringe prospect at the time—granted just the No. 10 ranking in the organization due to his subpar defense, lack of speed, his stats being questionable as a 23-year-old in the Carolina League, and the presence of Todd Helton at Hawpe's original position, first base. Francis and Baker also became notable big league contributors, as did Cook, who was rated the Rockies' top prospect in '03. Beyond Cook, though, the Rockies generally continued to struggle to solve the pitching and defense quandary presented by Coors Field, pushing the team's streak of last-place or second-to-last-place finishes to nine years by the end of the 2006 season.

The future now looks brighter. Ubaldo Jimenez is perched on the brink of stardom, Jorge de la Rosa's an intriguing mid-rotation sleeper finally hitting his stride, and the Rockies continue to find ways to build an effective bullpen. Even with Matt Holliday gone, Colorado's talent level isn't all that different than it was during their Cinderella 2007 season. The influx of Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart and other homegrown prospects to the roster bodes well.

Kansas City Royals
2003 Ranking: 26
Top 2003 Prospects: Zack Greinke, Angel Berroa, Jimmy Gobble, Ken Harvey, Alexis Gomez
2008 Record: 75-87

The Royals' organizational rating would later fall all the way to 28th in 2005. Just five years later, the low-revenue Royals are opening some eyes, with the most optimistic forecasts pegging a run at contention in a weak AL Central this season.

Greinke turned out to be the lone Royal prospect from 2003 with staying power, but he alone redeems this class, as a now-25-year-old staff ace looking primed to become a top-10 AL starter. With 25-and-unders Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Joakim Soria also on board and a steady increase in pitching talent over the past few years, the optimism might turn out to be well-founded.

The Royals might come to regret some of their other offseason moves, though, with precious dollars flying out the window for subpar players like Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Jacobs—to say nothing of the mint being handed to underachieving malcontent Jose Guillen. It would be a shame if the Royals torpedoed the gains made by their young core by overspending on replacement-level vets.

Boston Red Sox
2003 Ranking: 27
Top 2003 Prospects: Hanley Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen, Jon Lester
2008 Record: 95-67 (Won AL wild card)

This was the 27th-best collection of prospects in baseball? Turns out the Red Sox 2003 class was much better than that, and it represented the beginning of the Theo Epstein era as well, when the Red Sox have plowed many more resources into scouting and player development and have reaped the benefits in the major leagues. The team's two World Series titles in the past five years were aided both by the top prospects they retained (Youkilis and Delcarmen from this list) and those they didn't. Losing Ramirez hurt a lot, but where would the Sox have been without Josh Beckett, and Mike Lowell too, for that matter?

The Red Sox own one of the largest revenue streams in the game, and now they wisely used it to their advantage where it matters most: in drafting, signing and developing young talent. Just four players remain from the 2004 roster. But the additions of homegrown players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon and Jed Lowrie, along with the cream of the '03 crop and another deep stable of prospects now developing in the lower levels of the farm system, point to a Boston team that should continue to be on the short list of World Series favorites for the foreseeable future.

St. Louis Cardinals
2003 Ranking: 28
Top 2003 Prospects: Danny Haren, Jimmy Journell, Chris Narveson, Justin Pope, Yadier Molina
2008 Record: 86-76

The Cardinals turned Haren (and more) into the broken-down remains of Mark Mulder, leaving Molina as the only player from the 2003 class to make a significant contribution in St. Louis. Journell, Narveson, Pope and Hawksworth all flamed out, leaving the Cardinals with virtually no pitching talent to call up to the big leagues.

Credit Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan's Midas touch for overcoming that setback. Duncan has squeezed strong seasons out of several otherwise forgettable veterans over the past half-decade, from Jason Marquis to Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan to Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper to Todd Wellemeyer. As a result, the Cards reeled off three straight division titles, two NL pennants and a World Series from 2004-2006.

General manager John Mozeliak and player-development boss Jeff Luhnow have put a much bigger emphasis on developing homegrown talent, and the Cardinals have made a significant move up the rankings. If Colby Rasmus, Brett Wallace and the next wave of young players can come through in St. Louis, the team's more-with-less ability could yield a quick return to the postseason.

Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals
2003 Ranking: 29
Top 2003 Prospects: Clint Everts, Mike Hinckley, Josh Karp, Claudio Vargas, Chris Young
2008 Record: 59-102

This list should've included Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore at the top. Unfortunately for today's Nats fans, Omar Minaya was so convinced that contraction was coming and so determined to make a splashy deal at the 2002 trade deadline, that he thought nothing of trading all three of those high-upside prospects to rent Bartolo Colon for the stretch run. While the go-for-it mentality was a welcome sight for Expos fans used to losing seasons, the Colon trade now stands out as one of the biggest bounties ever offered in a midseason deal, a once-in-a-generation trade that crippled a franchise already in trouble while completely remaking the Indians.

What was left after the trade was a batch of questionable pitching prospects, most of whom either never made the big leagues, or did little of note in the majors. As much as the Nationals deserve a lot of the grief they've received for everything from failing to sign Aaron Crow to the Esmailyn Gonzalez signing to the Dominican bonus scandal, Washington is still paying for Montreal's mistakes. Actually, make that MLB's mistakes. Restricting the Expos' ability to aggressively sign the best talent, allowing Jeffrey Loria to ransack the team's resources on his way out of town—and leaving the team with a skeleton crew from top to bottom, and raising the contraction threat level so high that the GM stripmined the farm system—created an environment so toxic and a talent pipeline so dry that the Nats are still digging out.

Baltimore Orioles
2003 Ranking: 30
Top 2003 Prospects: Erik Bedard, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Cabrera, Mike Fontenot, John Maine
2008 Record: 68-93

Summarizing the sorry state of the Orioles franchise in his 2003 Top 10 Prospects review, Will Lingo wrote: "Somebody throw the Orioles a line. A fifth straight losing season in Baltimore. The worst attendance in the 10-year history of Camden Yards. The lowest minor league winning percentage in baseball. A farm system that's seeing its most talented players either stall in development or get hurt . . . "

If pessimism ran that high back then, imagine how O's fans must feel now, with six more losing seasons added to the team's streak, Baltimore's record actually getting worse in each of the past four seasons. Fortunately for the Orioles, the seeds of a franchise turnaround were already in place in 2003—it just took a while for those seeds to bear fruit. Though Cabrera never realized his potential and Fontenot and Maine didn't find theirs until they left, Bedard became a shining star on an otherwise dim roster.

GM Andy MacPhail cashed in Bedard at the perfect time, restocking the team's talent pipeline in a deal that brought Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, and more. Lousy records every year also yielded a bunch of high draft picks, and the Orioles have taken advantage. Brian Matusz projects as one of several young arms primed to anchor the Baltimore rotation. Better yet, the team's spare-no-cost decision to draft Matt Wieters in 2007 has paid off, with through-the-roof touts promising a Mark Teixeira behind the plate, or Mike Piazza with good defense. The O's might add another sub-.500 year or two to their streak before they're done. But Baltimore should return to its winning ways soon enough.

Jonah Keri is a freelance writer based in Montreal