This week’s Ask BA takes a look at one of the top farm systems in baseball. It’s also a reminder that if you want to get updated Baseball America Top 10 Prospect lists for all 30 teams, our Midseason Prospect Update e-book is now available.
Q:When was the last time a team had three top-10 prospects?
BA:Sports Illustrated may have proclaimed the Astros as the 2017 World Series champs, but if you asked me which club I'd like to bet for long-term success, it would be the Cubs.
With the acquisition of shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs had the No. 2 (third baseman Kris Bryant), No. 5 (Russell) and No. 7 (shortstop Javier Baez) prospects on Baseball America's Midseason Top 50 Prospects list. Second baseman/center fielder Arismendy Alcantara ranked 33rd.
Now a midseason list isn't the same as Baseball America's offseason Top 100 Prospects list. The draftees from the 2014 draft aren't eligible for the midseason list but will be for the offseason list. At the same time, some players currently eligible for the midseason list will likely lose their eligibility before the offseason list arrives (including possibly Alcantara).
But if the three Cubs in the top 10 retain their current spots, they would be the the highest-ranked three prospects from one organization in Top 100 Prospects history.
The first Top 100 Prospect list was unveiled in 1990. Only once, in 2011, has a team placed three prospects in the Top 10—the Royals had Eric Hosmer (8), Mike Moustakas (9) and Wil Myers (10). Only five times has one team had two of the top five prospects.
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|Yankees: Ruben Rivera (2), Derek Jeter (4)|
|Dodgers: Paul Konerko (2), Adrian Beltre (3)|
|Cardinals: J.D. Drew (1), Rick Ankiel (2)|
|Rays: B.J. Upton (2), Delmon Young (3)|
|Braves: Tommy Hanson (3), Jason Heyward (4)|
What makes this very important for the Cubs is that having a top 10 prospect has generally proven to be much more valuable than having a prospect that ranks lower in the Top 100.
Multiple studies have looked as wins above replacement (WAR) produced by Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects over the years (this was one of the first). They have found that the production is most heavily weighted to the highest ranked prospects. The difference between the average production of a top five prospect and a top 15 prospect is similar to the difference between the No. 40 and the No. 100 prospect. So a system with two top five prospects and another in the top 10 and no other top 100 prospects is likely to produce more value than one with six prospects who rank further back in the top 100.
Position players have also had a higher success rate of making the jump from prospect to big league star than pitchers, which makes sense when you considered the significantly lower injury risk of position players. The Cubs' biggest weakness as a farm system right now is that the pitching doesn't match up to the hitting, but that also means that the Cubs' top prospects are less risky than a similarly ranked group of pitchers.
What is remarkable is that the Cubs could do better when the offseason rankings roll out. No draft pick from the 2014 draft is likely to crack the top five. It's hard to see Bryant moving up much—there's nowhere to go when you are already ranked No. 2, but Russell and Baez are both coming off of frustrating first halves of the minor league season. Russell missed most of the first half with a hamstring injury and Baez struggled with strikeouts. Russell's injury didn't really affect his ranking, but Baez's contact problems did ding him a little. If he shows an ability to recognize pitches better and a better approach in the second half, he could climb a little in the Top 100 rankings.
Chicago also has several other prospects who can be expected to appear in the Top 100. Outfielder Jorge Soler missed almost the entire first half with hamstring issues, and his increased musculature has led to concerns that he might continue to battle injury issues due to his decreased flexibility. But he has some of the best power in the minors, with the ability to mis-hit balls that leave the yard. Showing he can stay healthy and still move relatively well in the outfield could help him climb in the offseason rankings. Outfielder Albert Almora dropped off the midseason Top 50 because pitchers have been able to mess with his timing in the Florida State League. But a strong second half (especially if he makes an adjustment to his leg kick that spurs some of his timing issues) could boost him as well.
Righthander C.J. Edwards almost the entire first half with shoulder fatigue. He has the second half of the season to prove his stuff is back to its 2013 form.
And then there's Cubs' first-round pick Kyle Schwarber, one of the best college bats in the 2014 draft. While there are questions about his ultimate position, Schwarber's hitting ability very likely will allow him to crack the Top 100 as well.
Some of the Cubs' prospects will fail to live up to expectations—it always happens. They need to figure out how to move players around to work around a present overload of shortstops. And they will have to develop or acquire pitchers to go with this group of hitting prospects, but Chicago's current farm system looks to be one of the best we've seen in recent years.