The Consequences Of Having No Top 100 Prospects

Ranking the game's top 100 prospects, as Baseball America has done annually since 1990, casts a net so wide that organizations rarely slip through the cracks and place no prospects on the list.

For the first 26 years of Top 100 Prospects history, up through 2015, just eight orgs had failed to place even one representative on the list. Yet this year, four orgs--the Angels, Marlins, Mariners and Orioles--will not have their names attached to any player ranked inside the Top 100.

The Mariners (Alex Jackson) and Orioles (Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey and Chance Sisco) had prospects who appeared on individual Top 100 ballots by the BA editorial staff, but not one of those players garnered the widespread support necessary to make the final cut.

The Angels and Marlins, on the other hand, would have had representation on the Top 100 had they not traded away notable prospects Sean Newcomb (the No. 4 lefthander on our list) and Francis Martes (the No. 5 righthander).

Even with 30 organizations vying for 100 spots on the final ranking, instead of the 26 when the Top 100 debuted in 1990, the Top 100 club is fairly inclusive, with accommodations for an average of 3.3 players per org.

The Angels, Marlins, Mariners and Orioles may be the Fallow Four in terms of impact prospects for 2016, but what consequences might they face in the future for such neglect of the farm system? To find possible outcomes, let's turn our attention to the precedents cited above, the organizations that placed no prospects in the Top 100 from 1990 to 2015.

In chronological order, the Vacant Eight are listed below, along with each system's No. 1 prospect and his age that season.

Year
Organization No. 1 Prospect Age
1999 Angels Ramon Ortiz, rhp 26
2002 Diamondbacks Luis Terrero, of 22
2003 Cardinals Dan Haren, rhp 22
2003 Orioles Erik Bedard, lhp 24
2007 Padres Cedric Hunter, of 19
2008 White Sox Aaron Poreda, lhp 21
2011 Brewers Mark Rogers, rhp 25
2015 Tigers Steven Moya, of 23

And now the four 2016 orgs to be shut out.

Year
Organization No. 1 Prospect Age
2016 Angels Taylor Ward, c 22
2016 Mariners Alex Jackson, of 20
2016 Marlins Tyler Kolek, rhp 20
2016 Orioles Dylan Bundy, rhp 23

We don't have sufficient data to analyze the 2016 teams or the 2015 Tigers, but every other club in the sample has completed at least five seasons after their Top 100 no-show, counting that season as Year One and continuing for the subsequent four seasons. In graph form, the results look like this.

No Top 100 Win Pct

 

What we find for the seven eligible teams is that, in terms of big league winning percentage, life was generally as good in Year One or Year Two as it would be in the five-year period sampled. This is true for all orgs but the 1999 Angels and, arguably, the 2007 Padres, who recorded a fluky 90-win campaign in 2010. (Look it up!)

What this indicates is that teams with little impact prospect talent in their systems had better be poised to win now, because those wins are going to be harder to come by in Years Three, Four and Five, possibly because of a lack of young, impact talent introduced early in the cycle.

Note that two teams that began with zero Top 100 talents managed to win the World Series within the specified five-year window: the 2002 Angels and the 2006 Cardinals. Both clubs did so in Year Four, which helps account for the upward surge in winning percentage from Year Three to Four, an outcome that halts two sharp decreases. However, even if one removes the Year Four Angels and Cardinals from the data set, the remaining teams still combined for a .491 winning percentage, rather than the .512 produced with those two teams present.

In general, the Angels and Cardinals succeeded beyond Year One and Two despite starting with zero Top 100 Prospects, while the other five clubs in our sample did not fare as well at a remove from Year One.

Fortunately for the 2016 Angels, Marlins, Mariners and Orioles, they have enough big league talent on hand to record a winning record. If a few things break right and they remain healthy, those four clubs might even compete for playoff spots. History suggests that they should aim for as many wins as possible in 2016 and 2017, because the consequences of having a poor farm system might be visited upon them as early as 2017.

What might the Angels, Marlins, Mariners and Orioles be in store for in the coming seasons? Here we trace the history of the seven orgs to be shut out of the Top 100, beginning with the two best-case scenarios.


1999 Angels

Win Total By Season | 1999: 70 | 2000: 82 | 2001: 75 | 2002: 99 | 2003: 77
Won 2002 World Series

The Angels alternated winning seasons with losing ones every year from 1998 to 2004, but a 99-win campaign in 2002, three years after placing no prospect inside the Top 100, resulted in a World Series title. The core of the 2002 team was mostly homegrown, with several regulars having Top 100 pedigrees, including third baseman Troy Glaus (No. 36), lefthander Jarrod Washburn (No. 73) and righthander Ramon Ortiz (No. 75) in 1998; center fielder Darin Erstad (No. 4) in 1996 and left fielder Garret Anderson (No. 93) in 1995.

Here are the homegrown regulars for the champion 2002 Angels, sorted by career Baseball-Reference wins above replacement contributed to the organization:

Player
Top 100
Rank Career WAR (Angels)
Tim Salmon, rf 1993 No. 5 40.5
Darin Erstad, cf 1996 No. 4 32.6
Garret Anderson, lf 1995 No. 93 28.0
John Lackey, rhp -- -- 25.0
Troy Glaus, 3b 1998 No. 36 22.5
Jarrod Washburn, lhp 1998 No. 73 20.4
Troy Percival, rhp 1993 No. 29 16.9
Francisco Rodriguez, rhp 2003 No. 10 16.1
Bengie Molina, c -- -- 7.4
Ramon Ortiz, rhp 1998 No. 75 6.8

2003 Cardinals

Win Total By Season | 2003: 85 | 2004: 105 | 2005: 100 | 2006: 83 | 2007: 78
Lost 2004 World Series | Lost 2005 NLCS | Won 2006 World Series

The Cardinals of mid-2000s may have been the toast of the National League, but they were far from homegrown. The farm system coughed up first baseman Albert Pujols (No. 42) in 2001, lefthander Rick Ankiel (No. 1) in 2000--he finished runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting before his career as a pitcher veered off the rails--and right fielder J.D. Drew (No. 1) in 1999, but only Pujols had lasting impact in St. Louis. The Cardinals of this period had a knack for knowing when to trade young talent.

The following table outlines the trades in which St. Louis dealt a Top 100 Prospect (often with other players) and received a player who would star for the Cardinals in exchange.

Prospect Traded
Top 100
Rank Acquired (First Year With Cards)
Chris Narveson, lhp 2002 No. 86 Larry Walker (2004)
Bud Smith, lhp 2001 No. 39 Scott Rolen (2002)
J.D. Drew, of 1999 No. 1 Adam Wainwright (2004)
Brent Butler, ss 1999 No. 54 Daryl Kile (2000)
Adam Kennedy, 2b 1999 No. 98 Jim Edmonds (2000)
Eli Marrero, c 1998 No. 33 Part of Wainwright deal
Braden Looper, rhp 1998 No. 39 Edgar Renteria (1999)

St. Louis nearly batted 1.000 with Top 100 Prospects during this period by keeping the worthwhile players--Pujols, Ankiel and Drew (for a time)--while trading the others at peak value. Two exceptions: righthanders Jimmy Journell (No. 44 in 2002) and Chad Hutchinson (No. 45 in 2000), both of whom reached the majors but left no footprint.


2002 Diamondbacks

Win Total By Season | 2002: 98 | 2003: 84 | 2004: 51 | 2005: 77 | 2006: 76
Lost 2002 NLDS

From 92-game winners and World Series champs in 2001 to 111-game losers in 2004, the D-backs' fall from grace was swift and decisive. While the top talents on the farm heading into 2002 turned out to be outfielder Scott Hairston, first baseman Lyle Overbay and reliever Jose Valverde, Arizona at this time preferred to use prospects as currency.

Two huge wins on the trade market positioned the club for success. The D-backs used first baseman Travis Lee (No. 8 in 1998) to acquire Curt Schilling from the Phillies and outfielder Karim Garcia (No. 77 in 1998) to acquire Luis Gonzalez from the Tigers. On the other hand, trades of outfielder Jack Cust (No. 38 in 2001), righthander John Patterson (No. 10 in 2000) and righthander Brad Penny (No. 5 in 1999) returned relievers Randy Choate, Matt Mantei and Mike Myers.


2003 Orioles

Win Total By Season | 2003: 71 | 2004: 78 | 2005: 74 | 2006: 70 | 2007: 69
No Postseason Appearances

This is a worst-case scenario for any prospect-starved organization. While lefthander Erik Bedard, the Orioles' No. 1 prospect in 2003, provided value to Baltimore, he also missed the second half of 2002 with an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery. Highlights from the rest of the 2003 Top 10 include second baseman Mike Fontenot and righthander John Maine. Those two players required a change of scenery, however, to establish themselves in the majors, just as outfielder Jayson Werth (No. 48 in 2000) did.

The Orioles of the mid-2000s received virtually nothing from prospects with Top 100 pedigree. The list includes outfielder Keith Reed (No. 96) in 2001, lefthander Matt Riley (No. 15) in 2000, first baseman Calvin Pickering (No. 38) and outfielder Darnell McDonald (No. 74) in 1999 and third baseman Ryan Minor (No. 35) and righthander Sidney Ponson (No. 78) in 1998.


2007 Padres

Win Total By Season | 2007: 89 | 2008: 63 | 2009: 75 | 2010: 90 | 2011: 71
No Postseason Appearances

Fresh off consecutive NL West division titles in 2005 and 2006, the Padres lost Game No. 163 (and thus the wild card) to the Rockies in 2007 and haven't been heard from since in the postseason. A string of shaky first-round picks--Tim Stauffer (2003), Matt Bush (2004), Cesar Carrillo (2005), Matt Antonelli (2006) and Nick Schmdit (2007)--failed to sustain the organization.

San Diego had a chance to replenish its system in the 2007 draft, when they had 12 selections inside the top five rounds, including eight of the top 100 picks. They selected no player who would star for the organization, however. The first four selections--Schmidt and supplemental first-rounders Kellen Kulbacki, Drew Cumberland and Mitch Canham--never reached the majors.

Sandwich pick lefthander Cory Luebke might have starred for the Padres had he not required back-to-back Tommy John surgeries just as he established himself in the majors. Fourth-round righthander Corey Kluber eventually won a Cy Young Award, but San Diego traded him for Ryan Ludwick before Kluber blossomed with the Indians.


2008 White Sox

Win Total By Season | 2008: 89 | 2009: 79 | 2010: 88 | 2011: 79 | 2012: 85
Lost 2008 ALDS

Chicago traded a pair of Top 100 Prospects about a month before the 2008 list came out when they shipped lefthander Gio Gonzalez and righthander Fautino de los Santos (plus outfielder Ryan Sweeney) to the Athletics for Nick Swisher. The deal backfired for the White Sox when Swisher hit .219 with a 93 OPS+ in his lone season on the South Side.

Among the leftovers in the Chicago system in 2008, lefthander and No. 1-by-default Aaron Poreda and righthanders Lance Broadway and Kyle McCulloch are more notable today for being first-round picks than for anything they accomplished in the big leagues. In fact, busted first-round picks became something of a character trait for the White Sox of the 2000s. Among the Chicago first-rounders who would become Top 100 Prospects and not realize their full potential are third baseman Josh Fields (No. 45 in 2007), outfielder Brian Anderson (No. 51 in 2006) and righthander Kris Honel (No. 55 in 2004).


2011 Brewers

Win Total By Season | 2011: 96 | 2012: 83 | 2013: 74 | 2014: 82 | 2015: 68
Lost 2011 NLDS

Anchored by homegrown bats Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, the Brewers of the early 2010s featured a potent offense, but not the pitching staff to match, outside of homegrown righthander Yovani Gallardo. So general manager Doug Melvin shipped out young prospect inventory (most of it position players) after the 2010 season to capitalize on Fielder’s final year in Milwaukee in 2011.

Melvin traded 2008 first-rounder Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for righthander Shaun Marcum and then dealt shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and righthander Jake Odorizzi to the Royals to acquire Zack Greinke. But without Lawrie and Odorizzi, who ranked Nos. 40 and 69 on the 2011 Top 100, to anchor the system, the Brewers were left with intriguing arms such as righthanders Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson, but no stars on the farm.

As much as the losses of Cain, Escobar, Lawrie and Odorizzi were felt, the Brewers also saw a number of Top 100 Prospects fall flat, including third baseman Mat Gamel (No. 89 in 2010), outfielder Matt LaPorta (No. 23 in 2008) and lefthander Manny Parra (No. 72 in 2008).

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