Q:If Shohei Ohtani signed with the team with the worst farm system in baseball, how much would he bump up their ranking all by himself?
Bryan Ramsey, Chicago
BA:When Ohtani signs, he will become the best prospect in baseball, ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ronald Acuna, Eloy Jimenez or anyone else. Talking to multiple people in front offices, it’s not all that close.
One pro scouting director said that he wouldn't trade Ohtani for anything less than four prospects of his choosing from any of the best farm systems in baseball. A second pro scouting director agreed with that assessment.
Ohtani is a big league ready starting pitcher with stuff that compares favorably with almost anyone in the majors. And he also is an outstanding athlete with excellent power. And because the rules dictate he must sign a standard minor league contract, he'll be under team control for at least six years after signing at a massive discount compared with his free market value.
But what impact would Ohtani have on a farm system? While he will not sign with Miami, for the purposes of this exercise, let's say that he did. Right now, the Marlins very likely will rank 30th in our organization talent rankings. Their top prospect, lefthander Trevor Rogers, was the only first-round high school pitcher to not throw an official pitch in 2017. Their No. 2 prospect, lefthander Braxton Garrett, is a pitcher who will miss much of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. The list drops off from there.
But if the Marlins somehow acquired Ohtani, it would bump them at least 10 spots in our organization talent rankings to around 20th. That's how valuable one elite prospect can be.
The best-ever example of this comes from our first Prospect Handbook in 2001. Looking back, Albert Pujols is one of only two players from that Cardinals Top 30 Prospects list to have an appreciable big league career (Bud Smith was the other). But if we were to re-rank the 2001 farm systems, not many systems provided more value than the Cardinals’ system.
In hindsight, the Marlins system in 2001 was clearly better than the Pujols-led Cardinals. They had Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Jason Grilli. A case could also be made for the Phillies (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Silva and Nick Punto) or the Expos (Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Brad Wilkerson, Grady Sizemore and Brian Schneider). But Pujols by himself was more valuable than the entire farm systems of most teams.
It's much easier to produce a solid regular or a few solid regulars than a transcendent player who is the best in baseball.
That's not to say Ohtani will be that player, but he has a chance to be one of the best in the game. He's big league ready, and he could contribute both as a pitcher and hitter. And that would make any farm system instantly a whole lot better.