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What makes a player a prospect?
At its core, the answer is simple: A prospect is someone who projects to play in the major leagues.
For 40 years, every ranking Baseball America has compiled—from the Top 100 Prospects to Minor League Top 20s to draft rankings—has been an effort to identify those future major leaguers and rank them in order of their projected impact at baseball’s highest level.
While every team and fanbase dreams of their prospects becoming major leaguers, relatively few ever do. In the 152-year history of Major League Baseball, less than 20,000 players have reached the major leagues, even for a day. Far fewer have had sustained careers.
A major component of identifying prospects is understanding how many of them realistically exist. In conjunction with the release of our Top 100 Prospects and Organization Talent Rankings for 2021, Baseball America dove into the data to find out how many future major leaguers are in a farm system each year on average.
Using data provided by Dan Hirsch of TheBaseballGauge.com, we examined every team’s farm system from 1998 to 2012 to see how many future major leaguers they had each year, how many of those players went on to play the equivalent of three full seasons in the major leagues and how many became all-stars.
We began with 1998 because that’s the year MLB expanded to its current 30 teams. We stopped at 2012 because many players who were minor leaguers from 2013 to present have yet to reach the majors or establish themselves as regulars or all-stars.
The findings provide a guide for understanding how many prospects an organization actually has in its farm system in a given year, and what heights those players can realistically achieve.
Between 1998 and 2012, teams had an average of just over 35 future major leaguers (among prospect-eligible players) in their farm systems at the start of each season, with a major leaguer defined as playing one game in the majors.
While that number is high on the surface, many of those players played only briefly in the majors, whether as September callups or emergency injury replacements. Fewer than one-third of them went on to play the equivalent of three full seasons in the majors.
The most future major leaguers any team had in its farm system in a single year was 58, achieved by the 2012 Rangers. The fewest was 15, set by the 1999 Brewers.
The Yankees and Braves—the two winningest teams of the period sampled—had the most future major leaguers in their farm systems each year, on average. The Orioles and Brewers had the fewest.
|Yankees||42.3||55 (2007)||35 (three times)|
|Braves||41.5||48 (2001)||33 (2010)|
|Twins||40.3||46 (2008)||36 (2002)|
|Padres||40.3||54 (2009)||32 (1998)|
|Cubs||39.9||46 (2005)||30 (1999)|
|Rangers||39.1||58 (2012)||27 (2003)|
|Diamondbacks||38.7||47 (2003)||35 (twice)|
|Rockies||37.9||54 (2005)||25 (1998)|
|Indians||37.7||48 (2010)||28 (1998)|
|Dodgers||37.4||49 (twice)||30 (twice)|
|Pirates||36.3||47 (2010)||25 (2006)|
|Royals||35.8||50 (2011)||25 (2006)|
|Marlins||35.2||42 (2006)||29 (2012)|
|Mariners||35.1||42 (2012)||23 (1999)|
|Rays||34.7||40 (twice)||28 (2008)|
|Giants||34.5||42 (2006)||22 (1998)|
|Mets||34.4||51 (2012)||26 (2005)|
|Cardinals||34.3||53 (2011)||20 (2001)|
|Red Sox||33.8||43 (2010)||25 (2003)|
|Tigers||33.7||43 (2006)||28 (2002)|
|Angels||33.2||45 (2007)||17 (1999)|
|Expos/Nationals||33.1||47 (1998)||23 (2003)|
|Blue Jays||33.1||48 (2012)||21 (2007)|
|Astros||33||41 (2012)||20 (2008)|
|Athletics||31.7||40 (1998)||27 (twice)|
|Reds||31.3||44 (2010)||21 (2003)|
|Phillies||31.2||40 (2009)||22 (2004)|
|White Sox||30.7||38 (1998)||23 (2010)|
|Orioles||29.8||37 (1998)||25 (twice)|
|Brewers||27.7||38 (2006)||15 (1999)|
Source: Dan Hirsch, The BaseballGauge.com
While there are instances of teams having more than 50 future major leaguers in their farm system in a given year, it is rare. Of the 450 farm systems in our sample, just 10 had more than 50 future major leaguers at the start of each season. Notably, eight of those nine instances occurred between 2009-12, near the end of our sample.
That increase coincides with a period of greater transactional movement as organizations kept a greater percentage of pitchers on 40-man rosters for the purpose of cycling relievers through their last few roster spots.
Conversely, it’s rare for even the worst farm systems to have fewer than 20 future major leaguers. Of the 450 farm systems examined, there were just four instances of a team having fewer than 20 future major leaguers, and none since 2000.
While reaching the majors is a remarkable accomplishment, the goal for everyone—teams, fans, the players themselves—is for players to stay in the major leagues and have sustained careers. Fewer than one-third of the prospects who reach the majors, even for a day, end up doing so.
Between 1998 and 2012, the average farm system had just under 11 players who went on to reach 1,500 at-bats, 450 innings or 150 appearances in the major leagues, roughly the equivalent of three full seasons.
The most any team had in its farm system in a single year was 21, set by the 2007 Yankees. The fewest was two, by the Brewers in both 1999 and 2000.
|Braves||14.3||17 (twice)||9 (2000)|
|Diamondbacks||13.7||20 (2003)||5 (2008)|
|Twins||13.7||16 (four times)||10 (twice)|
|Rays||13.5||17 (2001)||11 (2006)|
|Pirates||13.3||19 (2002)||7 (2007)|
|Cubs||13.1||17 (2004)||8 (2012)|
|Yankees||13.0||21 (2007)||8 (2002)|
|Rangers||12.9||20 (2012)||6 (2007)|
|Rockies||12.3||17 (2005)||7 (twice)|
|Indians||12.2||19 (2003)||8 (1998)|
|Angels||11.9||18 (2005)||7 (twice)|
|Phillies||11.8||16 (twice)||8 (2012)|
|Red Sox||11.3||17 (2012)||8 (1998)|
|Mets||11.2||17 (2012)||9 (five times)|
|Blue Jays||10.9||18 (2012)||6 (2007)|
|Marlins||10.8||18 (2006)||8 (three times)|
|Mariners||10.6||15 (2001)||(8 twice)|
|Athletics||10.5||14 (2000)||6 (2010)|
|Dodgers||10.3||19 (2005)||5 (twice)|
|Cardinals||10.3||19 (2011)||3 (2002)|
|Padres||9.4||16 (2009)||6 (1998)|
|Expos/Nationals||9.3||15 (1998)||5 (twice)|
|Reds||9.1||17 (2008)||5 (three times)|
|Astros||9.1||16 (2011)||6 (five times)|
|White Sox||8.9||12 (2007)||6 (twice)|
|Brewers||8.8||15 (twice)||2 (twice)|
|Royals||8.7||19 (2011)||3 (2006)|
|Tigers||8.7||12 (2003)||6 (twice)|
|Giants||7.3||11 (2004)||5 (three times)|
|Orioles||6.9||11 (2009)||4 (four times)|
Sources: Baseball-Reference; Dan Hirsch, TheBaseballGauge.com
The Braves averaged the most prospects per year who went on to play the equivalent of three full seasons in the majors during our sample, but they had more ebbs and flows than other teams.
The Twins and Rays were the most consistent. They were the only teams to have at least 10 prospects in their farm system each year go on to have 1,500 at-bats, 450 innings or 150 appearances in the major leagues.
It is notable that two-thirds of MLB teams (20 of the 30) averaged at least 10 players in their farm system each year who went on to reach those thresholds. Even the farm systems that produced the fewest players to do so, the Orioles and Giants, averaged around seven.
Every franchise hopes its best prospects blossom into stars. While an all-star selection is not a perfect measure of stardom, it is a testament to a player’s ability and a barometer used to measure players against their peers.
Between 1998 and 2012, teams had, on average, between three and four future all-stars in their farm systems each year.
The most future all-stars in a single year was a whopping 11 by the 2011 Royals. That farm system ranked No. 1 in BA’s organization talent rankings and went on to be the foundation of Kansas City’s back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015.
The fewest future all-stars in a system in a given year was zero, by the 1999 Rays and 2012 Phillies. Many of the players from that Phillies farm system are still active, however, and have a chance to become all-stars in the future.
|Twins||5.13||9 (1998)||2 (2009)|
|Angels||4.93||9 (2003)||1 (twice)|
|Indians||4.73||8 (twice)||2 (twice)|
|Rangers||4.53||7 (twice)||1 (2011)|
|Mariners||4.47||8 (2001)||1 (2009)|
|Diamondbacks||4.20||6 (2003)||1 (2008)|
|Red Sox||4.13||6 (2008)||3 (five times)|
|Braves||4.07||7 (2008)||2 (2002)|
|Dodgers||4.00||10 (2006)||1 (twice)|
|Brewers||3.93||8 (twice)||1 (four times)|
|Yankees||3.93||6 (twice)||1 (twice)|
|Royals||3.67||11 (2011)||1 (twice)|
|Athletics||3.60||6 (2009)||1 (2006)|
|Blue Jays||3.60||6 (three times)||2 (six times)|
|Phillies||3.60||6 (twice)||0 (2012)|
|Pirates||3.47||6 (2003)||1 (twice)|
|Rays||3.47||6 (four times)||0 (1999)|
|Marlins||3.40||5 (twice)||1 (twice)|
|Rockies||3.33||6 (2012)||2 (three times)|
|Reds||3.20||7 (twice)||1 (three times)|
|Expos/Nationals||3.20||5 (twice)||1 (2005)|
|Giants||3.00||4 (five times)||1 (twice)|
|Cubs||2.87||5 (twice)||1 (twice)|
|Astros||2.87||6 (twice)||1 (three times)|
|Mets||2.87||5 (2003)||1 (twice)|
|Padres||2.80||5 (2009)||1 (2004)|
|Tigers||2.67||4 (twice)||2 (seven times)|
|Orioles||2.53||7 (2009)||1 (five times)|
|Cardinals||2.33||4 (twice)||1 (three times)|
|White Sox||2.20||5 (1999)||1 (five times)|
Sources: Baseball-Reference; Dan Hirsch, TheBaseballGuage.com
Between 1998 and 2012, the best farm systems averaged about five future all-stars per season, while the worst had around two.
In part due to the expansion of all-star rosters, it was rare for teams to not have any future all-stars in their system. Even the lowest-ranking team in our sample, the White Sox, averaged just over two future all-stars in their farm system each season.
BY THE NUMBERS
35 Average number of future big leaguers in a farm system in a given year.
11 Average number of players who become regulars, as estimated by 1,500 at-bats, 450 innings or 150 appearances for their careers, in a farm system in a given year.
3 to 4 Average number of future all-stars in a farm system in a given year.
Farm System High-Water Marks From 1998 to 2012