Organization Talent Rankings Prioritize Impact

The issue that went to press Thursday features Baseball America’s Organization Talent Rankings, a fitting conclusion to our prospect coverage.

We start in the fall with Top 20s from each of the 16 affiliated minor leagues. We move on to the Top 10s that fill our winter issues and fuel hot stove discussion, expanding them to Top 30s for our Prospect Handbook.

After the Top 100 Prospects list caps the individual assessment, we shift to the big picture with the organization rankings.

One factor in this year’s rankings was how our past rankings turned out. Take our rankings from 2013, just three years ago. We had the Cardinals No. 1, and that proved prescient immediately when St. Louis won the National League pennant while incorporating impact talent such as righthanders Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha as well as first baseman Matt Adams, all of whom had been in St. Louis’ Top 10 that offseason.

Talent that is ready to help the major league roster immediately is a hallmark of top-ranked farm systems, and St. Louis had more impact talent that was close, such as righty Carlos Martinez (No. 2), second baseman Kolten Wong (No. 5) and outfielder Oscar Taveras, the top-ranked prospect who died tragically in an auto accident after the 2014 season.

However, our No. 2 farm system that year was the Mariners, based mostly on their concentration of players who seemed big league-ready. I had a call that offseason from a front-office executive—who will smile when he reads this—warning that we were overrating the importance of big league-ready talent, at the expense of impact, and that, to his eye, the Mariners didn’t have the difference-making players of other systems ranked behind them, such as the Rangers and Rays.

He was right. Seattle’s ranking hasn’t worked out yet, even though the Mariners graduated six of their top 11 players that year to the majors the next season. None of those players—catcher Mike Zunino, middle infielders Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and righthanders Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor and Brandon Maurer—has developed into an impact big leaguer, though there’s still hope for Zunino and the unique reliever Capps.

The Mariners have not turned that talent into winning, which is the whole point. Neither have the Rays, who ranked fourth with the combination of outfielder Wil Myers, who became the 2013 American League rookie of the year, and righthander Chris Archer. Several other prospects, such as shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, failed to live up to expectations.

Moving Forward Smartly

What lessons should we draw from 2013? Well, for one, we should value impact talent over close-to-the-majors talent. In those same rankings, the Blue Jays ranked No. 22, which based largely on how far away most of their impact players were. But it’s hard to find a system that had more high-ceiling players than Toronto did at that time, especially considering top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard just helped the Mets to the NL pennant. The Jays also had Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna and Marcus Stroman rounding out their top five prospects, while lefty Daniel Norris and shortstop Franklin Barreto developed into key trade pieces.

Some of those lessons were applied to the current talent rankings. The Dodgers combine impact talent with players who are close to the majors, such as No. 1 prospect Corey Seager and lefty Julio Urias, No. 4 on our Top 100. The Dodgers also have depth on the mound and at its lower levels. High-impact players also pushed the Red Sox up our list, with four of the top 20 players in the Top 100.

With other systems, we’re betting on impact, and it’s heartening to see the Braves, No. 3 in our rankings now, thinking the same way. Atlanta ranked Nos. 26 and 29 the previous two years, but an aggressive rebuilding program rocketed the Braves into the upper echelon. No organization has focused more on impact talent than Atlanta, which has an enviable amount of depth throughout its minor league system

Atlanta’s system is full of high-risk players, from injured pitchers such as lefties Kolby Allard and Max Fried to erratic-but-talented 2014 first-rounders Sean Newcomb and Touki Toussaint. With large 2016 draft and international bonus pools to augment that system, Atlanta is the odds-on favorite to top our 2017 talent rankings.

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