Ranking Baseball's Best Organizations At Winning In The Majors, On The Farm
A productive farm system often—but not always—begets winning in the major leagues.
Winning in the majors consequently leads to lower draft position and often to trades that sacrifice future value for present. For those reasons, winning major league clubs tend not to have sustained farm system success while they are winning.
But there are exceptions to every rule.
To find those glorious exceptions, I determined every team’s overall rank in the major league standings as well as their standing in Baseball America organization talent rankings, which since 1984 have annually assessed the strength of each organization’s farm system.
Major league success and farm system standing were then evaluated in five-year intervals, beginning in 1984, to find the top combinations of the past 35 years. Each organization’s winning percentage (5YR PCT) and average standing in BA organization talent rankings (5YR Farm) are presented for the selected five-year windows. Winning percentage is also expressed as an average win total, scaled to 162 games.
Organizations that dominate in terms of major league success and farm system fertility at the same time rank highest.
5YR PCT: .613 (99). 5YR Farm: 1.8.
BA Organization of the Year: 1991, 1996.
Fresh off a National League pennant in 1991—the franchise’s first World Series appearance in Atlanta—the Braves kept the good times rolling throughout the ’90s. The Braves during this period returned to the World Series in 1992, 1995 and 1996, winning the whole thing in ’95.
The Braves’ fertile farm system during this period churned out third baseman Chipper Jones, center fielder Andruw Jones, catcher Javy Lopez and left fielder Ryan Klesko. Atlanta used other touted prospects as trade bait, exchanging righthander Jason Schmidt for Denny Neagle and right fielder Jermaine Dye for Keith Lockhart.
5YR PCT: .604 (98). 5YR Farm: 3.6.
BA Organization of the Year: 1983, 1984.
The Mets franchise’s golden era resulted in a 108-win season and World Series title in 1986 and another National League East division title in 1988. Given the talent on hand in New York combined with the organization’s bountiful farm system, more was expected from this group than two division titles in five seasons.
Key contributors to the ’86 champions arrived in Queens early during this period, including righthanders Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling, center fielder Lenny Dykstra and reliever Randy Myers. Though he never realized his potential with the Mets, second baseman Gregg Jefferies was the Minor League Player of the Year in 1986 and ’87 and had a lengthy big league career.
1989–1993 Blue Jays
5YR PCT: .564 (91). 5YR Farm: 3.0.
BA Organization of the Year: 1993.
The Blue Jays of the early 1990s are best remembered for winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and ’93, but Toronto took advantage of a recessive period for both the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East. The Jays also won the division in 1989 and ’91 and finished two games back in 1990.
Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick helped build an epic farm system in Toronto during this period that matriculated first baseman John Olerud; right fielder Derek Bell, the 1991 Minor League Player of the Year; and righthander Steve Karsay, who was traded for a 34-year-old future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson in 1993.
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5YR PCT: .609 (99). 5YR Farm: 5.0.
Hall of Fame general manager John Schuerholz kept the Braves of the 1990s competitive every season thanks to player development and shrewd trading. He had to because Atlanta never chose higher than 21st in the first round from 1992 to 2006. The club won the National League pennant in 1999 and reached the NL Championship Series in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
The cracks in the Braves’ talent pipeline were beginning to show by this time. Dominican shortstop Rafael Furcal won the 2000 NL Rookie of the Year award to kick off a productive 14-year career, but the other prospects of this era to reach Atlanta were modest, including lefthander Odalis Perez, second baseman Marcus Giles and reliever Kevin McGlinchy.
5YR PCT: .580 (94). 5YR Farm: 4.6.
The Angels won the American League West four times in five years during this period but experienced little playoff success in the wake of the 2002 title team. Still, this level of sustained achievement is impressive, especially with the Athletics hanging in the AL West race in most seasons.
Anaheim did a great job integrating its prospects into its big league core in the mid-to-late 2000s. Examples include righthanders Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana, shortstop Erick Aybar, second baseman Howie Kendrick, first basemen Casey Kotchman and Kendrys Morales and catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli.
5YR PCT: .598 (97). 5YR Farm: 4.8.
BA Organization of the Year: 2017.
The Dodgers were the winningest team of the 2010s and closed the decade in style by claiming seven straight National League West division titles. Los Angeles won the NL pennant in 2017 and 2018 and is the preseason favorite to claim another one in 2020 as it pursues an elusive World Series title.
The Dodgers are the best-run organization in baseball today, in part for their commitment to player development. The caliber of players they have graduated to the big leagues since 2015 is staggering: right fielder Cody Bellinger, righthanders Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda, shortstop Corey Seager, left fielder Joc Pederson, right fielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Will Smith and lefthander Julio Urias.
5YR PCT: .565 (92). 5YR Farm: 3.2.
BA Organization of the Year: 2008.
Andrew Friedman headed baseball operations for the Rays during the organization’s rise to relevance in the late 2000s. (He would do the same for the Dodgers a decade later.) Tampa Bay rode homegrown prospects including James Shields, Scott Kazmir and David Price on the pitching staff and Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and BJ Upton in the lineup to an American League pennant in 2008 and playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011.
As the Rays began winning in the majors and choosing later in the draft, they lost access to top-of-the-board talents like Price, Longoria, Upton and Delmon Young. Some of the more successful prospects to emerge in Tampa Bay post-2008 were center fielder Desmond Jennings, righthander Jeremy Hellickson, lefthander Matt Moore and reliever Jake McGee.
5YR PCT: .578 (94). 5YR Farm: 4.4.
BA Organization of the Year: 2005.
The Braves’ third entry here underscores what a historic 15-year run the franchise enjoyed from 1991 to 2005. Atlanta during this 2002 to 2006 period recorded 101 wins twice and 96 another time but went one-and-done in the National League playoffs for four years before finishing out of the race in 2006 with the club’s first losing season since 1990.
While the Braves built their reputation on developing pitchers, by the end of their dynasty it was the club’s position players who were impacting the big league club. That group includes catcher Brian McCann, first baseman Adam LaRoche, right fielder Jeff Francoeur and second baseman Kelly Johnson. Atlanta exchanged touted pitching prospects Adam Wainwright and Jason Marquis for JD Drew in 2003.
5YR PCT: .605 (98). 5YR Farm: 8.0.
BA Organization of the Year: 1998.
The Yankees began gathering steam as the Team of the ’90s in 1995, when the organization boasted what must be the best Top 10 Prospects ranking in BA history. Derek Jeter ranked No. 2, followed by Andy Pettitte at No. 3, Jorge Posada at No. 7 and Mariano Rivera at No. 9.
New York won the World Series in 1996, 1998 and 1999 thanks to an elite core that was strengthened by the top-heavy farm system referenced above. The Yankees wound up using much of their prospect equity from the late ’90s—Nick Johnson, Ricky Ledee, Russ Davis and Drew Henson—to trade for veterans including Tino Martinez, David Justice, Javier Vazquez and Denny Neagle.