Rays Minor League Affiliates Establish A Major New Benchmark
A major league team that wins 65% of its games in a season will win 106 times.
Just 13 times in 61 seasons since MLB expanded has a team reached 106 wins. The most recent examples are the 2021 Dodgers and Giants, the 2019 Astros and Dodgers and the 2018 Red Sox. At the top of the list are the 2001 Mariners with 116 wins, followed by the 1998 Yankees with 114.
Winning at a 65% rate is rare in the minor leagues, too. Four full-season teams did it in 2021. Three of those teams were Rays affiliates: High-A Bowling Green, Low-A Charleston and Triple-A Durham.
Even the Rays’ affiliate in the Florida Complex League got in on the act. It had the best record at the domestic Rookie level.
In fact, The Rays’ five domestic minor league affiliates collectively won 65% of their games. Their .653 winning percentage is easily the highest rate for an organization’s domestic affiliates in the modern era of the minor leagues.
Baseball America had determined that the Rays’ minor league winning percentage was unprecedented dating back to the late 1980s, but that’s where the trail ended. Now, thanks to research conducted by Dan Hirsch of Baseball-Reference.com, we have a high degree of confidence in organization standings dating back to 1963.
The 1963 season marks the beginning of the modern era of the minor leagues. That is the first season in which MLB had a partnership agreement with minor league affiliates via Player Development Contracts. It is also when the familiar levels of Triple-A, Double-A, Class A and Rookie were established.
The Rays won in the minor leagues both collectively and individually in 2021.
• Four out of five Tampa Bay affiliates were recognized as league champions.
• Shortstop Wander Franco, the No. 1 prospect in baseball heading into 2021, graduated to the big leagues, looked like a future franchise player and signed an 11-year extension in November.
• Randy Arozarena was AL Rookie of the Year; Franco finished third.
• Rookies Shane Baz, Shane McClanahan and Luis Patiño pitched critical postseason innings.
• Athletic 20-year-old righthander Taj Bradley broke out at Class A and won the minor league ERA title.
But even in a season littered with individual achievements, the Rays’ collective success in the minor leagues was historic. Here are the top 10 organizations in terms of domestic minor league winning percentage since 1963.
The above table is also the complete list of organizations whose domestic affiliates won at least 60% of their games since 1963. At least 400 games were required to rank, which excludes only the AL expansion Mariners (.618) and Blue Jays (.606) when they operated one short-season affiliate apiece in 1977.
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The Yankees impressively occupy six of the top 10 spots, including fifth place for their 2021 farm system. Even more impressive was New York’s 2017 achievement. That year the organization had to stock eight domestic affiliates, instead of five as the top two entries did.
But from 1979 to 1982, the Yankees were a player development monster that absolutely dominated the minor leagues. The system’s cumulative winning percentage for these four seasons was .617—and it wasn’t smoke and mirrors. Among the best future big leaguers to play for Yankees affiliates in this period were Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Willie McGee, Dave Righetti, Jose Rijo, Greg Gagne, Otis Nixon and Bob Tewksbury.
Perhaps one day Tampa Bay will be viewed in a similar light as those Yankees farm systems of the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The Rays ranked No. 1 in organization standings in 2021, when they set an all-time record for winning percentage. Tampa Bay affiliates also ranked historically high in 2018 (16th overall) and 2019 (52nd overall) when they also topped the organization standings.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he thinks the organization is trending “straight up.” A lot of indicators agree with that assessment.