Ten More Notable Minor League Top 10 Prospects Rankings
The Minor League Top 10 Prospects Flashback series spotlights a signature prospect class from each of the 17 domestic minor leagues that Baseball America has ranked since 1981.
Each installment of the MiLB Top 10 Flashback series summarizes the Top 10 Prospects as they appeared at the time, while including contextual major league data, excerpts from contemporary scouting reports and also a listing of every prospect to ever rank No. 1 in the league.
That's great and all, but you might be wondering: Which Minor League Top 10s have produced the most major league value? The table below summarizes the top 10 in terms of FanGraphs wins above replacement, in which the runs allowed version of pitcher WAR is used. Follow the Link to read more about a spotlighted league.
The Double-A Eastern and Triple-A International leagues have historically seen the most future value matriculate to the majors over the past four decades. This is a function of large league size and also affiliation.
The Braves have a long history in the IL, and the organization's Minor League Top 10 Prospects went on to produce 3,147 WAR in the big leagues, by far the most for any single club. The Red Sox (third), Blue Jays (fourth) and Indians (fifth) also have longstanding affiliations with the IL and EL.
2003 International League
While the International League class of 2003 may not include a future Hall of Famer like many other MiLB top prospect classes do, it is the ultimate volume leader. Players in this top 10 accumulated 51,541 big league plate appearances plus innings, which is easily the record for playing time generated by any Minor League Top 10 in BA history.
But this prospect class was about more than just volume, with several very good, if not all-time great, players. Justin Morneau won an MVP in 2006. Cliff Lee won a Cy Young Award in 2008. Jose Reyes won a batting title in 2011 and has black ink for stolen bases and triples. Chase Utley is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.
|5||Freddy Sanchez||SS/2B||Pawtucket||Red Sox||3,686||15.6|
2002 Eastern League
This prospect class contains a lot of overlap with the International League class a year later—Jose Reyes, Victor Martinez, Justin Morneau, Cliff Lee and Freddy Sanchez appear on both lists—but adds on top of that longtime major league stars Brandon Phillips, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.
Phillips and Gonzalez, despite their prospect pedigrees, would only blossom following trades to new organizations, while Youkilis would not assume an everyday role in Boston until four years later in 2006, when he was 27 years old.
|4||Justin Morneau||1B||New Britain||Twins||6,392||22.7|
|8||Kevin Youkilis||3B||Trenton||Red Sox||4,436||30.2|
|10||Freddy Sanchez||SS/2B||Trenton||Red Sox||3,686||15.6|
1983 Florida State League
It's probable that no Minor League Top 10 ranking had as many future Cy Young Award winners as the 1983 Florida State League. Roger Clemens owns a record seven CYA trophies, while Bret Saberhagen captured two Cys. Even Jose Rijo has a pair of top-five finishes in 1991 and 1993.
This prospect class is historically significant for another reason. The Yankees placed four prospects among the FSL top 10, including the top two. Following the 1984 season, New York bundled three of those prospects—Rijo, Tim Birtsas, Eric Plunk—and two others to the Athletics when they traded for Rickey Henderson. Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson later admitted that he relied on BA prospect rankings to help inform his Henderson trade ask with the Yankees, which is symbolic of how quickly BA gained credibility in the industry.
|1||Jose Rijo||RHP||Fort Lauderdale||Yankees||1,880||36.5|
|2||Tim Birtsas||LHP||Fort Lauderdale||Yankees||329||0.6|
|3||Roger Clemens||RHP||Winter Haven||Red Sox||4,917||141.5|
|4||Vance Lovelace||LHP||Vero Beach||Dodgers||5||-0.1|
|5||Bret Saberhagen||RHP||Fort Myers||Royals||2,563||59.8|
|6||Mariano Duncan||OF||Vero Beach||Dodgers||4,998||2.7|
|7||Randy Braun||1B||Daytona Beach||Astros||—||—|
|9||Orestes Destrade||1B/OF||Fort Lauderdale||Yankees||866||-0.6|
|10||Eric Plunk||RHP||Fort Lauderdale||Yankees||1,151||12.6|
1993 International League
A pair of Hall of Famer position players, each with more than 10,000 career plate appearances, is a fine way to begin any Minor League Top 10, but the standout theme for the 1993 International League was organizational.
Braves prospects Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez and Tony Tarasco occupy four of the top six spots. Atlanta traded Tarasco to the Expos as part of the package for Marquis Grissom in early 1995, but the other three prospects would become Braves fixtures. In fact, Jones, Klesko and Lopez would become regulars for the 1995 World Series champions as they helped transition the franchise into a second half-decade of dominance with a youth infusion.
|3||Aaron Sele||RHP||Pawtucket||Red Sox||2,153||25.1|
2005 Eastern League
The Theo Epstein-led Red Sox developed a reputation for player development, ranking as a top 10 farm system for three years in the 2000s with a peak of No. 2 in 2008. The 2005 Eastern League prospect class illustrates the reason why the Boston system was so well regarded.
Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Anibal Sanchez all had long, productive big leauge careers. Ramirez and Sanchez had another role to play for the franchise. The two prospects were part of the package sent to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, who would both star for the 2007 World Series champions.
|1||Francisco Liriano||LHP||New Britain||Twins||1,814||19.4|
|3||Hanley Ramirez||SS||Portland||Red Sox||7,127||41.5|
|4||Jon Lester||LHP||Portland||Red Sox||2,561||54.6|
|7||Jonathan Papelbon||RHP||Portland||Red Sox||726||22.8|
|9||Anibal Sanchez||RHP||Portland||Red Sox||1,913||28.5|
1988 Texas League
Ramon Martinez was a sensation early in his major league career, but he would be surpassed in value by fellow 1988 Texas League Top 10 Prospects Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown, who both have Hall of Fame cases.
In addition to Sheffield, the Brewers also had slugging outfielder Greg Vaughn stationed at Double-A. Both players' hitting talent was obvious, even at the inflated offensive conditions of El Paso. Milwaukee's farm system during this period ranked consistently in the top 10, topping out at No. 2 in 1984 and 1986.
In fact, the Brewers were the BA Organization of the Year in 1985, 1986 and 1987, based on the strength of prospects including Sheffield, Vaughn, Juan Nieves, Glenn Braggs, Chris Bosio, Darryl Hamilton, Jaime Navarro and B.J. Surhoff, the No. 1 overall pick in the loaded 1985 draft.
|1||Ramon Martinez||RHP||San Antonio||Dodgers||1,896||24.6|
|2||Gary Sheffield||SS||El Paso||Brewers||10,947||62.1|
|4||Juan Bell||SS||San Antonio||Dodgers||940||-1.4|
|5||Greg Vaughn||OF||El Paso||Brewers||7,070||25.5|
|7||Mike Munoz||LHP||San Antonio||Dodgers||364||0.6|
|9||John Wetteland||RHP||San Antonio||Dodgers||765||19.4|
1990 Eastern League
The 1990 Eastern League prospect class included Hall of Famers in Jeff Bagwell and Mike Mussina, along with Bernie Williams and Charles Nagy, who starred for two of the best organizations of the ’90s.
Bagwell had been drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round the year before out of the University of Hartford. Making his full-season debut with New Britain, he hit .333/.422/.457 with 34 doubles, 73 walks . . . and four home runs. Bagwell's performance echoed another Red Sox third base prospect from a decade earlier. Wade Boggs also contributed high batting averages with lots of doubles and lots of walks but few home runs but developed into a Hall of Fame player.
Bagwell forged his HOF career in Houston after the Red Sox shipped him to the Astros in the ill-fated Larry Andersen trade in August 1990. He made the Astros' Opening Day roster in 1991, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award that season.
|4||Jeff Bagwell||3B||New Britain||Red Sox||9,431||80.2|
Is The Draft Really A Crapshoot? Not Exactly
In advance of the 2022 draft, Baseball America examined the total Wins Above Replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference, of every player selected at each of the top 200 picks from 1965-2020.
1989 Texas League
Few organizations uncovered as much future value in Latin America in the 1980s as the Rangers, led by assistant general manager for scouting and player development Sandy Johnson. That talent was in display in the 1989 Texas League.
Puerto Rican Juan Gonzalez and Dominican Sammy Sosa starred in the same Tulsa outfield, while 1986 third-rounder Dean Palmer played third base. In July of the previous summer, the Rangers had signed Puerto Rican catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who would become the organization's No. 1 prospect and regular catcher in 1991.
While the Rangers would trade Sosa to the White Sox as part of the package for Harold Baines during the 1989 season, Texas would see Gonzalez, Palmer and Rodriguez all assume regular roles by 1992. The 1992 Rangers also had Kevin Brown, Rafael Palmeiro, and Puerto Rican outfielder Ruben Sierra all in their mid 20s.
|3||Jose Offerman||SS||San Antonio||Dodgers||6,582||13.9|
|6||Jaime Navarro||RHP||El Paso||Brewers||2,055||12.7|
1986 Pacific Coast League
The 1988 Texas League entry above highlights the prospect riches of the mid-’80s Brewers. Milwaukee's 1986 Triple-A Vancouver club reached Milwaukee a year or two earlier and underscores the level of talent the organization had on hand. The Brewers in 1986 had two of the top four prospects in the Pacific Coast League in outfielder Glenn Braggs and catcher B.J. Surhoff, plus righthander Chris Bosio at effectively No. 11.
Another fun aspect of the 1986 PCL was that in contained both 1987 Rookies of the Year: catcher Benito Santiago in the National League and Mark McGwire in the American League. About McGwire, his Tacoma manager Keith Lieppman praised his "strong arms and forearms" and ability to drive the ball even when his "weight shift is off."
|6||Benito Santiago||C||Las Vegas||Padres||7,516||28.7|
1995 Pacific Coast League
Alex Rodriguez played just 54 games for Tacoma in 1995 as the Mariners summoned him to the big leagues three times during the season. While he hit just .232 in 48 games for Seattle as a 19-year-old, his talent was obvious. A-Rod hit .360/.411/.654 in the Pacific Coast League that season and joined future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez for good in 1996.
Perhaps the bigger story of the 1995 PCL was the Tucson twosome of Bobby Abreu and Billy Wagner. The latter would go on to star for the Astros and save 422 games, while the former would go on to a long, distinguished career—but only after the Astros lost him in the 1997 expansion draft.
Abreu was but one example of the Astros' robust scouting effort in Venezuela in the 1980s and ’90s, which was spearheaded by scout Andres Reiner. In 1997 alone, Houston's top three prospects were all signed out of Venezuela: Richard Hidalgo, Carlos Guillen and Abreu. Reiner and the Astros also signed Johan Santana, Freddy Garcia and Melvin Mora, who all went on to star for other organizations.
|9||LaTroy Hawkins||RHP||Salt Lake||Twins||1,467||15.6|