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.

Year League Flashback
1998 Texas Link 321.6
1996 Eastern Link 285.0
2003 International   281.6
2002 Eastern   274.7
1987 Southern Link 271.3
1983 Florida State   253.0
1986 American Association Link 252.8
1992 Pacific Coast Link 248.5
1993 International   246.5
2005 Eastern   241.8

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

282 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Jose Reyes SS Norfolk Mets 8,240 43.8
2 Justin Morneau 1B Rochester Twins 6,392 22.7
3 Victor Martinez C Buffalo Indians 8,166 26.9
4 Chase Utley 2B Scranton/WB Phillies 7,863 62.9
5 Freddy Sanchez SS/2B Pawtucket Red Sox 3,686 15.6
6 Adam LaRoche 1B Richmond Braves 6,329 11.5
7 Brandon Claussen LHP Louisville Reds 316 0.8
8 Cliff Lee LHP Buffalo Indians 2,157 46.3
9 Jeremy Guthrie RHP Buffalo Indians 1,765 20.5
10 Coco Crisp OF Buffalo Indians 6,627 30.6

2002 Eastern League

275 WAR

This prospect class contains a lot of overlap with the International League class a year later—Jose Reyes, Victor Martinez, Justin MorneauCliff 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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Jose Reyes SS Binghamton Mets 8,240 43.8
2 Brandon Phillips SS Harrisburg Nationals 7,992 31.4
3 Victor Martinez C Akron Indians 8,166 26.9
4 Justin Morneau 1B New Britain Twins 6,392 22.7
5 Cliff Lee LHP Akron Indians 2,157 46.3
6 Aaron Heilman RHP Binghamton Mets 630 2.0
7 Adrian Gonzalez 1B Portland Marlins 8,046 36.4
8 Kevin Youkilis 3B Trenton Red Sox 4,436 30.2
9 Erik Bedard LHP Bowie Orioles 1,304 19.4
10 Freddy Sanchez SS/2B Trenton Red Sox 3,686 15.6

1983 Florida State League

253 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
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
8 Rich Monteleone RHP Lakeland Tigers 353 1.8
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

247 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Jim Thome 3B Charlotte Indians 10,313 69.1
2 Chipper Jones SS Richmond Braves 10,614 84.6
3 Aaron Sele RHP Pawtucket Red Sox 2,153 25.1
4 Ryan Klesko 1B Richmond Braves 6,523 30.1
5 Javy Lopez C Richmond Braves 5,793 30.7
6 Tony Tarasco OF Richmond Braves 1,129 0.8
7 Russ Davis 3B Columbus Yankees 2,178 0.0
8 Jeffrey Hammonds OF Rochester Orioles 3,404 8.3
9 Mark Hutton RHP Columbus Yankees 190 0.6
10 Mark Lewis SS Charlotte Indians 3,051 -2.8

2005 Eastern League

242 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Francisco Liriano LHP New Britain Twins 1,814 19.4
2 Lastings Milledge OF Binghamton Mets 1,659 -0.2
3 Hanley Ramirez SS Portland Red Sox 7,127 41.5
4 Jon Lester LHP Portland Red Sox 2,561 54.6
5 Ryan Zimmerman 3B Harrisburg Nationals 7,129 38.2
6 Nick Markakis OF Bowie Orioles 9,218 29.5
7 Jonathan Papelbon RHP Portland Red Sox 726 22.8
8 Jeremy Sowers LHP Akron Indians 400 2.5
9 Anibal Sanchez RHP Portland Red Sox 1,913 28.5
10 Joel Zumaya RHP Erie Tigers 210 5.0

1988 Texas League

232 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Ramon Martinez RHP San Antonio Dodgers 1,896 24.6
2 Gary Sheffield SS El Paso Brewers 10,947 62.1
3 Todd Zeile C Arkansas Cardinals 8,649 21.9
4 Juan Bell SS San Antonio Dodgers 940 -1.4
5 Greg Vaughn OF El Paso Brewers 7,070 25.5
6 Kevin Brown RHP Tulsa Rangers 3,256 73.1
7 Mike Munoz LHP San Antonio Dodgers 364 0.6
8 Trevor Wilson LHP Shreveport Giants 728 5.8
9 John Wetteland RHP San Antonio Dodgers 765 19.4
10 Jeff Manto 3B Midland Angels 822 0.5

1990 Eastern League

232 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Mark Lewis SS Canton Indians 3,051 -2.8
2 Bernie Williams OF Albany Yankees 9,053 43.9
3 Rico Brogna 1B London Tigers 3,223 1.9
4 Jeff Bagwell 3B New Britain Red Sox 9,431 80.2
5 Mike Gardiner RHP Williamsport Mariners 394 -1.7
6 Carlos Garcia SS Harrisburg Pirates 2,359 -0.9
7 Charles Nagy RHP Canton Indians 1,955 26.7
8 Luis Mercedes OF Hagerstown Orioles 180 -1.5
9 Mike Mussina RHP Hagerstown Orioles 3,563 81.8
10 Pat Kelly 2B Albany Yankees 2,237 4.4


1989 Texas League

225 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Ray Lankford OF Arkansas Cardinals 6,675 39.8
2 Andy Benes RHP Wichita Padres 2,505 36.5
3 Jose Offerman SS San Antonio Dodgers 6,582 13.9
4 Juan Gonzalez OF Tulsa Rangers 7,155 35.8
5 Dean Palmer 3B Tulsa Rangers 5,513 11.0
6 Jaime Navarro RHP El Paso Brewers 2,055 12.7
7 Geronimo Pena 2B Arkansas Cardinals 1,170 6.4
8 Julio Valera RHP Jackson Mets 317 1.3
9 Sammy Sosa OF Tulsa Rangers 9,896 60.1
10 Gary DiSarcina SS Midland Angels 4,032 7.0

1986 Pacific Coast League

218 WAR

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.”

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Glenn Braggs OF Vancouver Brewers 2,609 6.3
2 Devon White OF Edmonton Angels 8,080 41.8
3 Mickey Brantley OF Calgary Mariners 1,222 0.9
4 B.J. Surhoff C Vancouver Brewers 9,106 31.4
5 Terry Mulholland LHP Phoenix Giants 2,576 18.1
6 Benito Santiago C Las Vegas Padres 7,516 28.7
7 Ty Gainey OF Tucson Astros 124 0.1
8 Jose Gonzalez OF Albuquerque Dodgers 750 -0.2
9.1 Mark McGwire 3B Tacoma Athletics 7,660 66.3
9.2 Rob Nelson 1B Tacoma Athletics 177 -0.5
10 Chris Bosio RHP Vancouver Brewers 1,710 24.6

1995 Pacific Coast League

212 WAR

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.

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Alex Rodriguez SS Tacoma Mariners 12,207 113.7
2 Karim Garcia OF Albuquerque Dodgers 1,561 -4.0
3 Roger Cedeno OF Albuquerque Dodgers 3,557 0.4
4 Bobby Abreu OF Tucson Astros 10,081 59.8
5 Trey Beamon OF Calgary Pirates 172 -0.7
6 Billy Wagner LHP Tucson Astros 903 29.9
7 Todd Greene C Vancouver Angels 1,657 -1.0
8 Chris Widger C Tacoma Mariners 1,998 -0.3
9 LaTroy Hawkins RHP Salt Lake Twins 1,467 15.6
10 Fausto Cruz SS Edmonton Athletics 102 -1.2


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