Best of the best: Each division’s top farm system
5:38 AM UTC
You’ve asked and we’ve delivered. The 2023 preseason Top 30 rankings are now live for each of the 30 organizations and with that comes a very simple debate: Who’s the best?
While we’ll save a comprehensive ranking for later this month, the least we could do is satiate the desire to know who the best in each division is. In some cases, it was a slam dunk; in others, the margin of victory was hairpin thin.
On this week’s edition of the MLB Pipeline Podcast, hosts Jason Ratliff, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo took on the above exercise. You can give the show — which includes a 1-on-1 interview with the Angels’ No. 2 prospect Zach Neto — a full listen here.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Orioles“The Orioles’ combination of still elite-level talent and depth in their system has them head and shoulders above anybody else in baseball right now,” Mayo said.
That’s about as succinct of an answer as there can be. Baltimore doesn’t just top the AL East, it clears the bar as the game’s preeminent system rather easily. After years of picking near the top of the Draft, the O’s have collected a plethora of young talent that is primed to impact the team’s lineup and rotation in both the short and long term.
Callis lays out the system’s unprecedented run of success:
“It’s amazing, too, that they had Adley Rutschman graduate and they’re still No. 1. They have the best prospect in baseball in Gunnar Henderson, they have arguably the best pitching prospect, you could make a case for Grayson Rodriguez.
“I feel like Jackson Holliday is probably going to be the No. 1 overall prospect a year from now.”
In short, the young Orioles are coming.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
GuardiansWhile Cleveland may not boast the top-tier star power that Baltimore does, the Guardians’ prospect crop is arguably the deepest in the game. Mayo had them as the clear and obvious choice in a division that has seen its clubs recently either graduate a significant swath of talent (Tigers, Royals) or ones that have been unable to climb the rankings leaderboards (Twins, White Sox).
“I like the balance in their system,” Callis said. “Daniel Espino, he’s got some health issues again right now, but they’ve got guys like Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen on the pitching side. And then on the other side, you’ve got George Valera, Bo Naylor, Brayan Rocchio, Chase DeLauter.
“I think it’s one of the more balanced farm systems in terms of having hitting and pitching prospects.”
While there is some concern that the Guardians have largely compiled hit-over-power style bats, the club has been able to simultaneously win at the big league level while churning out significant contributors.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
RangersWhen it comes to prospect depth, the Rangers boast arguably the most tantalizing. Texas already has six Top 100 prospects, with some players having either slipped off the list (Justin Foscue), been in heavy consideration for spots (Dustin Harris) or hanging around the doorstep of joining with strong starts to 2023 (Aaron Zavala, Kumar Rocker).
As Ratliff pointed out on the Podcast, “The Rangers have one fewer Top 100 prospect than the other teams in the division combined.”
It remains to be seen if the Rangers’ sizable offseason spending helps them leapfrog the AL West standings, but for now, they’ve got a Texas-sized lead on their division rivals for top farm system bragging rights.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
NationalsIn one fell swoop, the Nationals were able to jolt the top of their system with an influx of potential. The Juan Soto deal netted the club three of its Top 6 prospects, including one with as much helium as any in the game — James Wood.
“It’s a much more robust system than it’s been in a very long time,” Mayo said.
It also helped that the team landed Elijah Green (MLB’s No. 46 prospect) with the fifth overall pick in last year’s Draft. They’re set to add to this current group when they pick second from among some of the 2023 Draft class’ best in July.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
RedsBy far the tightest division race to narrow down, the Reds emerge as the pick in an NL Central that realistically could have had any of the five clubs be named as the top of the crop.
One reason in particular Cincinnati got the nod? Elly De La Cruz.
“Any time you start with Elly De La Cruz, that level of prospect, that certainly helps,” Mayo said. “The back end of the Reds’ list was the slightest bit more interesting than the Pirates.”
While all five clubs in the division have taken a different path to their impressive pipeline standing, the Reds pole-vaulted themselves into this spot at last year’s Trade Deadline by adding Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Victor Acosta and Levi Stoudt, all coming after they drafted Cam Collier, Sal Stewart, Logan Tanner and Bryce Hubbart in July.
All that talent begets the question: where will everyone play? The Reds see their skill surplus as a positive, or really, “a good problem.“
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
DodgersSelecting at the top of Drafts (and subsequently rounds) is a surefire way to boost your prospect outlook. But developing players is even more important. And with all the winning that has gone on in L.A., it’s the latter category that lands the Dodgers atop the NL West heap.
“They seem to keep [coming],” Callis said of L.A.’s player development. “‘We’ve graduated some guys to the big leagues, let’s just create some more in our lab.'”
Or draft them. Or sign them on the international market. Or trade for unmined potential. But you get the point.
The Dodgers boast seven Top 100 prospects among their crop, six of whom have 2023 ETAs. That timeline could lead to a changing of the guard in the pipeline ranks sooner rather than later, especially considering the D-backs have three of MLB’s Top 15 prospects (Corbin Carroll, Jordan Lawlar, Druw Jones).
“The Dodgers and D-backs … I think they could be two of the Top 5 farm systems in baseball,” Callis said.