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2011 MLB organizational rankings


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From Keith Law of ESPN

Within each system, I considered the entire list of prospects but gave much more weight to top prospects -- particularly high-impact prospects -- than to organizational depth based in average to fringe-average prospects. I also considered how much major league value each organization is likely to produce the next few years. So a system with high-impact prospects who are relatively close to the majors ranks high even if the system lacks depth in second- and third-tier prospects. Of course, a couple of impact prospects plus organizational depth is ideal. With that all clear, on to the list:

1. Kansas City Royals

About a month or so after Dayton Moore took over as the Royals' GM, he told me that he was alarmed to find how little pitching inventory he had in his new farm system and that addressing that vacuum would be a major priority for his front office. The phrase "Mission Accomplished" has acquired an ironic connotation of late, but if anyone could use the phrase earnestly to describe his own efforts, it would be Moore, as the Royals have arms coming out of their ears.

That's particularly impressive when you consider that Kansas City's top two prospects are bats, and there are some solid position player prospects further down in the system. But what truly sets the Royals apart, and not just this year but from prospect lists of years past, is their stable of left-handed pitchers. Southpaws are harder to find and valued very highly by most front offices, meaning the Royals have promising arms for their own use as well as a hoard for future trades if they find themselves in the running for a playoff spot. They've acquired those arms every which way they could -- mostly through shrewd drafting (Mike Montgomery in the sandwich round, Chris Dwyer in the fourth, John Lamb in the fifth), but also through trades and on the international front, where they've become major players since Moore took over. And Kansas City will add another impact player with the fifth pick in this year's draft, and probably will graduate only one or two prospects to the majors before we reach 2012. It's to the credit of Moore, the Royals' amateur scouting staff (led by J.J. Picollo after two solid drafts by Deric Ladnier after Moore took over), their international scouts and player development that a farm system that was a borderline laughingstock has, inside of five years, turned into the toast of baseball.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

Probably second even before they dealt Matt Garza, they're now No. 2 with a bullet and not far behind Kansas City for No. 1. They're absolutely loaded, with top-end talent near that of K.C., but not the extensive depth of prospects the Royals have. The Rays have focused on arms and impact bats in the middle of the field, mixing in the occasional corner bat (Josh Sale), but mostly recognizing that replacement level is so low right now for certain positions and roster spots that there's still some hidden value to be found. They also boast more picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft than any other club, so look for the prospect-rich to get richer.

3. Atlanta Braves

Those top three Latino arms keep marching to the big leagues, and the Braves will produce at least two other rookies who'll spend all or most of 2011 in Atlanta in regular roles. They have a knack for getting good signing useful players off the waiver wire and scrap heap and getting good young talent back in deals, including Arodys Vizcaino as a sort of throw-in to the Javier Vazquez trade.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

A year ago, I wrote that the Jays might have ranked last without the talent infusion from the Scott Rolen and Roy Halladay trades. In the past 12 months, they saw a few in-house guys take steps forward, traded for another impact prospect in Brett Lawrie and had another solid draft, to the point that I left some likely big leaguers off their Top 10 for lack of room. The organizational turnaround in the year-plus since Alex Anthopoulos took over as GM has been impressive.

5. Philadelphia Phillies

Their low-A club in Lakewood, N.J., was as loaded with tools prospects as any club in the minors; you could dream on four or five of its hitters, at least three of its starters, and even a 'pen guy or two. And the Phillies keep stuffing the system with that sort of high-upside player despite one of the smaller draft signing budgets around. This after all the deals to help secure their enviable starting rotation.

6. Los Angeles Angels

They have the top prospect in baseball in Mike Trout, a catcher and reliever who should help the big club in 2011, and a ton of depth in A-ball and short-season, including a very promising haul from the 2010 draft led by infielder Kaleb Cowart and right-hander Cam (son of Steve) Bedrosian. I know Angels fans aren't happy with the team's offseason, but there's a lot of help on the way.

7. Minnesota Twins

A sneaky-good system, it's not loaded with big names but boasts a few impact guys and a ton of depth. This is more than just the Twins' usual assortment of strike-throwing fourth starters and speedy outfielders, a testament to good drafting and some major investments in the international arena, where they've been as aggressive as any club.

8. Cincinnati Reds

I had said in the 2009 season that they would start to compete in 2011 as the young talent reached the majors. Well, it got there faster than I expected, and they started what should be a long run of contention, bolstered by the next two waves of prospects. They have above-average prospects in the middle of the diamond and a number of big-tools teenagers from Latin America down in the low minors.

9. New York Yankees

Gary Sanchez had a tremendous debut season, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman got healthy, and Manny Banuelos saw his stuff tick up and they're backed up with a lot of back-end starter depth. They rival Toronto for the best catching depth in the minors and took a couple of intriguing guys later in the 2010 draft, one of whom I'll discuss Friday.

10. Seattle Mariners

Top-heavy with Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda and strangely light on international talent below that, even though that is a historical strength for the club. The Mariners have a couple of possible fast-moving relievers, led by Stephen Pryor and Tyler Burgoon, who could make an impact in the next 24 months.

11. Boston Red Sox

The Sox traded away their top two prospects for Adrian Gonzalez, but boosted on the back end with three first-round talents added in the 2010 draft (their actual first-rounder, Kolbrin Vitek, plus Anthony Ranaudo and Bryce Brentz). As usual, their low-minors teams were strong, with the Greenville rotation quietly loaded with intriguing arms.

12. Texas Rangers

The top-ranked system the past two years, the Rangers used up a lot of that talent to win the AL pennant this year, either on their roster (Neftali Feliz, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland) or in the Cliff Lee trade (Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke). Still very strong in Latin America, they were more slot-conscious than usual in the 2010 draft.

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

I admit to liking this system more than most, but I loved their 2009 draft haul and several of those players had strong full-season debuts. Jarrod Parker's promising return in instructional league -- with velocity as good as ever and improved lower-body strength -- is also a factor in putting them in the top half of farm systems, given that he's their one impact prospect who might see the majors this year.

14. St. Louis Cardinals

Extremely top-heavy, followed by a lot of extra-guy depth -- fifth starters, quality relievers, fourth outfielders, a few of whom will take steps forward and become solid-average big leaguers. A very productive Day 1 in the 2010 draft boosted them.

15. Colorado Rockies

It was a tough year in 2010 for three of their top four prospects, as well as talented but chronically hurt Hector Gomez, but I still believe very strongly in Tyler Matzek's future, and it sounds as if Christian Friedrich is good to go for 2011.

16. San Diego Padres

Moved up at least a half-dozen spots after the Adrian Gonzalez trade, which made up for an unsigned top pick in 2010 and the continued struggles and bad reports on 2009 first-rounder Donovan Tate. Like Arizona and Milwaukee, San Diego will benefit from having an extra pick in the 2011 draft, one that features one of the top college pitching classes in memory and a potent high school crop to boot.

17. Cleveland Indians

Cleveland finally broke out of its slot-or-bust financial strategy in the 2010 draft and took some fliers on guys whose stock fell after tough springs. Within the system, the Tribe's top arm, Hector Rondon, went down and had to have Tommy John surgery, but right-hander Jason Knapp (acquired in the Cliff Lee trade) returned from a shoulder injury and Jason Kipnis established himself as one of the top second-base prospects in the game.

18. Oakland Athletics

Their top two hitting prospects had disappointing seasons, although Chris Carter recovered in the summer and earned a call-up. There's a fair amount of position player depth here but very little pitching, with command lefty Ian Krol the only arm I have among their top 10 prospects.

19. Washington Nationals

This represents a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM. He inherited a farm system that couldn't begin to fill the major league team's needs. Ownership opened its wallets beyond the first pick in August, adding three more players in the team's Top 10.

20. Chicago Cubs

A top-10 system before the Garza trade, the Cubs probably would place more guys in the 101-150 range than any organization except the Royals. They're loaded with high-floor players who have the potential to be above-average or better big leaguers but aren't there yet. Considering all the picks they've given up to sign free agents, it's remarkable how strong the system still is after the giant trade with Tampa Bay.

21. Pittsburgh Pirates

This system consists of a few high-end prospects, including three teenage power arms, followed by a dropoff. The big investment in prep arms in 2009 hasn't yielded any major prospects yet, although it's early.

22. Los Angeles Dodgers

Almost every major prospect in this system regressed this year, led by Chris Withrow, who lost his command and then his velocity by August. On the positive side, the Zach Lee signing was huge for them.

23. San Francisco Giants

Consider that they graduated two critical members of the 2010 World Series-winning roster. As a whole, they've been very productive near the top of the draft despite rarely going over slot, but the lauded 2008 draft class below Buster Posey took a collective step back in 2010.

24. Baltimore Orioles

This group was probably the most surprising ranking to me as I went through the process. The O's have produced a ton of potential impact players who no longer qualify here -- including Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, and Chris Tillman -- but the system at this moment is two Top 30 prospects and no one else I'd put in my Top 150. The lack of international talent in the system stands out.

25. Detroit Tigers

Detroit landed a first-round talent -- top-half in my opinion -- in the sandwich round with Nick Castellanos, giving them two high-ceiling impact guys at the top of the system, but much of their minor league depth is in power relief arms.

26. New York Mets

Earth to Fred Wilpon: This is what a strict adherence to slot recommendations will buy you. Parsimony has its price.

27. Houston Astros

The Astros are slowly getting better through the draft and some dabbling in Latin America, but it sure would have been nice to see them get more in return for Roy Oswalt.

28. Chicago White Sox

It was hard to get to 10 names for this system, but it will produce at least two players who'll help the major league club try to win the AL Central this year.

29. Florida Marlins

The Marlins graduated Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, leaving two good-not-great prospects in the system and not a whole lot else to excite you. Their top prospect, Matt Dominguez, has a major question around his bat, and their top draft pick from 2009, Chad James, had a so-so year and missed time in 2010 with a sore shoulder.

30. Milwaukee Brewers

The first organization to fail to place a single prospect on my Top 100 list since I first produced these rankings in 2008 ... although landing Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke is a pretty good excuse. Even before those trades, however, their system as a whole wasn't strong, with a lot of pitchers failing to progress once in the system. They might need one of those arms -- Wily Peralta, perhaps, or Amaury Rivas -- to increase his value this spring for a possible July trade.

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It's prospects rankings not organizational. If it were by organization, the Royals would be near the bottom. Rays and Jays will again have a ton of early picks in this June's draft, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see those two atop the 2012 list. Atlanta, along with Tampa and Toronto, are far better off, big picture-wise, than K.C.

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It's "organizational" in that he looked at the talent level in the entire organization from top-to-bottom. He explains this in the first paragraph.

If it were a ranking of major league front offices, the clearly it would be different, but that wasn't part of his criteria.

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It's prospects rankings not organizational. If it were by organization, the Royals would be near the bottom. Rays and Jays will again have a ton of early picks in this June's draft, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see those two atop the 2012 list. Atlanta, along with Tampa and Toronto, are far better off, big picture-wise, than K.C.

Have you seen the Royals projected 2013 team? If all their guys live up to their potentials they will be awesome then.

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