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baez almora solerJim Callis had hinted this was coming, but it still feels surprising to see in black and white: in the 2013 organizational rankings, Baseball America has the Cubs just 12th. Here’s the top 12, including the Cubs:

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Seattle Mariners

3. Texas Rangers

4. Tampa Bay Rays

5. Miami Marlins

6. Boston Red Sox

7. Pittsburgh Pirates

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

9. Houston Astros

10. Minnesota Twins

11. New York Yankees

12. Chicago Cubs

I think you can make a fair argument for most of those systems being ahead of the Cubs, save perhaps for the Yankees. That said, this is a nice learning opportunity for fans, and a moment to recalibrate your expectations.

The ranking is still better than average, though, and reflects an improving farm system. Then again, it’s barely a bump over the Cubs’ 14th spot for BA in 2012. That’s the part that’s a head-scratcher for me. Yes, the Cubs graduated Anthony Rizzo in that time (of course, at this time last year, he was still a bit of an unknown quantity), but they also added Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Juan Paniagua, Pierce Johnson, Kyuji Fujikawa (whom BA ranks as a nice prospect), and Javier Baez exploded up the rankings … I could go on. I have a hard time squaring the 2013 rank with the 2012 rank, so I guess maybe I’ll just conclude that BA was too generous with the Cubs in 2012.

It’s also hard to figure the 12th ranking in a system with four of the top 82 prospects, as BA says the Cubs have, including three in the top 34. (By way of comparison, the Yankees also have four in the top 77, but their first prospect doesn’t appear until number 32. My hand is still scratching my head.)

Keith Law, by way of contrast, had the Cubs all the way up at number 5, while John Sickels had them 10th (bumped down to 11th after Houston traded Jed Lowrie for prospects).

What’s the conclusion here? Well, I don’t think much changes in our perception of the system. It is still very deep at the lower levels, and very bereft at the upper levels. It’s hard to criticize pundits who would place a system like that at the back end of the upper third, rather than in the company of the truly elite systems.

As an outside observer, my gut might tell me the Cubs should probably be in the 7 to 10 range, rather than 12th, but ranking prospects isn’t my full-time job. Maybe BA knows something we don’t.

  • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

    Notice that Sickels had the Yankees at 14, so it’s not as if having them around the Cubs is an outlier.

    Graduating Rizzo and having Brett Jackson go from top-50 to non-top-100 is a huge blow that negates a lot of the gains made last year. Szczur lost a ton of shininess as well.

    Notice that we’re third in our division, and closer to 4th (Reds) than 2nd (Pirates). That’s our big problem going forward, considering we’re counting on dominating our division to make up for what’s happening now.

  • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

    And again: does anyone know where Juan Paniagua is this spring? Can you lean on some sources, Brett?

    • DarthHater

      I’d like to learn more about this, too. Cuz if Mr. Know It All doesn’t know it, something weird has to be going on.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I know you said Az Phil said he didn’t know where Paniagua was, but I’m fairly certain I saw pictures of him in Mesa. That was a little while ago, though. I’ll ask around.

    • Spriggs

      I saw him last fall, but no sightings for me this spring. And I have been looking!

  • ETS

    I typically think Law knows his stuff, and I’m usually overly optimistic about the cubs, but that 5 spot seems too high to me.

    • http://Noclue Marc N.

      Law likes to get in ASAP when he likes a prospect or in this case system. That was just on the higher end of where the Cubs could go this year, and a comiment towards their prospects in 2013. This system has a tremendous amount of mobility this year, I would say more than any other system in the league as far as being able to fly up (except maybe Houston I guess).

      I mean check it out here….Miami is at 5 here. After Yelich, Fernandez, and probably/maybe Heaney name a relevant Marlins prospect.

  • http://Noclue Marc N.

    Meh. They’re all really close together – St. Louis for example is carried by having the best offensive prospect in the minors. 9-12 especially are very close.

    Throw in that the Cubs’ top three only has one full season between them and it’s understandable. Year to year these things probably don’t have much predictive value and the Cubs’ farm system has one of the highest “ceilings” in the minors. It’s honestly within the realm of possibilities that they close out 2013 as the top system in the game, so these rankings mean very little to me right now.

    Plus over the years I’ve come to trust BA less and less. They’re useful and deserved to be the industry standard at one point, but they have slipped so much since Josh Boyd left.

    Props for giving that Yankee system some love. It’s become massively popular to say their system is overrated because they’re the Yankees over the part few years, and now it’s turnover time. Sanchez is a candidate to go all Taveras on the minors and I’m a big fan of Banuelos and Williams. Austin is underrated as a bat prospect.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    These lists just get to be irritating to me after a while. For all they know, some team has two Hall of Fame players in Class A ball. Are they based on who has the most top 100 prospects? So what. 77% of top 100 baseball America pitchers over a 12 year period never achieved 1.5 WAR for their career. How great a prediction was that? Trying to predict what minor league players are going to be quality major league players is throwing darts.

    • http://Noclue Marc N.

      ESPECIALLY pitchers, which is why I think it’s a great choice to go wih a bat centric system. Hendry banked on pitchers for the Cubs last decade when they held the top spot and that went nowhere even with a large quantity of interesting arms. Bats are the way to go…Develop a lineup and buy pitching with the large amount of available funds…Yankees of the 90’s operated the same way and that worked out alright.

      • Jono

        Interesting point

      • Andrew

        I really agree with this. We do need a lot of pitching, but the truth is that predicting which pitchers will stick is a crapshoot. This is why I think the cubs should go with a bat with the number 2. Get lots of pitching later in the draft and see what sticks but if im betting on any player to be a stud, I’m picking a position player.

        • Marc N.

          If the best player at 2 is a pitcher…and I’m praying to Jah that Appel is there…then I say take the pitcher. Position prospects being safer as a general rule is great, but once you get into specifics the analysis needs to get more specific.

      • Bric

        The only problem with that theory is that includes Hendry’s inability to evaluate pitching talent. If it weren’t for him we’d still have Chris Archer instead of Trey McNutt. Make no mistake about it- the top minor league systems are who they are because of their pitching talent. And the those teams have perennial top systems because of their ability to evaluate and develop pitching, such as the Rays and the Cards. The rest of the teams (like the Cubs and Royals) can stock up on high draft choices but will always be second tier until they realize this.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      No one is predicting anything. These rankings give an idea of the amount of assets a team has. No matter if Arodys Vizcaino or Javier Baez ever make it to the major leagues, they still have a value, *at this time*, to any organization that wants them. These rankings just rank the amount of assets each team has in the minors.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        This.

        Keep in mind as well that ranking prospects is more of an art than a science. If you look at rankings as a concrete determination of who will and won’t be good in five years, you are just misleading yourself.

        That said, it is still interesting and definitely still has value.

  • North Side Irish

    The BA subscriber write ups for each organization don’t add much value or really explain the rankings. I’m sure the Yankees were higher because their top prospects were a level or two higher (Williams, Sanchez and Heathcott were all at Hi-A last season and Austin was at AA). Plus Brett Jackson is looking more questionable and the Cubs Top 10 includes a 33 year old reliever, so I’m sure those both knocked them down a little.

  • MightyBear

    When they asked Theo about being the 5th best farm system, he said (paraphrasing) That’s a little generous, I don’t think we’re 5th but I do think we’re in the top 10.

  • Jono

    Pitching pitching pitching. And more pitching. Oh, and another thing: pitching

    • MightyBear

      I agree

  • Spriggs

    The 12 rank doesn’t really surprise me. The young pitching we have is just too young and not even to low A yet for the most part. Plus a number of guys took steps back — Vitters, Sczcur, Jackson — negating some of the progress.

  • Edward

    I think what will separate the Cubs from the other teams in the Central will be the ability to lock up young talent long-term (like Castro) without handcuffing the ability to plug some holes via free-agency. Simply going off prospect rankings is not an indicator of sustained success.

    Plenty of teams like the Rays and Marlins have great farm systems, but they can’t afford to hold onto what they develop.

    Really the model for success is the Cardinals. They do a great job of developing talent, holding onto the important pieces long term, and only using free agency when they either have a need to fill, or they see an undervalued asset, like their recent trend of signing older guys.

    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

      It’s getting easier every year for those teams to sign their own guys. The league is doing an unfortunately good job of improving the situation of small-market teams, and it’s only getting better while we wait.

      • Edward

        Well having more money can’t hurt.

        I think with the game getting younger, the next CBA will attempt to shrink the service-time window required to reach free-agency. Players are kind of getting screwed when they reach free-agency because they are likely past their prime, and come with the burden of a lost draft pick. I think we will hear more about it every year and it will become a focal point over the next couple off-seasons.

        • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

          That would be an awesome and welcome development.

          • http://Noclue Marc N.

            Agreed. Never even thought about it but that is a very real possible solution for players.

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

    i suspect the biggest factors pushing the Cubs down the BA charts are the lack of high ceiling prospects in higest levels of the farm system, and the general lack of high ceiling pitching.

    Especially the pitching. That is definitely still a problem.

    • Andrew

      While I agree that the lack of pitching helps keep our ranking down, I am definitely not nearly as worried about that as the first reason you gave. I’m okay with the fact that we don’t have many Juan Cruzes. It seems to me that good (not necesarily great) pitchers are just as likely to come out of the next top 500 prospects as they are from the top 100 prospects whereas I dont think the same cannot be said about position players. I think the fact that the cubs system is full of good bats is better than if it were full of good arms.

  • CubFan Paul

    Jim Callis needs to be a podcast guest…

    (we need the podcast on Mondays)

  • Song Cycle

    Ranking farm systems is somewhat meaningless. The best you can reasonably do is to assign them to Top Tier, Middle Tier and Bottom Tier. Based on the assessments I’ve seen, it is reasonable to assign the Cubs a Top Tier status. As long as they can maintain that position, they should be in good shape.

  • Bilbo161

    I tend to think more basic. The real work in choosing the prospects to draft falls to the scouting director and his team. So far Theo’s team has shown a pretty good eye for talent/ makeup. Is there an established way to rank that part of the organization specifically.

  • Will

    Bilbo161-Is there an established way to rank that part of the organization specifically.

    It is typically called a bonus or promotion.

  • JR

    Could the Cubs ranking be hurt by the fact that their upper minor league prospects suck? Seems likely to me. It seems that some experts like prospects more the closer they get to MLB, and our AAA team has absolute crap talent compared to other teams. Which is why 2015 is the year they will really compete not 2014.

    • DCF

      It’s pretty obvious that the value of a prospect has to increase the closer he gets to MLB level and that”s where the Cubs are struggling, especially pitching-wise. So I think 12th place isn’t that for off, if at all.
      Also, is probably a matter of perspective. The ranking doesn’t try to predict who will have the best team 5 years from now. I think BA is trying to analyze which team is the best at developing prospects. And even though the Cubs have added some great pieces last year, they haven’t really “developed” all that much since Theo took over because that will simply take time.
      The good news is, acquiring Rizzo and quickly putting him on the field at MLB level is probably not even considered “prospect development”, but it still netted the Cubs a great cost controlled player.

  • Ogie Oglethorpe

    The disconcerting thing for the Cubs is that there is minimal pitching propsects in the high minors. Johnson, Maples, Underwood, the MIA Paniagua, Blackburn….they are all a long ways off. TheoJed have got to find ways to infuse more pitching into this system. Hence why I hope they go after collegiate pitchers HEAVY in the June draft.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Johnson was taken out of college, and he may not be so far as we initially thought. From what I’m hearing so far, I’d not be surprised if he finished the year in Tennessee.

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