Well excccuuuuuuuuse me.
Although every third party rankings service agrees that the Chicago Cubs boast the best farm system in baseball, there is one evaluative method that doesn’t agree: KATOH.
If you don’t recall, KATOH is Chris Mitchell’s interesting prospect projection system, and it’s a data-based way to evaluate, project, and rank prospects. While it is not without flaws, it’s another way to consider prospects.
And KATOH did just that for every farm system in baseball, totaling the projected WAR for the top 400 prospects in KATOH’s system, and concluded that the Cubs … have the 4th best system, behind the Rangers, Yankees, and Mets.
How is this possible, you scream in righteous indignation. Well, KATOH placed just 13 Cubs prospects in the top 400, which is roughly an average total if you spread the prospects out among all teams. The Cubs shoot up to 4th in the rankings thanks to their elite, high-end prospects, but KATOH isn’t so much liking the depth, in contrast to what many other services indicate.
Since KATOH’s process is to project future big league WAR, the suggestion here is that having quality depth is more valuable than having a smaller number of tip-top elite prospects (which is contrary to prevailing wisdom). Is KATOH right? Is it just early in the game for the system?
You should read Mitchell’s piece to do a little dissection yourself, but I’d submit that the methodology used for the rankings may have disproportionately dinged the Cubs’ depth. Because KATOH is entirely stats-based, and this ranking was entirely 2014 stats-based, Mitchell rightly excluded small samples (players with fewer than 200 plate appearances or fewer than 200 batters faced). That meant that all teams didn’t have all of their prospects included, but if you look at the Cubs’ top 20 or so prospects, a bunch were excluded (Eloy Jimenez, Jake Stinnett, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Dylan Cease, etc.). Because the Cubs have been drafting high (and well), and because the Cubs spent significantly on young international talent two years ago, they may have a disproportionate amount of their quality depth wrapped up in players who did not achieve the statistical cutoff last year. The difference between the Cubs at four and the Mets at three was just 4.3 projected future WAR, so there’s probably a whole lot of elasticity in the rankings depending on where various cutoffs are set.
Still, it’s good and important to have your beliefs challenged. The Yankees are held by many to have a system in the 10 to 15 range, but KATOH is absolutely loving their young depth. Is that because KATOH overrates younger players at the expense of upper-level elite talent? Or is KATOH better at projecting future performance than the collected wisdom of scouts and statistics?
It’s just one system. But it’s something to chew on.