The staff at Baseball America has just released their 2017 Organizational Prospect Rankings, and, as the title of this article suggests, the Cubs fared quite well.
In fact, they were ranked 16th overall.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s out of 30 organizations. How could that be faring well? And compared to the state of the Cubs’ system just a few years ago, that seems downright … well, bad, right?
After all, the Cubs’ current ranking is not only fifteen spots worse than it was in 2015, it’s in the back half of the MLB pack and is dead last in the NL Central.
How, Michael? HOW could you be saying this is *good*?!
Well, while all of these things are true, the context surrounding the state of the Cubs and the ranking make things look much, much rosier.
First and foremost, at this time last year, the Cubs were actually ranked a bit worse than they are now. In 2016, Baseball America ranked the Cubs’ farm system just the 20th best in the league. At the time, we justified the ranking by the fact that the Cubs had just promoted a lot of their Minor Leaguers, and that was fair.
From 2014 through Spring Training 2016, the Cubs notably promoted (among many others):
- Javy Baez, IF
- Jorge Soler, OF
- Kyle Hendricks, SP
- Carl Edwards, RP
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Addison Russell, SS
- Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
“Losing” that much talent would nose dive any team’s organizational rankings. Of course, the Cubs weren’t done yet. During the 2016 season, they also promoted catcher Willson Contreras, who looks ready for a huge season in 2017. (Albert Almora made his debut as well, but still retains prospect status, so he doesn’t really count here.)
So, taken together, that’s eight extraordinarily notable prospects making their debuts and losing prospect status. But there’s much more to consider.
In addition to graduating all of those players, the Cubs also traded away Gleyber Torres, who’s since been ranked as a top five prospect in all of baseball. So, in effect, the system lost nine players of (close-to) the most promising caliber in MiLB. You could throw in Dan Vogelbach (Mike Montgomery trade), too, depending on how you evaluate his future.
But we can still take things further than that.
Because to be fair, many teams lose players to promotions and trades every single season (although, I’d argue that very few have lost as many top tier prospect talents as the Cubs have in such a short time). The Cubs, however, were also limited in adding top tier talent to their Minor League system.
During the winter before the 2016 season, the Chicago Cubs signed two qualified free-agents in Jason Heyward and John Lackey, before re-signing Dexter Fowler during the spring. Due to those three additions, the Cubs were forced to forfeit their first and second round picks (in addition to gaining nothing for Fowler) in the upcoming draft. So when the June rolled around, the Cubs weren’t able to select until the third round with the 104th overall pick!
The Cardinals, for perspective, picked four times before the Cubs picked once (and also had another pick just two spots behind Chicago).
But the Cubs weren’t only limited from adding prospects via the draft. Thanks to the amount of international spending the team went through in 2015, the Cubs were forced to sit out of International Free Agency when it opened up on July 2, 2016 (they’ll also be in the penalty box during the 2017 period as well).
The IFA route has always been a really significant method for infusing talent into an organization, especially for organizations willing to spend aggressively like the Cubs. The Cubs in 2016, however, could not add any players at the top of the market (forbidden from signing anyone to a bonus over $300,000).
Also, being that the Cubs were buyers over the past two years and not sellers, they also weren’t adding any prospects in trade.
So to sum up: the Cubs lost nine significant prospects to trades/graduations, were not allowed to pick until the third round of the 2016 MLB draft, and were in the IFA penalty box all of last year … yet somehow managed to MOVE UP four spots in the organizational rankings. That is more than impressive. That’s mind-boggling.
Sure, they’re in the back half of the league, and sure they’re behind four NL Central teams, but their ability to stay relevant and in the middle of the pack is fantastic, and is a credit to their scouting infrastructure. Perhaps even more importantly, all of this serves as a reminder that developing existing players can be as important as targeting the right ones.
So be sure to head over to Baseball America to take a look at the full rankings yourself. Perhaps you’ll get a better sense of how impressive it is to pull off what the Cubs have.
And, if you still find yourself wanting more, you can listen to the BA podcast discussing the rankings:
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) February 24, 2017
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.