At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards today unveiled a method for estimating the present-day value of prospects (in dollars and in WAR). And, in so doing, he was also therefore able to rank the various farm systems on the basis of that method. Head over to FanGraphs to read about the method, and about the rankings. Definitely an interesting approach, and one that perhaps tracks most closely – in philosophy, at least – to how front offices consider the value of their prospects when weighing acquisitions.
What I found most interesting for our purposes is how the Cubs’ farm system wound up pretty much exactly where you’d expect: near the bottom, but not at the absolute bottom.
You can see tiers emerging in this methodology, and you can also see the disproportionate difference between having a lot of solid prospects but a lack of true impact types (like the Cubs), and having impact prospects. The value proposition skews very quickly, and that, too, hews closely to what our gut tells us about the value of various prospects. If every farm system has guys that you’re like, “Oh, yeah, if things break right, that guy could be a number four starter,” then no organization actually derives relative value from those guys. You’re just expected to have them.
In this way, the ranking of the Cubs here – even without digging into the numbers – sure seems fair. We know the score with the farm system after years of graduations and trades. The Cubs do have a lot of prospects I really like and who could contribute at the big league level (or in trades), but they do not have many (or any) guys whom you would realistically project to very likely be All-Star-caliber talents at the big league level in the next few years.
It’s up to the front office to keep developing the guys they have, and restock as best they can. Impact prospects don’t always come from the top of the first round of the draft or from the $2+ million group in international free agency. You just have to find those outliers. The Cubs have done a tremendous job at finding contributor types in the later rounds and in IFA, but other than the guys at the top of the draft or the guys they’ve traded from IFA, they haven’t really had success nailing a surprise impact prospect.
One very nice thing to see in the FanGraphs analysis? Although the Cubs are missing in the top tier of prospects, their total volume of ranked prospects (legit prospects) trails only 11 other farm systems. In volume of real prospects, the Cubs are at least middle of the pack.
So, heading into the 2019 minor league season, the story remains the same for the Cubs: to emerge as a better overall farm system, they’ll have to have a couple guys surprisingly break out and develop into impact types. It’s absolutely possible, as they’ve taken some big swings the last couple years in the early rounds of the draft and in IFA, and they have a ton of legit prospects. We just haven’t seen it happen yet.
Whether the Cubs look to keep supplementing their big league roster throughout this competitive window, whether they look to cover injuries/underperformance internally, or whether they hope to extend the window with cost-controlled youngsters, they will need a productive, impactful farm system churning out waves over the next five to ten years. Just because the Cubs started winning 90+ big league games every year, they didn’t stop needing to have the best farm system they can have.