In the latest showing of how difficult it is to evaluate the minor leagues and prospects right now, a trio of farm system rankings came out this week and they have the Cubs’ system in wildly different spots.
For example, Keith Law at The Athletic ranked the Cubs’ system a still-largely-unimproved-over-the-last-two-years 26th in baseball: “The Cubs have tightened the purse strings at the major-league level, but their farm system isn’t up to the task of backfilling the major-league roster just yet, and the organization is really short on potential stars after Brennen Davis, which is what they’ll need to build another contender now that the 2016 core is splitting up and ownership isn’t spending.”
By contrast, Baseball America ranked the Cubs’ system all the way up at number 17, the highest they’ve been in years: “After years of trading prospects for veterans during their competitive window, the Cubs have pivoted and begun trading veterans for prospects in an attempt to reload the farm system. The Yu Darvish trade gave them four talented but far-away prospects to work with, improving the depth behind a respectable top of the system that includes lefthander Brailyn Marquez and outfielder Brennen Davis.”
Then you have Kiley McDaniel at ESPN splitting the baby a bit, ranking the Cubs’ system 22nd: “All of that said, the Cubs are doing a solid job of rebuilding the farm with high-upside position players, the same thing they did to build this core in the first place. Brennen Davis, Ed Howard and Cole Roederer are draftees with a real shot to be everyday players, while Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Adbert Alzolay, Christian Hernandez, and Kevin Made headline the homegrown international crop, and the four players from the Darvish deal (Yeison Santana, Reggie Preciado, Ismael Mena, Owen Caissie) are the top upside types acquired via trade. The Cubs are still just 22nd because this influx was balanced out by graduating Nico Hoerner and these metrics are mostly defined by top-100ish prospects. So next year might see the Cubs continuing to collect young talent, graduating a few, seeing some move into that top 100-150, and landing somewhere in the middle of this list, then 2023 could see them completing this phase and being near the top of the list, as much as a two-year wait might be tough to accept for Cubs fans.”
Generally, the takes on the system are all fair. We might say the Cubs have so much upside and have bet heavily on their new development infrastructure, but (1) they have to actually show it, and (2) every organization fancies itself full of upside and investments in player development. The pundits can rank only on what they know for sure, and the reasonable projections. Having the Cubs’ farm system still a bit below average just seems fair.
HOWEVA, McDaniel’s writeup underscores something that is more true about the Cubs’ system than most: they are particularly loaded with high-variance talent at the lowest levels of the system. As an organization that used up most of its older prospect capital in graduations and trades at the same time it pivoted to acquiring longer-term, more-projectable talent in the draft, the Cubs just kinda skewed things in that direction over the last couple years. Throw in the four super young prospects in the Darvish trade plus continued aggressive spending in IFA, and you’ve got an organization that is particularly reliant on having very young prospects break out soon in order to be considered a much improved farm system. It could happen as soon as this year. Or there could be spectacular flops. As we’ve said, it wouldn’t shock me if the Cubs had five+ consensus top 100 prospects at this time next year … nor would it shock me if they were still at just one or two.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out our top Cubs prospects rankings.