It’ll be a while yet before we can really determine the value of the Yu Darvish trade, much less the flurry of moves at the Trade Deadline, but it’s hard to argue that the early returns haven’t been pretty great. Two of the four young prospects from the Darvish deal have broken out in complex ball (Owen Caissie and Reggie Preciado), and almost every prospect netted at the deadline has performed well in their first two weeks in the org. It’s a boost to an organization whose farm system was already on the rise, and will be critically important in the years ahead.
Thanks to those trades and various other developments, the Cubs’ farm system now ranks 8th in baseball at FanGraphs, which has an ongoing and updating ranking based on the value of prospects (the Cubs are virtually tied with the Giants at 7). By the time re-rankings take place after the season, it’s looking likely that the Cubs should have a consensus top half farm system in baseball (and much higher to some). That is what you would want to see after a major selloff, but is nevertheless pretty darn hard to pull off from where they were at this time last year (20 to 30 range), especially when you’re drafting where the Cubs have been, and without any comp or competitive balance picks.
In other words, whether you have appreciated the last year or not, at least the Cubs have – so far – succeeded in their much-needed goal of revamping the farm system. Imagine if they’d done all they’d done and it was clear that the farm system was still in terrible shape. Hold that thought for a moment.
Keith Law, while not quite re-ranking all the farm systems, did get into the five most improved this year, and the Cubs feature prominently, behind only the Pirates:
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) August 13, 2021
The Cubs were 26th to Law before the season, but he now describes them at least up at the midpoint. Again, not a full re-rank, and there are also still several weeks to go before the end of the minor league seasons. It’s a big jump, commensurate with what the Cubs were trying to do.
Law goes through the impact from the Trade Deadline for the Cubs, which is substantial, but what I found interesting is the reminder that the Draft will be seen as a boost to the system, too. Every team got a draft-infusion this year, of course, but if the Cubs did disproportionately well, especially given the later pick slots and no extra picks, then it’s all the more notable in the farm rebuilding process:
The Cubs had a solid draft, getting a low-ceiling but high-probability starter in lefty Jordan Wicks in the first round, then going for more ceiling with their next three picks, including a pair of high school hitters and then toolsy Arkansas outfielder Christian Franklin, a plus defender with power who needs swing and approach work, in the fourth round.
You’ll recall that the Cubs brought in a new drafting chief in Dan Kantrovitz last year, and their entire scouting and player development infrastructure was overhauled throughout 2019. Once again, you like the idea that the farm system is looking stronger and stronger at this point, given that it’s where the Cubs have invested so much of their time and resources and attention the last two years.
Looking ahead, thanks to the bulk of the best prospects in the system still being on the young/inexperienced/highly-projectable side of things, it’s a farm system that could easily explode into being a top three system by this time next year … or could see a lot of the younger and riskier prospects, who have a lot of hype at the moment, fizzle out. That’s where development will obviously be key, and it will be the first big test for that development overhaul (which has, so far, looked pretty good, but it’s so hard to judge with the pandemic last year).
Ah, but that high-risk, high-upside collection of prospects? It’s also why *other* rankings may not be as rosy on the Cubs just yet. In fact, at least one service is still really, really down on the Cubs’ system, even after all their maneuverings.
Enter Baseball America’s updated, post-draft-and-trade-deadline farm rankings, where they remain deeply unimpressed by the Cubs’ system, ranking them 24th: “It’s one step forward and one step back for the Cubs, who infused their system with talent at the trade deadline but have seen top prospects like Marquez, C Miguel Amaya and others barely play due to injuries.”
That’s the whole of the description, which feels a little reductive given what’s happened with all the prospects not named Marquez and Amaya, but the sentiment is not unfair. You have to remember: higher-level, true-impact prospects are disproportionately valuable to a farm system. The Cubs went from arguably being viewed as a system with three of those guys in March to now having only one in Brennen Davis. That’s not good, and however much depth you have in “legit prospects,” some services focus more heavily on the true impact types who’ve really established themselves at the upper levels. The Cubs don’t have that.
So it’s hard for me to get too mad at BA for being ultra-conservative on a system that is heavy on guys who COULD break out at High-A/Double-A, but have yet to actually do it.
Now, as I survey the landscape, it’s pretty hard for me to see how you could look at the Cubs’ extreme depth and significant high upside in the low minors and not see a top half system, let alone a bottom seven system. And BA had the Cubs at 17 before the season, so to drop them seven spots after the Darvish prospect breakouts, the draft, and the Trade Deadline just seems … off. But, I have to admit two things: I am biased because these are the prospects I follow most closely, and I am also limited in my REAL knowledge of other farm systems. I could easily be wrong. Time will tell.
So, as far as updated system rankings, we have FanGraphs seeing the Cubs as around top seven, Baseball America seeing the Cubs as around bottom seven, and Keith Law seeing them as around somewhere in the middle. Maybe that’s actually perfect, given the extreme possible outcomes for this prospect group? It’s up to the Cubs to develop them and prove that the faith in depth and upside is justified.