The Chicago Cubs' Farm System Has Clearly Improved in the Eyes of Baseball America

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The Chicago Cubs’ Farm System Has Clearly Improved in the Eyes of Baseball America

Chicago Cubs

The absolute farm ranking – where exactly the Chicago Cubs are on a given list – is certainly a good evaluative measure, but given how much the Cubs have put into improving their farm system over the last year and a half, I think I’m more interested right now in seeing the changes in Cubs farm system rankings. I want to know if outside evaluators see the system as … better than last year? Worse? Stagnant? How do you evaluate a system that has added THIS MUCH quality depth, but still has SO LITTLE upper-level impact prospects?

Well, our first data point on that front is really encouraging. It was hinted by the recent top 100 list at Baseball America and the players who just missed, together with some very positive chatter on the podcast breakdown of the Cubs’ system. And now it’s confirmed with the release of the overall farm system rankings: Baseball America sees the Cubs’ farm system as strongly improved from last year, and is now squarely middle-of-the-pack, ranked right there at number 15.

The context is what makes that such good news. For one thing, the Cubs’ system was in the 20s for four straight years at BA before this ranking, which is actually their highest in over five years. So BA is seeing this system as fundamentally different than it’s looked in a long time.

For another thing, BA had the Cubs’ system at 22 this time last year, which means there was clear improvement just over the last 12 months, despite all the injuries in the farm system and the lack of upper-level impact prospects. To be sure, you would HOPE to see that, given the midseason sell-off, but it hasn’t been a sure thing, and I’m not positive that’s how every service is going to see things.

For still another thing – my favorite thing – BA did a quick pulse check on the farm systems after the trade deadline, and the Cubs’ system ranked 24th. That’s right: at that time, it was considered DOWN from the start of the 2021 season thanks to all the injuries and the lack of upper-level breakouts.

So what the heck could have possibly changed from August to now? Sure, there’s a little more performance data, but there are no major new acquisitions, and that’s a HUGE leap from 24th in August to 15th now. How does that happen? It happens because, after the season, prospecting services start doing their due diligence on how scouts and execs were evaluating the individual player improvements throughout the season and on into the fall. A lot of that goes on in-season, too, of course, but the offseason is always the time when folks can get the clearest sense of how those in the game are evaluating various prospects’ development.

Note that I’m speaking very generally here about the process, rather than specifically about Baseball America. But I do believe this is how it goes, and why we routinely see prospect “hype” breakouts in the offseason, even when they aren’t actually playing.

(For a hypothetical example: it is one thing to observe Owen Caissie’s impressive statistical data in the Complex League and a brief appearance at Low-A, and digest some in-season scouting reports. But it’s an entirely different thing to be able to talk to scouts and executives around the game about how he was actually performing and developing, and how their perceptions of his future have changed based on the whole of the year. You might start hearing themes echoed again and again from different sources about how they were surprised at how much better he got at doing Skill X, or how there were meaningful improvements in his ability to do Skill Y. So on and so forth. This, by the way, is a lot of the value that prospect pundits provide: they gather tons and tons of information about prospects and prospect evaluations throughout the year from a range of sources.)

That means – and, again, this was strongly hinted in the BA podcast about the Cubs’ system – the end-of-season/fall instructs reports that BA was getting on various Cubs prospects must’ve been really strong. Much stronger than folks were thinking even as recently as August.

Again, I want to emphasize that not every service will necessarily see things this way. I tend to think we’re still going to see a really huge range of rankings for the Cubs’ system right now because of its unique composition. But I’ll be very curious, as I was with Baseball America, to see how the evaluations have changed from this time last year, and from midseason. That’s what will tell us the most about whether outside evaluators see the Cubs as on the right track with rebuilding the farm system.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.