Remember how we got updated FanGraphs and ESPN farm system rankings in the same week, and they were EXTREMELY disparate? How FanGraphs had the Cubs all the way up at four, but ESPN had them all the way down at 18? And how that was explained primarily by the weird combination of extreme depth in the system but lack of top-shelf impact guys? So both rankings were kinda right?
There are two more rankings to discuss this week and – guess what – it’s still the same story!
Baseball America unveiled its post-draft, post-deadline updated farm system rankings and, for them, the Cubs remain squarely middle-of-the-pack at 16. The write-up tells the tale you should know well by this point:
The Cubs have built up plenty of prospect depth during their rebuild, but they have few potential stars in their system. Outfielders Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, Owen Caissie are all at the Class A levels with questions to answer offensively, and injuries to outfielder Brennen Davis (back), lefthander Brailyn Marquez (shoulder) and shortstop Ed Howard (hip) and have set them back. The Cubs do have a number of candidates who could be solid regulars and they’ve built up a decent group of starting pitching prospects, something the organization has lacked for years.
In other words, the depth of potential future big leaguers in the system is, right now, really significant. Way better than it was during the last rebuild. But the impact-level guys? The possible future Kris Bryants or Javy Báezs or Kyle Schwarbers or Jorge Solers or Addison Russells or Eloy Jimenezs (and so on and so on)? The just don’t have guys who are ranking in that top 25 group consistently, with the expectation that they will be regulars with star-level upside.
That’s not me saying the Cubs don’t have any prospects who could wind up stars! We see those kinds of breakouts all the time. But we’re just talking about rankings as of this moment. When it comes to already-established star-caliber prospects, the Cubs have one of the thinnest systems in baseball. They just haven’t had the big explosions this year that you would’ve hoped to see.
Which is not to say the extreme depth is not meaningful. It is!
In fact, it’s so meaningful that another rankings service, MLB Pipeline, now has the Cubs up at number nine, according to their podcast. That’s based on the average prospect ranking for the prospects in each org’s top 30, which means you’re going to see some favoring of the deeper systems – i.e., the prospects in that 21 to 30 range could pull up the ranking quite a bit if they are true, legit prospects. (We’ll have to wait for further discussion on the rankings, because the podcast was more general.)
So, right now, you’re looking at four services that have the Cubs’ system at 4, 9, 16, or 18. The first two are very high on the Cubs’ extreme depth. The second two are very low on the Cubs’ impact-level prospects. Both things are true and fair, and that kinnnnnda makes me feel like all these rankings are fair, too, as weird as that is. There is always disagreement among the services on ranking farm systems (think about how hard it is to do), but you don’t usually see THIS kind of spread on an individual org ranking. This can be more art than science, and weird systems are going to highlight that all the more.
As I said the last time we did this exercise, my gut says the system has the feel of one in that 8 to 10 range, so I guess I must think about these things the same way MLB Pipeline does. But I have a really hard time saying that ESPN or BA are “wrong” in pegging the system as more middle-of-the-pack, especially given what we know about the disproportionate value of those true impact prospects.
Going forward, then, you’ll want to see (1) the Cubs continue to make developmental improvements in their system so that there are more breakouts heading into next year, (2) the Cubs keep doing what they’ve been doing to unearth/improve fringy guys into real prospects, and (3) spend aggressively at the big league level to add impact players in free agency/trade, since those types may not be on the way from the farm system any time soon.