Baseball America has released its list of Top 100 prospects, and for the second year in a row, the Royals have exactly zero prospects on the list, joining the Cubs as the only teams shutout in 2018. The Braves top the list with eight prospects, including top overall prospect Ronald Acuna.
The temptation may be to blame the lack of prospects as the price of success, but none of the players the Royals traded away in 2014 and 2015 would be considered “prospects” anymore, and Esteury Ruiz, the young outfielder who they traded away last summer to the Padres, was not on this year’s Top 100 list, although he may be someday. Sure, the Royals have been drafting later due to finishing higher in the standings, but with players like Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, and Giancarlo Stanton all taken late in the first round or in later rounds, there really is no excuse not to have any top prospects. The Royals have just been poor at drafting the past few years.
Royals Top 100 prospects, according to @BaseballAmerica— Royals Review (@royalsreview) January 22, 2018
2010 - 4
2011 - 9
2012 - 5
2013 - 3
2014 - 4
2015 - 4
2016 - 2
2017 - 0
2018 - 0
The Royals are not alone in failing to produce top prospects. In the last three years, ten clubs have been shutout from the top 100 list - the Royals (2017 and 2018), Cubs (2018), Angels (2016 and 2017), Orioles (2016), Mariners (2016), and Marlins (2016). Before that, from 2000-2015, just seven teams were shutout from the Top 100 list.
Certainly you don’t want to be in the position of having no top prospects. But we know that prospect lists are just informed estimates of who will become productive Major Leauge players. Players progress at their own pace. Projections are imperfect.
Does a lack of top 100 prospects mean the farm system is completely barren? Not necessarily. Some Royals prospects may jump onto this list in a year - it is not hard to see Khalil Lee, Seuly Matias, M.J. Melendez, Chase Vallot, or Nick Pratto making that kind of jump. And some players may be late bloomers or exceed their prospect status. Others may simply be solid role players, which can still be quite valuable for a small-market club like the Royals.
How barren were things for other teams that had no Top 100 prospects? I wanted to look back at those seven teams shutout from Baseball America’s list from 2000-2015 to see if their farm system was just devoid of talent, or if they were some hidden gems no one saw at the time.
2002 Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks farm system was pretty thin in the early 2000s, until then-scouting director Mike Rizzo (now GM of the Washington Nationals) built it back up to respectability by 2004. Early success for the expansion club had deprived them of the ability to have high draft picks, and their one top five pick in 1999 - Corey Myers - was a huge bust.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Outfielder Luis Terrero topped Arizona’s top ten prospect list, but never became more than a fourth outfielder.
Who else was in the system? Jack Cust was a former first-round pick, but the Diamondbacks traded him to Colorado just before the 2002 season. Baseball America’s top ten Diamondbacks prospects included other useful players like first baseman Lyle Overbay, infielder Scott Hairston, and closer Jose Valverde. Third baseman Chad Tracy had hit very well in A ball in 2001, but was overlooked.
Another low A ball infielder not mentioned by Baseball America was Dan Uggla, who had an underwhelming 2001 and a terrible 2002 before getting his career going and eventually being selected by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft. Perhaps the gem of the system, however, was Brandon Webb, who put up a 3.99 ERA in the California League as a 22-year old in 2001. He would eventually become a three-time All Star and Cy Young winner.
How was the farm system one year later? The Diamondbacks had four Top 100 prospects the next year - Hairston, Overbay, and pitchers Mike Gosling and John Patterson. However, their farm system ranking bumped up slowly, from 23 in 2002 to 21 in 2003, before being ranked 13th in 2004.
2003 Baltimore Orioles
From 2001 to 2003, the Orioles had one of the bottom-five ranked farm systems in baseball, according to Baseball America. This was amazing considering that in the 1999 draft, they had seven of the first 50 picks. The only one to become more than a fringe player was Brian Roberts.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Lefty Erik Bedard topped the list after a nice season in AA, but Tommy John surgery hurt his prospect status considerably. He would return full-time in 2004 and enjoyed a decent 11-year career.
Who else was in the system? This was a pretty weak system, ranked dead last by Baseball America in 2003. Even still, they had a couple of live arms who proved to be useful in John Maine and Daniel Cabrera, as well as future closer Jim Johnson. Future All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts also spent some time in the minors that year, although he had lost his “prospect” status already.
How was the farm system one year later? Maine was one of four top 100 prospects for the Orioles a year later. Joining him were Adam Loewen, the fourth-overall player selected in the 2002 draft, Nick Markakis, the seventh-overall player taken in the 2003 draft, and Denny Bautista, who would later be traded to Kansas City. The Orioles jumped from dead last in organizational rankings to 19th in 2004.
2003 St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are now considered to have one of the best development organizations in baseball, but in the early 2000s, the system was not well regarded. From 2002 to 2005, they were in the bottom five of organizational rankings every year, twice finishing dead last.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Former second-round pick Dan Haren pitched well in High A ball, but didn’t earn Baseball America’s attention. The Pepperdine grad would be in the big leagues by the end of 2003, and was the centerpiece of a 2005 trade to Oakland for Mark Mulder. The right-hander would end his career with 153 wins.
Who else was in the system? Coco Crisp seemed promising, hitting .301 with 26 steals in AA, but was not considered a big-time prospect. There were some other useful role players such as Chris Duncan, Kyle McClellan, and Chris Narveson. But Baseball America failed to recognize eight-time All-Star Yadier Molina. In fairness, he was just a 19-year old kid in low A ball hitting .280/.331/.384 in 2002.
How was the farm system one year later? The Cardinals farm system was still lowly-ranked, but they did manage to place two pitchers in the Top 50 list - Blake Hawksworth, and Adam Wainwright, who was acquired that off-season from the Braves for J.D. Drew.
2007 San Diego Padres
The Padres were hammered for wasting the first overall pick in 2004 on Matt Bush instead of grabbing Justin Verlander. That was far from the only miscalculation by the Padres, who took Cesar Carillo and Matt Antonelli in the first round in the two years leading up to 2007, two players that never made an impact. Baseball America ranked them as the second-worst farm system in baseball.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Cedric Hunter was a toolsy outfielder who hit .361 in rookie ball and was actually in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100 prospect list that year. He was a long way from the big leagues and only ended up appearing in 19 Major Leagues games.
Who else was in the system? Third baseman Chase Headley had a nice year in High A ball, but it was in the California League, which may have inflated his numbers. Third baseman David Freese hit .317 in A ball and was an underrated prospect who was eventually traded to St. Louis. Other role players included Ernesto Frieri, Nick Hundley, Steve Delabar, Mike Adams, and Will Venable. The system might have also been better had the organization not failed to protect a young Mexican pitcher from the Rule 5 draft by the name of Joakim Soria.
How was the farm system one year later? The Padres placed just one prospect on the list a year later, first baseman Kyle Blanks. However, Baseball Prospectus recognized a young pitcher coming up through the system, putting Mat Latos on their Top 100 list after the 2007 season.
2008 Chicago White Sox
The White Sox were ranked dead last in organizational rankings that year, “a result of poor drafting, ineffective work on the international front and GM Ken Williams’ willingness to trade prospects for veterans.” Williams dealt future home run champ Chris Carter to the Diamondbacks and pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the Athletics before the 2008 season.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Former first-round pick Aaron Poreda, a lefty out of the University of San Francisco was actually a Top 100 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus after a strong season in High A and AA.
Who else was in the system? Gavin Floyd made 17 starts in AAA in 2007, but had really lost his prospect status, and would win 17 games for the Sox that year. The Sox had signed Cuban defector Alexei Ramirez that off-season, who Baseball America ranked as the #2 prospect in the system behind Poreda. The system still had a lot of Major League talent, though mostly low-upside role players like Clayton Richard, Hector Santiago, Eduardo Escobar, Boone Logan, Nate Jones, Jose Martinez, Chris Getz, and Paulo Orlando.
How was the farm system one year later? A high pick allowed the White Sox to grab infielder Gordon Beckham in the 2008 draft, putting him on the Top 100 list that winter. The White Sox also placed Poreda, catcher Tyler Flowers, and Cuban outfielder Dayan Viciedo, signed in December of 2008, on the top 100 list.
2011 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were the worst-ranked farm system in 2011 after pushing their chips in that season in big deals for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. In those trades, they had dealt top prospects Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, and Lorenzo Cain, leaving little behind in the minors.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Mark Rogers was a former first-round pick who had been a Top 100 prospect in 2005. Six years later, he was Milwaukee’s top prospect, but pretty much by default. He was 25 and had super-high walk numbers in AA.
Who else was in the system? Jimmy Nelson had been their second-round pick the previous season and was just getting his pro career started. Khris Davis was a 22-year old in low A ball, hitting .280/.398/.499 with 22 home runs in 2010. Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta both earned promotions to AA in 2010. Future Gold Glove winner Martin Maldonado played well in the upper minors, earning a cup of coffee in 2010. Scooter Gennett, Brandon Kintzler, and Tyler Thornburg were other role players in their farm system.
How was the farm system one year later? The Brewers had two first-round picks in the top 15 picks of the 2011 draft, and used them to grab two college pitchers - Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley. Both made the Top 100 prospect list that winter, although combined they have pitched just 36 big league games. Peralta also joined them on the list, although the farm system was still ranked 26th overall.
2015 Detroit Tigers
The Tigers were also ranked dead last, due to a “short-term focus” and conservative draft strategy. The team would add to the system that summer by trading away Yoenis Cespedes for pitcher Michael Fulmer, among others, and now they have begun a full-blown rebuild.
Baseball America’s top ranked prospect: Steven Moya was ranked as the #100 prospect by MLB.com that year, after smacking 35 home runs in AA in 2014. Moya spent all of last year in the minors in a major setback of a season.
Who else was in the system? Not a lot, although some of these careers are still getting going. Chad Green has turned into a very nice reliever for the Yankees, but was just a 23-year old in low A ball back in 2014. Buck Farmer, Ian Krol, and Joe Jimenez were some of the other future Major Leaguers in the system.
How was the farm system one year later? It was still pretty bleak in Detroit’s system with only Fulmer making the top 100 list in 2016. And in 2017, it was just Matt Manning. It wasn’t until 2018 that the Tigers placed as many as three prospects in the top 100, part of why they decided to rebuild the system.