Which MLB Teams Have The Best And Worst Farm Systems?

It’s that time of year again.

It’s the time of year when Baseball America reveals which teams have the best farm systems and the worst. Baseball America also does an update of their rankings around the spring time.

If there is one good thing (amongst many) about the end of the Steroid Era in Major League Baseball it’s that there has been a re-emphasis by teams on the development of young players and improving their minor league system.

Teams have gone from trading young players like hot cakes in the 90’s to holding on to them for dear life in the late-2000’s. With the economy in a rut and free agent spending down, teams are holding on to draft picks and their own talent more than ever.

Back in the 90’s, GM’s for the most part didn’t care about giving up a first-round pick in order to sign a Type A free agent. Now, that is not the case.

Here are the teams that Baseball America has ranked as having the done best job of developing and holding on to their prospects and the worst job of developing and holding on to their prospects.

Five Best Farm Systems

1. Rangers: Neftali Feliz has a special arm and could still be an impact starting pitcher, but if he’s not, he has already shown the ability to be a shutdown reliever. The Rangers’ pitching depth remains impressive, as lefty Martin Perez earned top prospect honors in the low Class A South Atlantic League in his first full season.

Texas’ top signed draft pick, right-hander Tanner Scheppers, showed premium stuff in the Arizona Fall League, and the system has power lefties in Kasey Kiker and Robbie Ross. Texas lacks depth in terms of hitters, but switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak isn’t far away from being able to help a lineup that needs it.

Davis leads the Rays farm system

2. Rays: Talk about top-heavy. Every system would love to have two big league-ready right-handers like Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson, who both have stuff, command and success at the upper levels. And neither of them is even the Rays’ top prospect — that honor goes to five-tool center fielder Desmond Jennings, whose only issue is durability.

In between Triple-A and low Class A, the Rays are a bit thin, but they have a bevy of power arms at the lower levels, led by left-hander Matt Moore.

3. Giants: San Francisco has two elite talents in catcher Buster Posey and left-hander Madison Bumgarner, both of whom should contribute to the major league club in 2010.

The Giants also have depth, despite the uncertain status of slugger Angel Villalona, who was stripped of his U.S. visa after an off-season murder charge in his native Dominican Republic. San Francisco has shortstop options, some solid bats (such as outfielder Thomas Neal) and solid depth, but it’s really about the stars.

4. Phillies: Philadelphia had the depth to trade for Cliff Lee and still have a top-flight farm system. Outfielder Michael Taylor has hit .333 over the last two seasons, rocketing to Triple-A, and fellow outfielder Dominic Brown has better tools, though he’s still a bit raw.

Righty Kyle Drabek, son of the former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, has three above-average pitches to go with excellent athletic ability. Beyond their Big Three — all of whom have performed at Double-A or above — the Phillies are bursting with young power arms, toolsy Latin American infielders and athletic outfielders, such as Anthony Gose.

5. Indians: Cleveland has traded many of the key players from its 2007 playoff team. That’s cold comfort to Tribe fans, but many of the prospects acquired in those trades now give the Indians one of the game’s top farm systems.

The organization’s top arms, right-hander Jason Knapp and left-hander Nick Hagadone, both were trade pickups, with Knapp coming from the Phillies in the Cliff Lee deal and Hagadone from Boston as the key piece in the Victor Martinez trade.

Catcher Carlos Santana, acquired from the Dodgers for Casey Blake, is a switch-hitting offensive force who was the MVP of the Eastern League in 2009, and 2008 first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall reached Double-A in his first full pro season.

Five Best Worst Systems

26. Nationals: They have the best prospect in the game in No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, plus solid talents in catcher Derek Norris, right-hander Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa. Beyond that, though, the Nats have very little help, especially at the upper levels, which is a pity considering the state of the big-league roster.

27. Diamondbacks: Years of conservative drafts have left Arizona painfully short on athletes, especially up the middle of the diamond. Plus top prospect Jarrod Parker, a right-hander drafted third overall in 2007, will miss next season after having Tommy John surgery.

28. Blue Jays: Toronto would be No. 30 if not for last summer’s Scott Rolen trade, which brought needed pitching talent from the Reds. Toronto’s top hitters, such as infielders Justin Jackson and Kevin Ahrens and catcher J.P. Arencibia, had poor seasons in 2009, and the Jays also failed to sign three of their first four draft picks this year.

29. Cardinals: Ranked eighth last spring, St. Louis traded away both star power and depth in 2009 in acquiring Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa. What’s left is a bunch of role players and 2009 first-rounder Shelby Miller, a promising right-hander but a prep pitcher who has yet to play a full season.

30. Astros: Houston has added solid talent in its last two first-rounders, catcher Jason Castro (2008) and Jiovanni Mier (2009), as well as ’08 supplemental pick Jordan Lyles, a promising right-hander. But the Astros’ system is full of holes — it hasn’t produced a team with a winning record since 2007.

If you look at the five worst farm systems, the one that really sticks out to me is the Nationals. When you are bad on the field and perhaps have just as bad farm system–then you have a major problem.

What this tells me is that it is imperative that Strasburg, Storen, and perhaps Bryce Harper pan out. If not, this team could start spinning their wheels like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals.

Not surprised to see the Astros on this list. The Astros are one of the few teams in baseball, who still operate like it is 1998–bloated contracts at the major league level and very little emphasis on player development.

All team rankings and prospect information is courtesy of Baseball America, via SI.com.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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