-- I've once again expanded my ranking of the top 10 prospects in each organization. The criteria for organizing these lists are the same as ever, but I've included a little more explanation of the state of the system, and discuss any prospects (top 10 and beyond) who might help the major league team this year.
In addition to at least one "sleeper" prospect for each organization, I've also identified one player with each club whose prospect stock has taken a serious hit in the past year, and attempted to explain why.
As with the top 100, I use the 20-80 scouting scale to describe players' tools.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/chi/chicago-whitesox">Chicago White Sox</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 27
Farm system overview
Although its overall rank is low, the White Sox's system is in the best shape of its life -- or at least since I started compiling these rankings. They've taken a more open approach to the draft recently, mixing in more high-ceiling candidates early without eschewing probability, and finding some athletes on whom they could gamble after the first few rounds.
Courtney Hawkins, their first-rounder two years ago, was pushed too aggressively to high Class A and struggled to make contact, but at 19 he was just too young and raw for that level, and the tools that made him a top 100 prospect before 2013 -- the power, the arm, the speed -- are all still there. Repeating the Carolina League won't be the worst thing in the world for him, and he'll need to focus on using the whole field and being less pull-conscious.
Micah Johnson opened a lot of eyes in the Arizona Fall League with his speed, although he'll need a lot of work at second and may end up in center field. Tim Anderson was the team's first-round pick in 2013, and their third-rounder, Andrew Mitchell, was misused at TCU as a reliever, but projects as a starter with a possible three- or four-pitch mix. Their second-rounder, right-hander Tyler Danish, has a brutal arm action, but what comes out is mid-90s velocity and he could move quickly as a reliever. (I didn't, and still don't, like Chris Sale's arm action, but the White Sox have done pretty well with that one.)
The No. 11 prospect in the system is Scott Snodgress, a left-handed starter whose results in the rotation haven't been good enough to keep him there, but who has the potential three-pitch arsenal to be a reliever who's more than just a one-batter specialist.
Johnson will be one of the top rookies in the American League in 2014, with a rotation spot in hand and the body and delivery to make 30-plus starts at a league-average level. Matt Davidson appears to be in line for the everyday third-base job, a potential .250-260 hitter this year with 15-20 homers and plenty of doubles.
Marcus Semien could be the team's second baseman if they give him a shot to supplant Gordon Beckham, or he'd be an ideal utility infielder who can play all three skill positions. Daniel Webb (No. 12) should spend time in the major league pen this year. I haven't included Jose Abreu in any rankings due to his age and experience, but he is a true rookie and will likely put up big power numbers if he spends the full year in Chicago. That's a lot of youth for the White Sox, who were disinclined to give that much playing time to prospects during Kenny Williams' last few years as GM.
Jared Mitchell was the team's first-round pick in 2009, but he's never played as well as he did that summer, missing 2010 due to injury and struggling to make contact at every level. His .167/.293/.257 line in Double- and Triple-A last year was a new low, and he's a candidate to be outrighted or released off the team's 40-man roster this year.
Chicago's 2013 third-round pick, outfielder Jacob May, is the grandson of longtime major leaguer Lee May Sr., and had a very strong pro debut last summer, finishing very strongly in high Class A Kannapolis. He's strong for his size and an above-average runner with a chance to stay in center, needing work on his pitch recognition and overall approach at the plate after coming out of Coastal Carolina.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/cle/cleveland-indians">Cleveland Indians</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 17
Farm system overview
Francisco Lindor is a future superstar, anchoring a system that is somewhat thin after the first three names and wasn't helped by down years from a number of top guys. They also graduated Danny Salazar, who looks like he will be, at worst, a good mid-rotation starter and flashes the kind of stuff in his fastball and splitter that could make him an ace.
Dorssys Paulino, Trevor Bauer and Jose Ramirez all had disappointing years, although both infielders were very young for where they played and I'm still fairly bullish on their futures. Tony Wolters, a convert to catcher last year, is intriguing, as he has the makeup to be at least a high-quality backup, and given another 200 games or so back there could develop into a starter.
Cody Anderson was their biggest jumper last year, a late pick who barely pitched in college, but now has a 93-96 mph fastball with three off-speed pitches, and who has the size and frame to hold 200 innings a year after Cleveland builds up his workloads.
Beyond the top 10, they still have Ronny Rodriguez (No. 11), a shortstop with the tools to be in the top five in the system but who has shown no ability to make adjustments at the plate; Eric Gonzalez (No. 12), a convert to shortstop who has shown tremendous aptitude for the position; and a number of power arms who look like pen guys or back-end starters, including Kieran Lovegrove, Dylan Baker, and Dace Kime, with Kime most likely to pan out in the rotation.
I wouldn't rule out seeing Lindor in the majors this year, as he's pretty close to ready right now and has been unfazed by everything Cleveland has thrown at him so far. Bauer and Anderson will likely see some time in the major league rotation, although Bauer has to earn the team's trust after his dumpster fire 2013.
Bauer was a top-30 prospect with Arizona before a trade to Cleveland last winter, but he couldn't throw strikes this past season, even in Triple-A, and his velocity varied more from start to start than it ever had before. For a guy who talks a lot about his delivery, he's been unable to find a consistent one that would allow him to command the fastball, and at year end was cutting himself off to try to protect his groin muscle and made everything flatten out.
The bottom line for Bauer is that he has to throw his fastball for strikes so he can get to the good off-speed stuff. Any delivery talk that doesn't work toward that end is just folderol.
Francisco Mejia, 17, was one of the best prospects in the rookie-level Arizona League last year, a catcher with a plus arm and the athleticism to be an everyday backstop while also showing above-average raw power, especially for someone so young.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/det/detroit-tigers">Detroit Tigers</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 28
Farm system overview
Nick Castellanos is going to be a very good big leaguer, but after him, there's at least an argument that they don't have a future-average prospect in the system -- a pessimistic argument, to be sure, but not a wildly unreasonable one.
The Tigers have used their system aggressively to bolster the big league club, mostly via trades, and have lost some first-round picks to sign free agents, making it harder for the amateur scouting staff to keep pace. Their first-rounder from 2013, Jonathan Crawford, projects as a top-end reliever if the Tigers choose to put him on that track, although he was a starter in college and I expect Detroit to at least give that a year or so first.
Daniel Fields has had a strange path in pro ball, signing for a higher-than-recommended signing bonus as a sixth-round pick in 2009, then going straight from high school to high Class A Lakeland at age 19, then spending two-and-a-half years there before graduating to Double-A. He's turned into an above-average center fielder and is still improving on both sides of the ball, and gives the Tigers their best shot at another above-average regular from their system.
Endrys Briceno is intriguing, a three-pitch guy who can sink the fastball and needs more than anything to fill out his slender frame. Not listed are a number of relief candidates, including Kevin Ziomek, Drew VerHagen, Casey Crosby (who couldn't stay healthy as a starter) and Jose Valdes, who's up to 100 mph with a hard slider and needs to learn to dial it down for better command.
Castellanos will be their everyday third baseman and a top five rookie in the league, maybe the best rookie under age 25 this year. Corey Knebel was their second pick in the 2013 draft, a pure reliever who might be a quick-to-the-majors-before-he-gets-hurt guy, someone who could bolster their pen in the second half of the season.
No major prospects had off years for Detroit; the biggest disappointment, in relative terms, was probably 2012 third-rounder Austin Schotts, who had to be demoted from low Class A back to short-season ball, but only turned 20 in September and is too young to give up on already.
Fields has the best chance to jump into the top 100 next year of non-100 guys right now. For a deep sleeper, more for 2015, infielder Javier Betancourt won't turn 19 until May, but shows a good hit tool for his age, especially the ability to square up a lot of pitches that other hitters couldn't, and has shown promise at all three infield skill positions.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/kc/kansascity-royals">Kansas City Royals</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 7
Farm system overview
Two years after everyone who covers the minors was heaping praise on the Royals' system, it's still in pretty good shape, despite promotions, injuries and players who just haven't panned out.
Kyle Zimmer would have been my top overall pitching prospect had he not been shut down with shoulder soreness; he was fine in instructional league and should have no lingering effects for 2014, but I admit to being very wary of anything involving that joint. Hunter Dozier and Sean Manaea formed a strong one-two punch for the Royals' 2013 draft class, and a clever manipulation of their allotted draft budget for the year. Manaea had hip surgery right after signing, and if there's still 96 mph in that arm as there was in the summer of 2012, before the injury, he'll be in the overall top 25 next winter.
Jason Adam hasn't lived up to my initial expectations out of the 2010 draft, but had a three-month stretch last summer where he looked like he was turning the corner, and he'll pitch most of this year at 22 years old; I still think there's a 25 percent chance he'll make that leap and become at least a mid-rotation starter.
Beyond their top 10, the fun doesn't stop. Alexis Rivera (No. 11) may end up at first base, and he's a power before hit guy all the way, but it's potential impact power, and the hit tool isn't about his swing (short and consistent) but about timing and pitch recognition. Cody Reed (No. 12) is a big lefty with velocity up to 95, sitting 93, and the Royals have already worked to clean up his delivery. Catcher Zane Evans (No. 13) was a two-way guy at Georgia Tech and has a backup floor and average regular ceiling, with feel to hit but not great bat speed. Cheslor Cuthbert (No. 14) still has a great swing and will play all of 2014 at age 20, but at some point the production has to match the scouting report. Christian Binford (No.15) is a two-seamer/slider guy with good control and very strong ground ball rates, 64 percent as a 20-year-old starter in low Class A last year.
If healthy, Zimmer should be in their rotation this year; he could be their third-best starter by August. Yordano Ventura should also see big league time, but given his fly ball tendency and smaller frame, I'd break him in as a reliever first, with an eye toward having him start in 2015.
Here's where the bad news is. Bubba Starling was miserable before LASIK surgery in late summer, and even after that the reports weren't great on the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 draft; the common criticism is that his swing is too noisy and/or mechanical, but I think the bottom line is that he cuts through too many pitches in or near the zone, regardless of the cause.
John Lamb hasn't bounced back from Tommy John surgery, and he might be done as a serious prospect because of that. I mentioned Cuthbert above; he did hit a little while repeating high Class A, but was awful in Double-A (.215 average in 264 plate appearances), and will probably repeat that level for all of 2014. Injuries limited 2011 second-rounder Cam Gallagher to just 66 games, after injuries limited him to 36 games the year before, and catchers who get hurt this often are not great bets to stay healthy in the future.
Manaea, easily. He would have gone in the top five picks, maybe first overall, if the 2013 draft had been held on Labor Day of 2012, but the hip injury led to a poor spring, with reduced velocity and command. It's not an ideal delivery, but before the injury he was up to 96 mph consistently with a wipeout breaking ball, and even when I saw him in March of last year, it was clear that hitters didn't see the ball out of his hand at all. I'd also point to Adam and Rivera as players who could make big jumps this year, but their probabilities are lower than Manaea's.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/min/minnesota-twins">Minnesota Twins</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 2
Farm system overview
Yes indeed, it's a fun time for Minnesota's system. Lord Byron is going to be a superstar, an elite defender, an 80-grade runner, a hitter for average and good OBPs, and I'd bet a fan favorite, as well, given his energy and his humble personality, too.
Miguel Sano is the best power-hitting prospect in the minors, due in no small part to his ability to hit. And the Twins have pitching -- all you Twins fans who like to complain that the team never has any power arms in its system can shut your traps, because Alex Meyer is sinking it at 96-100 mph, Kohl Stewart hits 97 even with a thrower's delivery, Jose Berrios can sit in the mid-90s, and there's more beyond their top 10, like lefty Mason Melotakis (No. 12 in the system) and right-hander Fernando Romero (No. 14). This ain't a bunch of Kevin Sloweys finessing their way to the big leagues.
Other names in the next tier include shortstop Engelb Vielma (No. 11), shortstop/utilityman Danny Santana (No. 13), third baseman Travis Harrison (No. 15), right-hander Madison Boer (No. 16) and lefty Stephen Gonsalves (No. 17), the last two of whom are indeed more in that command/control mold.
Josmil Pinto is an offensive-minded catcher who's ready with the bat but not yet behind the dish, needing more work on smoothing his release and the finer points like game-calling; he can catch and frame the ball pretty well, and I like his swing and overall approach. Sano should be up by the end of the year, although Twins fans will see him in July at the Futures Game, perhaps along with Buxton and the German-born Max Kepler, who's taking a more elliptical path to the majors than expected.
Right-hander Trevor May had a mediocre year, but dropped from the Twins' top 10 more because he was pushed out by better guys. Eddie Rosario's stock hasn't fallen, but it's worth mentioning that the dodo got himself suspended for 50 games after a second violation of the minor league drug prevention program -- stupid because he needs those at-bats and reps in the field. The Twins graduated three of their top five prospects from last year -- Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia -- and still managed to land the No. 2 spot on my rankings. It's a great system.
Australian-born Lewis Thorpe might be the guy to break the underwhelming recent history of arms from Down Under, as he's a "Guy," or whatever the equivalent to that is in Sydney. Thorpe's fastball will touch the mid-90s, with an above-average curveball he needs to command better, an average change trending toward plus and a good delivery that gets him on top of the ball for downhill plane.
He's a mature kid for his age, turning 18 just before last Thanksgiving, and has a thick frame that should be good for mid-rotation workloads. He's someone to root for, as success for him in the majors would help grow the game in Australia in the future.