-- 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/hou/houston-astros">Houston Astros</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 1
Farm system overview
The best farm system in baseball, just edging out the MinnesotaTwins, has ceiling and depth, with three potential All-Stars up top and a slew of guys who grade out from above-average regulars down to quality role players well into the back of the team's top 20.
Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer are all exceptional talents, with Springer in the top five overall if we're just grading out tools. The Astros had little pitching depth in the system when GM Jeff Luhnow took over, but he has quickly stocked up on arms to supplement Mike Foltynewicz and Vincent Velazquez, the two starter prospects who were already in the cupboard when the new front office started work.
Lance McCullers Jr. is still a prospect on the starter/reliever fence, but that floor, a closer who can hit 100 mph with sink, is fairly high. The Astros tweaked Rio Ruiz's front leg landing midyear, getting him to plant more firmly, and he hit .297/.354/.521 after the Midwest League's All-Star Break with just a 17 percent strikeout rate at age 19. Michael Feliz was originally signed by Oakland, but the deal was voided when he failed a drug test, and the Astros got him for less than half of the original bonus amount. He's a 6-foot-4, 220-pound monster, throwing up to 98 mph, with control over command, more feel for the change than for a breaking ball and has mid-rotation upside down the road.
Beyond their top 10, it's still exciting. Domingo Santana (No.11) would make every other org's top 10 as a huge, physical right fielder with big-time power and a plus arm, though he has a little too much swing and miss in his game. Teoscar Hernandez (No.12) has great bat speed and above-average power and speed potential, possibly moving from center to right field. Andrew Thurman (No.13), their second pick in 2013, has four pitches with command and feel. Asher Wojcieshowski (No.14) has been 91-94 with three average-ish pitches and could be a fourth/fifth starter or solid eighth-inning guy. And Nolan Fontana (No.15) drew 102 walks in hitter-friendly high-A Lancaster while playing average or fringe-average defense at short.
Houston also has a slew of power arms in short-season ball: Jandel Gustave is up to 101 mph but without a decent breaking ball right now. Lefty Reymin Guduan has hit 100 with a plus slider, although his delivery may have too much effort for him to start. Lefty Chris Lee was better, finally, in his third go-round in the rookie-level Appy League, hitting 95 mph and sitting 92 with a slider and curveball, throwing more strikes as the Astros have worked to sync up his delivery. And, because the Astros weren't loaded enough, they took ex-prospect Ravel Santana from the Yankees in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft (meaning they don't have to give him back); Santana has missed a ton of time with ankle and arm injuries, but still has enough tools to end up a big leaguer if he can stay on the field.
Springer and Jonathan Singleton should be up by mid-year at worst, with Springer ahead of Singleton developmentally but with less urgency at the position with Dexter Fowler on board. The Astros need pitching but seem unlikely to rush any elite prospects, so I expect Appel to arrive at his own pace, maybe for September roster expansion, with Wojcieshowski more likely to get the call early in the season if they need someone. Right-hander Nick Tropeano has had success as a starter through Triple-A and could come up in that role, but I think in the long run he's a reliever, as he's mostly fastball-changeup without an average third pitch.
Nobody imploded last year. Singleton had the most disappointing year, missing 50 games after a positive test for marijuana in 2012, then not performing after he returned. Their 2012 third-round pick, Brady Rogers, had a rough first full year for Houston, but he was in Lancaster the whole time, and that's a brutal environment for a pitcher who's more about command than stuff.
Of all their non-top 100 guys, Feliz is the most likely to jump up into next year's top 50, but it would take a big advance in at least one of his off-speed pitches. The next most likely is Domingo Santana, as Oklahoma City will give us a better read on where his plate discipline lies than Corpus Christi did.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/laa/los-angeles-angels">Los Angeles Angels</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 29
Farm system overview
It's a bad system, one of only two that didn't place a single player on the top 100, although there are a few glimmers of hope in some of the big three teenage prospects: Ricardo Sanchez, Jose Rondon, and Hunter Green.
Kaleb Cowart was on the top 100 last year, but he had a miserable 2013 at the plate, working through mechanical problems with his left-handed swing that he never got through. On the bright side, he still plays plus-plus defense at third with great arm strength. Taylor Lindsey is a natural hitter with a good swing, but he's a fringy defender at second, and he's barely using his lower half right now at the plate. C.J. Cron has now drawn 43 unintentional walks in 1,274 pro plate appearances and while he has 30-homer power, he's not going to get to it with his lack of plate discipline.
On the positive side, Rondon looks like he'll stay at shortstop, and has great hand-eye coordination at the plate, posting great numbers in rookie-level Orem last summer after breaking his hamate bone in spring training. Mark Sappington is probably a reliever, as his delivery isn't ideal for starting (wraps in back, upright at release), but he does have the size and stamina to do so if he can loosen up his delivery and throw more strikes. Mike Morin is a fastball/changeup guy with command, and the changeup, which he can cut to make it tail in either direction, is a swing-and-miss pitch for him. There's a slight upward trend here now that they've bottomed out.
Alvarez and Morin both should see major league time in the Angels' pen this year. Nick Maronde is still a rookie and may join them, but he has to throw more strikes, which he didn't do in the majors or in Double-A last year. Cam Bedrosian is a reliever now and should start in high-A or Double-A, which would give him an outside chance to see the majors later this summer.
Cowart's 2013 was a huge disappointment, even considering his age and experience level. He, Cron and Maronde all took big hits to their status last year.
Sanchez was only in the upper 80s last spring as an amateur, but the Angels may have found a bargain with the Venezuelan left-hander, who's now 87-92 with feel for a curveball and changeup, as well as good aptitude on the mound. Both he and Green, the team's first overall pick (second round) in 2012, are high-upside teenage arms who have years of development ahead of them and have to stay healthy, but could be the first major starters the Angels have developed since Jered Weaver.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/oak/oakland-athletics">Oakland Athletics</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 26
Farm system overview
The A's promoted or traded away a ton of talent over the past two years, with nine of their top 10 from 2012 either on the current A's big league roster or in another organization. That leaves just one top-100 prospect in the system, but if you're going to have just one, Russell is a good choice, a budding superstar who'll provide good defense at short, hit for average and get on base, with at least average power.
Billy McKinney, their first-rounder from 2013, has a great left-handed swing and good feel to hit, showing surprising instincts in center after signing. Before the draft, everyone conceded he'd end up in left field, but now that's at least in doubt. Raul Alcantara returns to the A's top 10 -- he was No. 8 on that 2012 list -- touching 95 last year with an above-average changeup and slurvy slider. But, most importantly, he throws strikes and misses far more bats. He'll reach Double-A this year at age 21.
Billy Burns came over from Washington in exchange for Jerry Blevins in December. He's an 80-grade runner, an above-average defender in center, and controls the zone well, but has no power and has to prove hard throwers won't just light him up and blow him out like a candle. Michael Ynoa is No.11, still showing the pretty delivery that earned him a record bonus many years ago, with good frame (6-foot-7), and a fastball up to 95 mph. But he's barely beginning to learn how to pitch, and since he's already on the 40-man roster the clock has started to tick.
Miles Head hurt a wrist after one swing in the 2012 Arizona Fall League, showed up out of shape to camp in 2013, then had a sore shoulder and had to be shut down, hitting just .196/.264/.264 in 40 games in Double-A.
Bobby Wahl has had a history of minor injuries that pushed him out of the first round this past spring coming out of Ole Miss, with a broad consensus he'd end up in a relief role. The A's took him in the fifth round and will try him as a starter. He showed three above-average pitches in instructional league, and his command and control were much better there and in brief outings over the summer.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/sea/seattle-mariners">Seattle Mariners</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 21
Farm system overview
The Mariners graduated three big league regulars to the majors last year -- Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, and Nick Franklin -- plus Brandon Maurer and Carter Capps, all of whom will put a dent in any farm system's ranking.
They do still have two potential starters in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, although the latter's command still comes and goes too often for me to consider him a top-100 prospect or more than a likely fourth starter. I liked their two picks on day one of the 2013 draft, with D.J. Peterson more of a performance guy and Austin Wilson the athlete you dream on but who hasn't posted the right kind of results yet; both also look like everyday guys down the road.
The four young arms I have next in their system are all candidates to make moves forward in 2014, assuming the hitter-friendly Cal League doesn't swallow Tyler Pike or Victor Sanchez alive. Luiz Gohara has the biggest upside but won't turn 18 until the end of July and probably spends the summer in short-season ball building up arm strength.
Gabriel Guerrero is Vlad's nephew, a long-levered guy who can run and throw, showing raw power in BP but not yet in games. He has a strong work ethic, but is probably two years away from entering discussions for the top 100. Tyler Marlette has an everyday upside, but is probably a quality backup, which is still a valuable asset as so many major league teams scramble to find two guys to split the 162 starts behind the plate each year. Not on the list: Chris Taylor (No.11), a workmanlike shortstop who will play in the big leagues as at least a good utility infielder; and right-hander Dominic Leone (No.12), their 16th-round pick in 2012, whose fastball command came on in 2013 and could propel him to the majors now that Capps has been traded.
Walker and Paxton probably make 50-odd starts between them this year, with Walker offering more chance of above-average performance if he can loosen up his delivery the way it used to be. Leone and Carson Smith, the latter a right-handed specialist due to a very low arm slot, should surface in the Mariners' pen this year.
Danny Hultzen, third in the system and No. 66 overall going into 2013, suffered a major shoulder injury and probably won't pitch again until 2015. His future is very much in doubt until we see what's left of his stuff.
I rated Wilson as a first-round talent out of high school in 2010 and again out of Stanford in 2013. He's a superb athlete with a big frame, a right fielder in pro ball who can throw and run a little. He has excellent makeup that will serve him well as the Mariners try to get him away from the "Stanford swing."
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/tex/texas-rangers">Texas Rangers</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 13
Farm system overview
The Rangers' system is good despite having onlytwo prospects who earned serious top-100 consideration. It's full of potential ceiling, with a lot of guys who could be All-Stars but who also have substantial chances to flame out in Double-A.
Jorge Alfaro needs to tighten up his plate discipline (that's fancy talk for "mix in a walk every now and then, big guy") and increase his focus on defense, but could be among the best catchers in the game with his 80 arm/80 power potential. Rougned Odor is at the opposite end of the spectrum, a tireless worker and competitor with a great feel to hit already at age 19. Alex "Chi-Chi" Gonzalez is a safe bet to be in the back of the rotation in a year or so, but the cutter is a possible out-pitch for him and he has a shot to be more of a solid No. 3.
Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, Nomar Mazara, Luis Sardinas, Travis Demeritte (No.11 in the system), Jairo Beras (No.14) and Ronald Guzman (No.15) are all high-ceiling guys who still have a ways to go with at least one major aspect of their games. Gallo and Brinson struck out at unfathomable rates in low-A, but they also both have plus-plus raw power, Gallo from strength and Brinson from quick wrists and bat speed. Gallo is more polished at the plate, but Brinson has the added value of his defense in center. Nick Williams made big strides last year, calming down at the plate, taking better at-bats, using the whole field instead of trying to jerk everything down the right field line, and it emerged that he's got pretty good bat-to-ball ability underneath all the showcase showmanship.
Others of note in the system include right-hander Luke Jackson (No.12), who has a big arm and shows three pitches but has a reliever's delivery and command; right-hander David Ledbetter (No.13), their third-rounder from 2013, 89-93 with a plus curveball but in need of a third pitch; Victor Payano (No.16), a 6-foot-6 lefty whose fastball is 90-94 mph with a good change and decent spin on the curveball, but who has to stay healthy; and right-hander Alec Asher, a junior college product who cleaned up his body and found some more fastball there, now 90-95 mph with a good 200-inning frame.
Michael Choice has the same issue as Gallo, swinging and missing at a lot of stuff in the zone that he should square up, which means he doesn't always get to his plus raw power. I doubt the Rangers want to platoon their big splashy free-agent signing, Shin-Soo Choo, but Choice would be a good caddy and can back up the other two spots as well.
Cody Buckel was on the top 100 last year, No. 90 overall, and third in the Rangers' system. But he developed "the yips," also known as "the Thing" or "Steve Blass disease," the same ailment that ended Rick Ankiel's career as a pitcher, and at this point I wouldn't rank Buckel anywhere.
Guzman's bat speed has never measured up well for me, at least not compared to the other top bats in the system. But his situation was made worse by a broken hand he suffered when hit by a pitch in late July that cost him the last 30 or so games of the season. He's only 19, but as a first base-only prospect he has to hit and hit for power, and to get there, he has to play.
Payano is the non-top-10 guy with the best chance to jump into the global top 100 next year. Looking another year down the line, the Rangers, always active in the July 2 market for international free agents, signed shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri for $1.35 million last summer, and he impressed the club in instructional league with his speed, arm, and overall feel for the game at age 16.