-- 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/chc/chicago-cubs">Chicago Cubs</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 4
Farm system overview
The Cubs' collection of offensive prospects is extremely impressive, with three high-impact bats at the top of the system, followed by two guys who can contribute on both sides of the ball.
Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all look like stars; Baez has the explosive bat speed to be a guy who hits for average and power, and he can play somewhere in the middle infield, even if the Cubs don't have room for him there. Soler has the biggest risk, although some of that is because he missed so much of 2013 after breaking his leg; I think everyone, the Cubs included, would feel more confident if he had played a full summer and continued to show gradual improvement.
They're still light on arms; C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson are the only pitchers in the system I'd project as more than fifth starters, and neither looks like a potential ace or strong No. 2. That said, they did load up on pitching in the 2013 draft, and lefty Rob Zastryzny (No. 11 in the system) could grow into a third or fourth starter role, while right-handers Scott Frazier (No. 13), Tyler Skulina (No. 14), and Trey Masek are all current starters who could go either way but are now more likely to head for the pen.
Corey Black is an interesting case, built like a reliever, aggressive like one as well, but he'll at least show four pitches, two of them plus, and I would at least let him start a little longer before conceding the point. Eloy Jimenez (No.12), the 17-year-old jewel of the July 2 international signing class from last year, is all fantasy at this point, a kid with a huge, projectable frame as well as the swing to eventually have 30-35 homer power.
Arismendy Alcantara probably starts the year in Triple-A, but I think he's an upgrade over Darwin Barney right now, an above-average defender at second who can actually hit. Baez should make his major league debut this summer, although the position is up in the air and depends on Alcantara's arrival and whether Starlin Castro gets his head on straight.
Mike Olt's vision problems have put his career on hold, in practical terms; if you can't see, you can't hit or field, and until he and his doctors find a solution, he won't be able to produce on the field. Arodyz Vizcaino missed his second straight year due to arm problems, and Juan Carlos Paniagua fell apart once he got past visa problems and managed to take the mound, trying too hard to guide the ball for strikes instead of just airing it out.
Jimenez is more likely to show up on the 2016 top 100 than the 2015 one; for next year's list, we're more likely to see Jaimer Candelario, who has been on the fringes of my top 100 for two years now. He's a mediocre defender at third, but his bat has a chance to be special -- he has a fluid swing, stays inside the ball well, and has shown doubles power to both gaps already at age 19.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/cin/cincinnati-reds">Cincinnati Reds</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 16
Farm system overview
The Reds have drafted well the past few years, buttressing a system depleted by trades, promotions and fewer prospects coming from their international scouting arm. Robert Stephenson and Billy Hamilton both have chances to become impact players, Stephenson the more likely of the two as Hamilton is going to have to show he can hit Triple-A pitching after a rough first year at the level.
Phil Ervin and Jesse Winker look like solid everyday regulars in the outfield, Ervin more if he stays in center field (which I'd bet against right now), while Yorman Rodriguez, signed for $2.5 million way back in 2008, has the highest ceiling of any position player in the system right now, and made big strides in his plate discipline in 2013.
The rest of their top 10 includes starters who have to add or change something significant to remain in that role, led by former college outfielder/closer Michael Lorenzen, who has hit 99 mph in relief but whom the Reds are trying to convert to the rotation. Chad Rogers has the best chance to stay in the rotation, a possible workhorse back-end starter with three pitches, and he also survived a shark bite in 2010, which has nothing to do with baseball, but, whoa, shark attack.
Other players of note in the system include Ben Lively (No.11), a right-hander with a fringe-average fastball but tremendous deception that helps it play up the way Tony Cingrani's fastball has; Jon Moscot (No.12), a potential back-end starter who's 90-95 with a four-pitch mix but has nothing plus; and Amir Garrett (No.13), who really needs to stop wasting his time playing basketball because it's hurting his development as a left-handed reliever.
Hamilton is the Reds' Opening Day center fielder as the roster stands; he's ready defensively, and his legs can make an impact, but I'm not alone in worrying about his ability to fight off hard stuff in on his hands, which is how pitchers are going to attack him at first. I wouldn't be shocked to see Rogers make the Reds' pen early this season, as he finished in Triple-A and he's hit 92-95 mph in short stints.
Daniel Corcino's year was a huge letdown, the latest Reds prospect to struggle in Triple-A, in this case because he was trying to pitch up in the zone at 92-94 mph and getting punished for it. He did throw better in 10 relief innings in winter ball, and it's possible he's better off as a power reliever rather than a starter who's too line-drive and homer-prone. Ismael Guillon shows flashes of mid-rotation potential, but you can't walk 95 in 121 innings (and that's after walking just six in his last four starts) and expect us not to notice it.
Jackson Stephens is a classic find from scouting director Chris Buckley, a high school quarterback from Alabama who's blessed with a great arm, sitting 94-98, but still learning the art of pitching, like changing speeds and working with his secondary stuff.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/mil/milwaukee-brewers">Milwaukee Brewers</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 30
Farm system overview
The majors' weakest farm system didn't place anyone on the global top 100, and didn't have anyone particularly close. Tyrone Taylor, Nick Delmonico, and Michael Reed are solid prospects who project as average regulars if everything clicks, but don't have high ceilings.
Taylor has the broadest base of skills, a former wide receiver whose approach has been much better than expected from a two-sport guy, and he projects to stay in center. Reed can't stay in center, so he'll have to develop more power to play every day. Delmonico also needs to stay healthy for a full season, as he has missed more than 100 games over the past two years.
Devin Williams has the highest upside in the system, with a loose, easy delivery and a fastball up to 95, but he needs work on his command and secondary pitches. John Hellweg and Jimmy Nelson are future relievers. Mitch Haniger looks more like a good fourth outfielder than a regular. Victor Roache had a miserable full-season debut, hitting .248/.322/.440 at age 21 in low-A with a 26 percent strikeout rate. Orlando Arcia did nothing with the bat in 2013, but he was one of the youngest position players in any full-season league, and had missed all of 2012 due to injury. He has good instincts in the field and his ability to square the ball up enough to put it in play is good for his age and lack of experience.
David Denson (No.11) is an all-or-nothing guy, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound first baseman with big raw power, signed for $100,000 in the 15th round, whose value is all in his bat and who'll have to work to maintain his conditioning. Other names of note are hard-throwing reliever David Goforth; righty Ariel Pena, who has starter stuff and reliever command; and righty Jorge Lopez, still projectable with a good curveball, whose 5.23 ERA in 2013 was skewed by an April outing in which he allowed 8 earned runs in 1/3 of an inning.
Hellweg and Nelson could pitch for the major league squad this year, more likely in the bullpen though perhaps as spot starters. Hunter Morris is one of a few internal options at first base but doesn't project to hit or get on base enough to be an average regular there.
Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, the Brewers' two first-round picks in 2011, both had awful seasons and neither is even a potential fifth starter in the majors right now. Bradley hurt his shoulder, ending his season, the second year in a row he has been shut down with arm woes, and his stuff has never been where it was before he was drafted. Jungmann stayed healthy but walked almost as many as he struck out and has been reduced to throwing almost only fastballs.
One of their two first-rounders from 2013, catcher Clint Coulter, had to be demoted to short-season ball. In fact, the last successful first-round pick for Milwaukee was Brett Lawrie in 2008.
Williams has the best chance to make a big leap in 2014. Pre-draft, I compared him to Taijuan Walker at the same age. Walker had a better curveball, but the two otherwise have similarly easy velocity and loose, fluid arms.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/pit/pittsburgh-pirates">Pittsburgh Pirates</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 3
Farm system overview
The system has just started to bear fruit at the major league level, but there's more coming, with a near-future superstar in the outfield in Gregory Polanco and perhaps another further down the line in Austin Meadows, and three pitchers who project as top-three starters in a major league rotation in Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Nick Kingham.
Beyond the guys who made the top 100, Reese McGuire has a very high floor as a premium defender behind the plate, with a tremendous arm and improving receiving skills. Luis Heredia is a tough one to get a feel for because he has pitched so little since signing and hasn't had much success, but he's still just 19 years old. The delivery and body aren't great, while the stuff frequently is. For comparison's sake, if he were just about to graduate from high school in Florida or California, he'd be a late first-rounder this June.
Others of note include Clayton Holmes (No.11 in the system), a big right-hander who has the stuff and the delivery to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but not the results because he doesn't pitch with the confidence or aggressiveness he should have; JaCoby Jones (No.12), a superb athlete who struggled with his swing the last two years at LSU but will play in the middle of the diamond; Jaff Decker (No.13), an on-base machine just acquired in trade from the Padres, whose main problem has been staying healthy; and Wyatt Mathisen (No.14), a catcher who missed much of last season with a partially torn labrum, but who should be back at full strength this March.
The Pirates will need to continue to produce impact players they can control for six years at sub-market prices, because of the major league team's relatively low revenue base, but this system is primed to do exactly that, with bats and pitchers coming, just a little light in the infield but strong everywhere else.
I expect Taillon to come up at some point in the first half of the season, perhaps once the Bucs feel enough time has passed to keep him from reaching super-two status after 2016, and Kingham isn't that far behind -- he might be closer in terms of feel and command. Decker will have a chance to win the right-field job and would be a good platoon right fielder with his OBP skills and moderate power.
The closest you can come to a disappointment among major prospects in this system would be outfielder Barrett Barnes, their supplemental first-round pick in 2012. Ranked seventh in their system last year, Barnes hit just .268/.338/.399 in low-A as a 21-year-old major-college product, in a season limited to 46 games by injuries. He would have been bumped from their top 10 by other prospects even with a full season of better performance, though.
Born in Colombia, Harold Ramirez played the whole summer at age 18, hitting .285/.354/.409 in the New York-Penn League against a lot of older pitchers, showing tremendous feel for the barrel and solid plate discipline for his age and inexperience. He's a slightly above-average runner and there's a good chance he moves out of center, but he looks like a pure hitter who'll at least hit for high averages with a ton of extra-base hits, which would still profile in an outfield corner.
<a href="http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/stl/st-louis-cardinals">St. Louis Cardinals</a> <br> <a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10354393/houston-astros-top-farm-system-rankings-mlb">Org rank:</a> 12
Farm system overview
The Cardinals continue to build while contending at the major league level, with one of the game's best systems even after promoting top prospects such as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez, and even surprising farm system products such as Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter.
Oscar Taveras is the one likely star in the system at this point, held back by an ankle injury that limited him to 46 games in Triple-A last year. Stephen Piscotty and Kolten Wong are solid everyday player prospects, while Carson Kelly tried catching in instructional league and, by all accounts, took to it extremely well, not least because he wanted to do it. James Ramsey may top out as a quality platoon outfielder, but did show more pop in the Arizona Fall League than I'd previously seen from him.
The greatest strength here is the depth of the system -- the Cardinals have continued to restock the major league club with cheap talent that is productive right out of the gate, and I see that continuing both on the pitching side and with their bench, including part-time/platoon candidates. Tim Cooney will pitch in the majors this year, a strike-throwing lefty starter with three average to slightly above-average pitches, including a fastball that will peak at 93-94. Marco Gonzalez isn't far behind, with a fringy fastball but out-pitch changeup and above-average to plus curveball, and no real projection. He's very athletic but isn't going to get much stronger or add velocity.
Arms beyond their top 10 include Sam Tuivailala (No.11 in the system), a converted infielder who is a legit 98-99 in relief and struck out nearly a third of the guys he faced last year; Cory Jones (No.14), a live-armed starter with control over command but a long history of injury; and Seth Blair (No.15), a two-pitch right-hander who lacks the command to start but could move quickly if the Cards put him in the pen.
Other bats of note include center fielder Charlie Tilson (No.12), who missed all of 2012 due to injury but had a solid return year with a good approach but needs to show more pop; left fielder Randal Grichuk (No.13), acquired in the Peter Bourjos/David Freese trade, with plus pull power and a deadly fear of breaking pitches; and outfielder Tommy Pham, a very toolsy, aggressive 25-year-old who has reached Triple-A but can't stay healthy for a full season.
Wong is the everyday second baseman and could be a league-average player this year. Taveras should be up at some point to take over right field, but probably has to show that his ankle is 100 percent and to perform well at Triple-A before that will happen. Cooney and Tyler Lyons are both potential call-ups when the Cards need a spot starter.
Tyrell Jenkins was in their top 10 the past two years but shoulder problems have limited him to 200 pro innings in three-and-a-half seasons since signing, with surgery to repair the latissimus muscle in his right shoulder ending his 2013 season and possibly keeping him out into the start of 2014.
Alex Reyes, 19, was born in New Jersey but signed as an international free agent in the Dominican Republic, avoiding the draft entirely due to his Dominican ancestry. His stuff is electric, in the Trevor Rosenthal/Carlos Martinez mold, with a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and a hammer breaking ball. Like many teenage arms, he needs to develop a changeup and his command is still below-average, so right now it's a reliever profile but with plenty of time for him to make himself a starter if he puts in the work.