These farm systems are on the rise

December 18th, 2019

Welcome to the penultimate Pipeline Inbox for 2019 (And yes, I did that just so I could use the word "penultimate." The alliteration is just a bonus.).

We’ll get a bit more retrospective-y a week from now, but judging from the fine array of questions I received, this is a great time of year for thinking about 2020 and beyond. Nothing says “joy for the future” more than holiday season, right?

This week’s Inbox takes a look at a bright future for farm systems, for former and potential No. 1 picks and for some young arms hoping to turn a corner in 2020.

For the first time, MLB Pipeline extended its farm system rankings from 10 to 15 after our last re-rank of all of our lists last summer. The Padres, Rays and Dodgers were the top three then and it’s safe to assume they’ll be at, or near, the top in some order when we stack them up again in 2020.

In the interest of being positive during this holiday season, I’m only going to look at the organizations that seem poised to make a jump up into that top 15 in the near future. Here are three options, somewhat based on probability:

Most likely: Giants

The top four in this system -- Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, Marco Luciano and Hunter Bishop -- already form an impressive quartet in the Top 100. Bart’s one of the best catching prospects in the game, Ramos could be knocking on the door soon and Luciano is the kind of dynamic shortstop prospect who could make a huge leap up rankings in 2020. There’s a slew of really young talent that was with Luciano in the Northwest League that could help this system move up in a hurry.

Somewhat likely: Royals

The Royals took a nice step simply by drafting Bobby Witt Jr. No. 2 overall in last June’s Draft. He’s No. 8 overall on the Top 100 and a strong first full season could give Kansas City the kind of elite-level talent at the top of the list that good farm systems need. The 2018 Draft class is already moving the system up the ranks after a strong first full season on the mound, with Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch leading the way. Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic could join them in the Top 100. If some of the struggling bats, Nick Pratto or MJ Melendez for instance, right themselves, then they’ve got something cooking in KC.

Less likely: Angels

We all know Jo Adell, the organization’s only Top 100 prospect currently, is legit. Anyone who watched the Arizona Fall League probably knows Brandon Marsh belongs on the list now as well. And while Los Angeles isn’t as deep as the Giants and Royals, there’s a ton of high upside talent in this system. With a crop of toolsy hitters in Jordyn Adams, Jeremiah Jackson, Kyren Paris, D’Shawn Knowles and Trent Deveaux, things could go in either direction. If some of them have strong 2020 seasons, we’ll be talking about this system a lot more.

My colleague answered a Mize vs. Hancock question back in March, but I want to play the game, too.

As Jim Callis pointed out, there are a ton of similarities between the two, both being from SEC schools with similar combinations of plus stuff and outstanding command. Hancock is where Mize was prior to the 2018 season, as the favorite to go No. 1 overall. That’s exactly what he did and then he pitched his way to Double-A in his first full season. So we have a bit more history to go with, both positively and with the negative of fatigue that impacted him down the stretch. I think I’ll lean Mize a bit for now, but this will be a fun one to consider a few years down the road when both are in the big leagues.

The Torkelson-Vaughn comps also abound. Both are right-handed first basemen who can really hit, and with power. Their tool grades on their Draft reports line up almost identically, with Torkelson getting the edge on speed, though that’s not a part of his game. Could that enable him to play more than first? Maybe, but both guys are so highly regarded because of what they can do with the bat. I think both will be outstanding middle-of-the-order hitters in the big leagues, but I’ll give Torkelson the slight edge because the power showed up sooner and his Cape Cod League resume is a touch better. But I’d be happy to pick second in a draft of these two.

I’m glad you said “albeit one more than the other” in your tweet. Allard, at his height, was No. 53 on the Top 100. Keller topped out at No. 18. We’re dealing with slightly different entities here.

Allard, who came up with the Braves and is now with the Rangers, is technically no longer a prospect. But even when he was making his way up the ladder in the Minors, it was always about his command and ability to set up hitters, not his pure stuff. There was always concern about his inability to miss bats, which came and went. So did his command. And with a fringy fastball, he has to have plus control to have success. We haven’t seen that yet from him. Could he get there? Sure, he’s still only 22, believe it or not. But his ceiling is as a back-end starter or swing man at this point, I think.

Keller certainly has had his ups and downs and took his lumps during his first time in the big leagues in 2019. He’s still a prospect (No. 26 on the Top 100) and I’m still a big believer in his stuff, which has always been much better than Allard’s ever was. He had a dip in velocity in 2018, but regained his footing, and overall pitched well in Triple-A last year at age 23. And I think how he pitched at the end of the year is more what he’s going to be in the future. He’s not the first young pitcher to struggle at first. If he can trust his stuff, he’s going to be just fine and is the one of this duo I think is more likely to “regain the luster.”