Every team takes pride in its ability to build a strong farm system and develop homegrown talent. Some are better than others at it, of course, and back in August, in the wake of the Trade Deadline, MLB Pipeline ranked baseball’s Top 15 farm systems.
That list doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as there were many clubs that made significant gains on the farm in 2019 by adding talent via the Draft, international market and/or trades.
So as we prepare to ring in the New Year, here’s a look back at the five teams whose farm systems improved the most in 2019.
1. Miami Marlins
The Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto trades in back-to-back offseasons helped infuse some fresh high-ceiling talent into Miami’s system -- including top prospect Sixto Sanchez, acquired in the Realmuto deal -- and the club continued to add impact prospects over the course of the season via trades and the Draft. The Marlins’ sneaky-good Deadline deals to get Lewin Diaz (Twins), Jazz Chisholm (D-backs) and Jesus Sanchez (Rays) netted the organization three young left-handed hitters with upper-level experience, and they also drafted an impressive crop of college hitters including JJ Bleday and Kam Misner, the Nos. 4 and 35 overall picks. Meanwhile, many players already in the system took positive steps forward in their development, including Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison, right-hander Edward Cabrera and left-handers (and former first-rounders) Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona checks in right behind Miami in terms of the most-improved farm systems of 2019, and although the D-backs' depth stands out more than their Top 100 Prospects at this point, it should get more balanced as young outfielders Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson, Corbin Carroll and others continue to develop. Arizona's farm resurgence began with a strong 2018 Draft and continued last offseason when it dealt Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis for Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver and prospect Andy Young. Selecting seven times within the first 75 slots in the 2019 Draft enabled the club to land Carroll as well as some of the best pitchers in the class (left-hander Blake Walston, right-handers Brennan Malone and Drey Jameson). The D-backs' decision to trade shortstop Jazz Chisholm to the Marlins was surprising, though it did get them Zac Gallen back in return, and they obviously added a lot of talent in the Zack Greinke deal at the Trade Deadline, bringing in three current or former Top 100 guys (Seth Beer, righties J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin). Meanwhile, after a winning 2019 season, Arizona is seemingly positioned to trade from its prospect depth to improve its big league roster.
3. Seattle Mariners
The blockbuster deal that sent Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to New York for former Mets first-rounders Jarred Kelenic (2018) and Justin Dunn ('16) last offseason laid the groundwork for what would be an all-around breakout year for Seattle’s farm system, which went from having zero Top 100 prospects at the outset of the season to five at season’s end. Kelenic and teen phenom Julio Rodriguez give the Mariners a pair of potential star-caliber outfielders to build around in future years, while the past two Drafts have provided the system with a pair of excellent college pitchers in Logan Gilbert (2018) and George Kirby (’19). Much of this talent has already reached the upper levels, as both 2018 draftee Cal Raleigh and trade acquisition Jake Fraley turned in very solid '19 seasons, while '16 first-rounder Evan White appears ticketed for the big leagues in early ’20 after signing an offseason extension. Lefty Justus Sheffield and outfielder Kyle Lewis (two more former first-round picks) seem poised for larger roles next season, underscoring the quality of Seattle’s prospect depth, and relievers Taylor Guilbeau and Aaron Fletcher should carve out bullpen roles after joining the organization via Deadline deals.
4. Baltimore Orioles
The system has already come a long way since Mike Elias took over as Orioles general manager after the 2018 season. In that short span, the O's have gone from having a bottom-third system to one of the 15 best in baseball. Any time a team can add a generational-type talent like 2019 No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman, it’s going to accelerate the rebuilding process. The 2019 Draft also netted Top 15 prospects Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers. All of their Top 100 guys (Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Ryan Mountcastle) are former first-round picks, and they all made respective developmental strides last season. The club already acquired four pitching prospects, including a trio of Top 10-round 2019 picks, this offseason from the Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade, while the organization’s commitment to the international market, should yield dividends in the future.
5. San Francisco Giants
While the Giants didn’t crack MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 15 farm systems in August, they still had one of the most improved systems in 2019 and finished the year with four Top 100 prospects, more than they’ve had since MLB.com started ranking prospects. Much of that success is tied to San Francisco’s recent international efforts, which have netted the organization Marco Luciano and Alexander Canario, as well as a host of other young hitters. Former first-round picks Joey Bart (2018) and Heliot Ramos (’17) both advanced to Double-A together, and it might not be long until they’re joined by '19 first-rounder Hunter Bishop. And with an impressive crop of rising hitters in place, it will now be up to the Giants to develop pitchers capable of furthering the team’s resurgence in '20 and beyond.