Hindsight is 20/20: Prospect Lists
Every off season, leading up to Opening Day, the talk amongst fans, blogs, and scouting services is Prospect Lists. It’s a passion for many because they want to know who will be the stars of the future, or they want to know if there is any reason to get excited about their favorite team’s future. There are a lot of great sites available which specialize in prospects (John Sickels / Baseball America / Baseball Prospects), but even the best aren’t perfect.
What I wanted to do is find a way to take a look back and see which players were actually the best prospects and which teams had the best farm systems. The goal isn’t to prove any of the scouting services wrong, because they do the best job they can with the data which is available at that time. I’m using the same Metrics as usual from my site (WAR, WS, WSAB) in addition to retrosheet’s amazing transactions database (headed by Tom Ruane). Without their database, this project would not be possible.
Just a quick note about the criteria for “prospect status”. Players are considered prospects from the ages of 16 until 25 or until they lose their rookie status. Players are considered “amateur” until they join a major league team or (if that info isn’t available) until their first major league season. Also, all prospect lists are as of March 1st of each season to coincide with the release dates of most of the popular prospect lists.
The different ways to view the data include:
Yearly Team Prospect Lists: 1994 Atlanta Braves
Yearly Top Prospects in Baseball: 1985 Top MLB Prospects
Yearly Top Amateur Prospects: 1985 Top Amateur Prospects
Baseball America’s Top 100 Prosepcts: 1992 Top 100 Prospects
Yearly Top Farm Systems: 1967 Top MLB Farm Systems
Farm Systems by Franchise: Twins/Senators Farm Systems
Next, let’s take a look at the Best Farm Systems of All-Time:
1951 New York Yankees
The Yankees Farm Systems were near the top of the league through the entire 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. No other franchise can claim that kind of dominance. Simply put, they had great young players coming through their system every single season, but I don’t think that surprises anyone. Their Farm System in 1951 is the best ever, and it’s really not that close. The system included 58 players who would eventually play in the big leagues. They would amass 3,856 Win Shares and 577 Wins Above Replacement.
Key Players: Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Gil McDougald, Lew Burdette, Elston Howard, Jackie Jensen, Woodie Held, Norm Siebern, Moose Skowron, Vic Power, and Jerry Lumpe. I could go on, but you get the point.
1938 St. Louis Cardinals
Branch Rickey, the man who created the “farm system”, put together this group of prospects that would go on to win 4 Pennants from 1942-46. It consisted of 29 players who would total 3,195 Win Shares and 548 Wins Above Replacement.
Key Players: Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Harry Brecheen, Murry Dickson, Walker Cooper, Marty Marion, Ken Raffensberger, Preacher Roe, Johnny Hopp, and Pete Reiser.
1957 New York Giants
The top 2 teams on the least each included 2 Hall of Famers, this one had 3. The Giants would be in their final year in New York, so only the fans in San Francisco would benefit from the prospects. Many of the players would go on to be vital to their 1962 Pennant. They would rack up 441 WAR and 3,087 Win Shares.
Key Players: Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe and Matty Alou, Bill White, Leon Wagner, Tony Taylor, Manny Mota, Mike McCormick, and Bobby Bolin.
1969 Los Angeles Dodgers
Unlike the previous 3 on the list, this system did not include any Hall of Famers. What it did include was 4 members of an infield that would play together for more than 8 years and win 4 pennants. The farm system was crafted by Buzzie Bavasi and Al Campanis and it would ensure yet another decade of success for the Dodgers. They would amass 383 WAR and 2,791 Win Shares.
Key Players: Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Charlie Hough, Davey Lopes, Doyle Alexander, Bill Buckner, Bill Russell, Joe Ferguson, Lee Lacy, Ted Sizemore, Geoff Zahn, and Steve Yeager.
1962 Cincinnati Reds
This system included parts of what would become to be the Big Red Machine. In the short term, a few of the prospects would help out Fred Hutchinson’s club finish 1 game behind in the famous 1964 NL pennant race. These players would total 346 WAR and 2,567 Win Shares.
Key Players: Pete Rose, Jimmy Wynn, Tony Perez, Mike Cuellar, Lee May, Tommy Harper, Tommy Helms, Cesar Tovar, and Cookie Rojas.
1989 Texas Rangers
The big difference between this system and the rest on the list is that this one never reached the World Series, or even the LCS. The Rangers of the 90’s would hover around .500 for much of the decade and then win 3 division championships in the late 90’s. Things may be different if they had never made this trade, which was their worst in franchise history. This system would go on to produce 413 WAR and 2,432 Win Shares.
Key Players: Ivan Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Kevin Brown, Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Rogers, Robb Nen, Dean Palmer, Wilson Alvarez, Darren Oliver, Jose Hernandez, Chad Kreuter, and Rey Sanchez.
It’s still too early to tell, but some of the more recent systems that could eventually become all-time greats are:
2001-2002 Phillies (Utley, Howard, Rollins, Byrd, Myers, Floyd)
2003 Indians (Lee, Martinez, Sizemore, Phillips, Hafner, Crisp, Scott)
2004 Twins (Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, Bartlett, Kubel, Span, Baker, Guerrier)
2008 Rays (Longoria, Price, Brignac, Davis, Hellickson, McGee, Jennings)
2011 Royals (Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers, Duffy, Montgomery, Lamb, Odirizzi, Jeffress)
Finally, I wanted to point out something from 1952. The Yankees and Dodgers had farm systems that would produce 2,685 and 2,646 Win Shares repsectively and are both in the top 10 of the All-Time farm systems. It is so ridiculous that although they only make up 12.5% (2/16) of the league, their systems would have just under 1/3 (29%) of the entire league’s future Win Shares. It’s no wonder that these teams would dominate the next 15 years.