One of my favorite sportswriters anywhere is Bob McGinn (aka "McGenius"), one of the columnists at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who covers the Green Bay Packers. One of the observations McGinn makes nearly every year around draft time is that the morning-after evaluations of the NFL draft are often extremely speculative, and many are just plain uninformed. McGinn insists, and I agree, that you don't really know who did well and who didn't until at least 3-4 years down the road.
I think the same point applies to the baseball draft, except that you have to wait even longer to find out who did well, since there are so many high school players in the baseball draft. Likewise, although the prospect rankings coming out these days are fun to parse and definitely are informative, to really know for sure who has the most talent you have to just wait and see how it all pans out.
With that in mind, I thought that now was a good time to re-visit the prospect rankings from the 2004-2005 off-season to see, based on what we know now, who really did have the best up-and-coming talent? We'll go in the order that they were ranked by Baseball America at the time. I'm going to count up roughly the number of all-stars, starters (pitchers or position players), valuable relievers, and bench position players each team's system has yielded them since. I'll also take note of these players' future projections and any remaining prospects in the system who may yet pan out. Then as I work through the list I'll note where I believe each team out to have been ranked in retrospect, knowing what we know now.
Keep in mind, I'm less interested in the overall depth and quality of the system (which BA certainly factors in), and really only concerned about what results the system produces for the major-league squad. Whether this is the "right" way to evaluate organizational strength or not is a separate debate, but just to be clear, that's what I'm thinking about.
And then I'm sure with more time to noodle over rosters I would change some of this around, so feel free to use this to spark debate and tell me where I'm missing the boat. So with that, here goes:
1. Angels: BA's top-ranked system has produced three all-star-caliber pitchers (Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Bobby Jenks), at least three solid position players (Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar), plus four others who have become at least four good bench players or relievers (Kendry Morales, Jeff Mathis, Reggie Willits, and a guy named Steve Shell). Then there's Dallas McPherson, Brandon Wood, Nick Adenhart, and Alberto Callaspo, three guys who still might have productive major league careers, as bench guys at least. Jered Weaver didn't count yet because he hadn't signed, but he had been drafted the previous June. This was one stacked system, and they got some real gems from guys who weren't that highly rated, but too many of these guys have become merely good, not great, players. Had Bill Stoneman traded some of this group at their peak value, he could have had a dynasty. FJB revised retro-ranking: #7.
2. Dodgers: This system yielded at least two all-star-caliber players (Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley) with four solid starters (James Loney, Edwin Jackson, Blake DeWitt, Matt Kemp), a closer (Jonathan Broxton), and at least two more guys who are still top prospects (Andy LaRoche, Ching-Lung Hu). LaRoche was one of the key pieces that the Dodgers turned into Manny Ramirez. Ned Colletti inherited quite a windfall when he was hired in 2006. And just think, Joel Guzman, their top prospect and BA's #5 prospect overall that year, was a total bust. FJB revised retro-ranking: #2.
3. Brewers: Two all-stars so far (J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder), five more starters (Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, Dana Eveland, and Manny Parra), and at least two more guys who are still have a shot (Hernan Iribarren, Angel Salome). Weeks may never pan out, but Gallardo has emerged as a potential ace in the making since then. FJB revised retro-ranking: #5.
4. Twins: Two all-stars (Joe Mauer and Franciso Liriano), five starters (Jason Kubel, Scott Baker, Denard Span, Jason Bartlett, Glen Perkins), and a good bullpen arm (Jesse Crain). J.D. Durbin is another guy who still has a chance. FJB revised retro-ranking: #4.
5. Braves: One all-star (Brian McCann), four starters (Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, Kyle Davies, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia), and three useful bench guys (Wilson Betemit, Gregor Blanco, Ryan Langerhans). Blaine Boyer could still be useful, as could Jo-Jo Reyes. Andy Marte looks like a bust, but give the Braves credit that they turned him into Edgar Renteria. If Francoeur could get himself together that would help, but still this group has underperformed. FJB revised retro-ranking: #11.
6. Rockies: No real all-stars, but a whole slew of solid starters (Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Francis, Ian Stewart) and guys who are at least useful bench guys (Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith, Jeff Baker, Clint Barmes, Jeff Salazar). Chris Nelson and Juan Morillo are still prospects. FJB revised retro-ranking: #10.
7. Indians: Fausto Carmona was an all-star, but who knows what to expect from him going forward. Ryan Garko is the only real legit starting position player in this group. Franklin Gutierrez and Jeremy Sowers still haven't shown they can be adequate starters. Well-traveled Andrew Brown is finally looking like a contributor, but in Oakland. He and Kevin Kouzmanoff were exchanged for washout Josh Barfield. Adam Miller is still a prospect but no longer an elite guy because can't stay healthy. Brad Snyder also still has a chance. Still, this is not panning out as a good group at all. FJB revised retro-ranking: #20.
8. Athletics: No all-stars, but four starters (Nick Swisher, Kurt Suzuki, Andre Ethier, and Joe Blanton) and a closer (Huston Street). Nelson Cruz looked like he finally put it together in Texas this year. Daric Barton may still emerge. Santiago Casilla emerged as a decent bullpen arm in 2008. Omar Quintanilla, Freddie Bynum, and Dan Johnson are bench guys. FJB revised retro-ranking: #8.
9. Rays: Two all-stars so far (Scott Kazmir and James Shields) and four starters (Andy Sonnanstine, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, Seth McClung). Joey Gathright and Shawn Riggans are bench guys, and Jason Hammel is a decent reliever. Jeff Niemann, Jason Pridie, Wes Bankston, and Reid Brignac all still have a shot, though not all in Tampa. This is a very good group that good trades (Young, Pridie and McClung brought back Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and J.P. Howell) made even better. Shields and Sonnanstine weren't even on the radar in 2005. FJB revised retro-ranking: #3.
10. Cubs: One all-star (Geovany Soto), but he wasn't even a top ten prospect back in 2005. There's a lot disappointment otherwise. Will Ohman is a good bullpen arm, and Sean Marshall has shown he can be an effective starter. Matt Murton, Felix Pie, and Ronny Cedeno are bench guys. Top prospect Brian Dopirak is a total wash-out. Rich Hill had a year, but now looks lost. If Soto hadn't emerged, this would have been a bottom-tier group. FJB revised retro-ranking: #16.
11. Mariners: One all-star (Felix Hernandez) and two starters (Asdrubal Cabrera and Adam Jones). Shin-Soo Choo and Jeremy Reed are bench guys. Wladimir Balentien is still a prospect. If Jones and Balentien fulfill their potential as very good starters, then this could still be an ok group. But as of now it's awful thin after Felix. FJB revised retro-ranking: #14.
12. White Sox: Zero all-stars and two starters (Chris B. Young and Brandon McCarthy). Josh Fields had a year and then slipped. Brian Anderson is a bench guy. Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney are still prospects. FJB revised retro-ranking: #26.
13. Diamondbacks: One all-star (Carlos Quentin) and two starters (Chris Snyder, Conor Jackson). Carlos Gonzalez is on the cusp of seizing a starting job in Oakland, and has star potential. Stephen Drew is like Jered Weaver--he doesn't cout for this ranking because he hadn't signed at the time, but he did sign later and had been drafted at this point. Matt Chico led the Nationals is starts and IP in 2007, but he's been hurt and will probably never start again. Reggie Abercrombie, Dustin Nippert, Greg Aquino, and Mike Gosling have all been up and down to the minors and may yet stick as bench guys or relievers. FJB revised retro-ranking: #12.
14. Marlins: No all-stars, but four starters (Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, and Jeremy Hermida). If Hermida had panned out like he was supposed to, this would be a top 10 group, easily. Johnson has emerged from nowhere to be a solid #2 starter. Taylor Tankersley and Yorman Bazardo are relievers who have been up and down. FJB revised retro-ranking: #18.
15. Blue Jays: No all-stars but four starters (Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Adam Lind and Shawn Marcum) and one very good reliever (Casey Janssen) who's now coming off an injury. Top-ranked Brandon League has been hurt a bunch but could still contribute. Josh Banks and David Purcey both cracked into major league rotations this year after injuries, but neither is established. Likewise, Gustavo Chacin and Aaron Hill have all had their moments but are really not starting-caliber players. Humberto Quiroz is a back-up catcher. FJB revised retro-ranking: #15.
16. Rangers: Talk about an underrated group. Too bad most of these guys are playing elsewhere now. Four all-stars (Ian Kinsler, Edinson Volquez, John Danks and Adrian Gonzalez) and another starter (I won't call Chris Young all-star-caliber because of Petco, but one could argue it). Joaquin Arias is a bench guy. Josh Rupe will be a useful arm if he stays healthy. Eric Hurley is still a highly ranked prospect. FJB revised retro-ranking: #6.
17. Giants: One all-star (Matt Cain) and two starters (Jonathan Sanchez and Fred Lewis). Nate Schierholtz, John Bowker, Kevin Frandsen and Travis Ishikawa are all no better than bench guys at this point. Brian Wilson, David Aardsma, Brad Hennessey, Merkin Valdez and Pat Misch are all middling (or worse) bullpen arms. FJB revised retro-ranking: #19.
18. Pirates: One all-star (Nate McLouth), a good reliever (Matt Capps), and four starting pitchers, really none of whom have consistenly shown they deserve to start (Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, Zack Duke, and Paul Maholm). If a couple of those four can put it together, this group could still jump into the top half. Bench guys include Ronny Paulino, Jose Bautista, and Rajai Davis. FJB revised retro-ranking: #21.
19. Mets: No all-stars, but five starters (Mike Jacobs, Carlos Gomez, Lastings Milledge, Jesus Flores, Brian Bannister) and a good reliever (Matt Lindstrom). Jeff Keppinger is a bench guy. Yusmiero Petit is an ok reliever. Phillip Humber is still a prospect. Literally not one of these guys is still with the Mets. Amazin'. FJB revised retro-ranking: #16.
20. Phillies: Three all-stars (Ryan Howard, Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels) and another starting pitcher (Kyle Kendrick), and a bench outfielder (Micheal Bourn). J.A. Happ is a fringe starter or bullpen arm. Greg Golson, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Jaramillo are still prospects. Not much behind that, but who cares? When your blue-chippers pan out this well, your system is good. Period. FJB revised retro-ranking: #9.
21. Red Sox: Another hugely underrated group. In fact, this system, way down at #21, has be be regarded as the best in baseball on the strength of its stars. Four (!) all-stars (Hanley Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester), two other starters (Anibal Sanchez and David Murphy) and two other good relievers (Cla Meredith and Manny Delcarmen). Brandon Moss and Kelly Shoppach are bench guys, and Steve Pearce is still a prospect. FJB revised retro-ranking: #1.
22. Astros: No all-stars, and just two starters (Willy Taveras and Hunter Pence). Top prospect Chris Burke is just a bench guy, as are Josh Anderson, Ben Zobrist, and J.R. Towles. Several ok bullpen arms here: Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Taylor Buchholz. Jason Hirsh may still be useful, and Troy Patton was still a prospect when he tore his labrum this year. FJB revised retro-ranking: #28.
23. Reds: No all-stars, and two starters (Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion). Todd Coffey's been an ok reliever. Homer Bailey keeps getting chances but has been awful. That's really it. Truth be told, the farm system Bowden left behind in Cincy wasn't any better than the one he inherited in Washington. FJB revised retro-ranking: #27.
24. Yankees: Another system that was thin but produced enough good players to be much better than this ranking. Three all-stars (Ching-Mien Wang, Robinson Cano, Dioner Navarro). Melky Cabrera has made a lot of starts but is more properly thought of as a bench guy. Phil Hughes may yet pan out as a solid starter. Jeff Marquez and Tyler Clippard are still knocking around other organizations. FJB revised retro-ranking: #13.
25. Orioles: One all-star (Nick Markakis) but just one other starter (John Maine) and a good reliever (Chris Ray). Mike Fontenot is a bench guy. FJB revised retro-ranking: #23.
26. Nationals: No all-stars and just three starters (Ryan Church, Brendan Harris, and Armando Galarraga). Collin Balester is on the cusp of establishing himself as a starter also. Bill Bray is a good bullpen arm, and Mike Hinckley could be another. We've probably seen the best of Kory Casto and Darrell Rasner, but Daryl Thompson is still a real prospect in Cincinnati. FJB revised retro-ranking: #24.
27. Padres: No all-stars, and really no starters either. Josh Barfield was their top prospect, and he has flopped in Cleveland. Justin Germano has been up and down as a spot starter and reliever. Paul McAnulty and Humberto Quintero are bench guys. George Kottaras is still a semi-prospect. Just nothing at all worth having. FJB revised retro-ranking: #30.
28. Royals: No all-stars and two starters (Billy Butler and Mark Teahen). J.P. Howell has become a good bullpen arm. Billy Buckner still has a chance in Arizona. Denny Bautista's been terrible for several teams. FJB revised retro-ranking: #29.
29. Tigers: Two all-stars (Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander), a very good reliever when healthy (Joel Zumaya) and a bench guy (Anderson Hernandez). A thin system, but two stars is two more than most. FJB revised retro-ranking: #22.
30. Cardinals: No all-stars but two starters (Adam Wainwright and Skip Schumaker). Chris Duncan and Brendan Ryan are bench guys. Brad Thompson is a mop-up reliever. Anthony Reyes fell apart but may still get it together. Rick Ankiel was still failing as a pitcher at this point. Amazing this team hasn't fallen further since then. FJB revised retro-ranking: #25.