MINORS: AL scouting and player development report cards

Every year, as we prepare for list season, the BHQ Minors staff grades each farm system. You usually see these grades at the top of an organization report or in a composite ranking in the Minor League Baseball Analyst. Each contributor grades the organizations they cover. For instance, I was responsible for grading the Minnesota Twins organization and 10 other organizations this past list season. To me, it’s my least favorite part of the gig. Often, instead of grading on talent alone, I want to grade on a curve based on how well a given organization has done developing their talent. Maybe next year, we can incorporate a five-year Development Grade, which could further guide our subscribers on which organizations are best at developing talent.

Two weeks ago, I provided grades and analysis of all the scouting and player development departments in the NL. If I haven’t dashed my prospects for potential future organization employment, I’ll try to put the nail in the coffin this week by focusing on AL scouting and player development departments. Word constraints likely limit how deep I can go into every organization. If you want me to dig any further about a particular organization, let me know.

Baltimore Orioles

Like the Marlins in our NL analysis, it is difficult to give a grade on the Orioles scouting and player development departments given the mass changes occurring throughout the organization. For years, the Orioles had abandoned international scouting. They haven’t had much success with keeping their high draft picks healthy or developing solid-or-better fantasy contributors from their farm system. The changes since general manager Mike Elias took over in the off-season have been immense. They’ve adopted many of the technological and analytical advantages the Houston Astros have used to turn their organization into a winner. It will be interesting to see if there is turnover in the scouting department and the player development department this coming offseason as Elias continues putting his stamp on this organization. Grade N/A

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox organization has been good at scouting and player development. Overall, the farm system has been down in recent years due to graduations and trades since midway through the 2016 season. Look at their MLB team, several of their regular performers came through their system. Heck, look at other teams like the White Sox too and you’ll see the imprint of the organization’s scouting and player development departments everywhere. In recent years, the successes of the organization scouting the international market has been down considerably. Their lower draft positions haven’t yielded many projectable prospects either. Both factors drag the organization’s overall grade down. It could fall more as the Dave Dombrowsi-led regime focuses more capital towards maintaining their championship window. Grade B

Chicago White Sox

Last week, I wrote an article on three White Sox prospects, which included OF Blake Rutherford. I was critical about the Sox in my article, alluding to some of their player development failures. But they have had some successes too. Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito have emerged this season as productive fantasy contributors. Even though he has struggled, rookie Eloy Jimenez, who they acquired in the Jose Quintana deal, looks like the real deal too. However, prospects like Blake Rutherford, Carson Fulmer, Luis Gonzalez, and Alec Hansen continue to underperform considerably, which factors heavily in their grade. Grade: D

Cleveland Indians

(Disclosure: Chris is an associate scout for the Indians covering amateur prospects in Georgia) The Indians scouting and player development group is swell. This season isn’t going great, but it has been mostly motivated by monetary constraints and trading away some of their best prospects to compete the past three seasons for a championship. They also put a lot of trust in their pitching, which has struggled with health and ineffectiveness. Good news, the farm system is loaded. If you look at the lower minors, the next class of talent is on the way and should arrive as the current window closes. Unless the current window closes early, then the MLB club won’t be restocked until the 2022 season. Grade: B

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers farm system has been down mostly over the last decade. Well, it’s been bad with little successes. The makeup of the current team was mostly developed by other organizations. Nick Castellanos is the lone solid fantasy performer that has been completely developed by the organization over the last five years. The farm system this year is in a better place than it has been this decade. They’ve got some stud pitchers in Double-A, with last year’s first overall pick Casey Mize leading the charge. However, it’s still too early to tell if the organization has turned the corner in scouting and development. Grade: F

Houston Astros

The cream of the crop when it comes to identifying players in scouting who will work well in their development system, the Astros are one of two AL organizations to receive A+ grades. Their embrace of new technology in scouting and player development has been second-to-none throughout baseball. In fact, two offseasons ago, the overhauled their entire scouting department, converting a lot of their field scouts into scouting analysts in Houston. They now rely heavily on video and analytics in both amateur and pro scouting. Judging from the draft last year and their moves in the offseason, the Astros haven’t missed a beat. Grade: A+

Kansas City Royals

The Royals exhausted much of their farm system making their World Series runs in 2014-2015. Through trades and graduations, the organization found itself at the bottom of team prospect rankings before the 2017 draft. Since then, they’ve identified potential impact players in the last two drafts. While hitters like Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez have struggled in High-A, the pitching, especially from the 2018 draft, has excelled. Currently, most of the team’s better players are homegrown players. Sure, the Royals don’t have enough to win now. However, with the relative youth of their best players combined with the pitching on the way, the Royals should begin to contend early next decade. Grade: B-

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels have consistently been one of the lower-ranked farm systems since Mike Trout debuted in 2011. They’ve struggled developing talent. The pitching they’ve developed has consistently underperformed and hitters haven’t done much better. Their biggest position prospect of the mid-10s, Kaleb Cowart, is now working as a two-way player in Triple-A and struggling mightily. Fortunately, the scouting department has found some diamonds in the rough, especially at the top end of the draft. Guys like Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, and Jordyn Adams have a shot at becoming a part of the Angels next window of contention. Pitching depth has been reinforced too with the development of Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez. Both pitchers made their MLB debuts this season. Grade: C

Minnesota Twins

The top team in the AL central underwent a complete makeover top-to-bottom when Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over the organization after the 2016 season. The Twins scouting and player development departments have had tremendous turnover. The turnover has also brought changes to how their upper-level prospects prepare for the big leagues. Prior to the 2017 season, upper-level prospects, like Jose Berrios, didn’t use MLB balls during bullpens like the other 29 organizations had their upper level pitchers doing, which caused their prospects to struggle as they debuted in the big leagues. In recent years, the Twins have done better developing hitting prospects. Currently, the farm system is heavy with hitting and given the recent track record, the organization will be successful developing it. Grade: B

New York Yankees

The Yankees are always a favorite organization to cover because, as an evaluator, you know you’ll see one or two arms no one is talking about on their lower minor teams. They have an absolute glut of pitching talent. Their scouting success is spread between all three scouting departments (amateur, international, and pro). One of their recent pro scouting successes was picking up a “pop up” guy, Luis Gil, in a trade for Jake Cave last season. Gil is killing it in A-Ball, while Cave has struggled this season, split between Triple-A and the Big Leagues. The Yankees haven’t just had pitching success in scouting, but in player development too. Luis Severino is the big name they’ve developed recently. It took a while, but Domingo German has developed into a reliable starter. They also developed breakout Marlins starter Caleb Smith too. Aside from pitching, they have a solid track record developing hitting, too. Overall, a top five organization. Grade: A

Oakland Athletics

The Athletics have meshed their scouting and player development departments well over the last five years. After struggling for a few seasons, the Athletics emerged as a playoff team last season, virtually out of nowhere, and mostly on the back of their homegrown talent, like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, and younger guys their pro scouting department identified from other organizations. The mesh of talent has created a window of contention for the next two-to-five seasons. On the farm, the organization is solid throughout. While the organization only has two Top 50 prospects, injured LHPs Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, the Athletics have tons of talent who could plug in as solid contributors soon enough. The organization will continue to be on the upswing as the talent continues to debut. Grade: B

Seattle Mariners

Last season, I talked to a Mariners official who admitted to having the worst farm system in baseball. The organization has purged their scouting departments, with a higher than 50% turnover rate the past two seasons. They became sellers this offseason and restocked their farm system some. Still, talking to a scout assigned to the Mariners organization, there is a lot of work to be done. The system is essentially OF Jared Kelenic and OF Julio Rodriguez. Outside of those two, no one else looks to have a huge MLB impact on the team, including Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn, two upper levels starters the team acquired last season. Their recent 1st round hitters have been understated in the pros, including Kyle Lewis, who has struggled since injury his knee a few seasons ago. Last year’s draft was mostly panned by critics too. It’s going to get worse for the Mariners before it gets better. Grade: F

Tampa Bay Rays

Like the Astros, the Rays organization receives the only other A+ grade for their scouting and player development squad. One of my scouting contacts with Rays coverage last season remarked this offseason, when the Rays acquired Yandy Diaz from the Indians, that the Rays were the only team he trusted to get the barrel rate darling Diaz to start hitting the ball out of the park. Through two months and a stint on the DL, Diaz has as many HR (9) as Diaz had split between two levels in 2017 and 2018. The player development staff and MLB instructors get the most out of their prospects. The scouting department is also top notch, too. While the Padres were the best farm system in baseball last offseason, the Rays were very close behind them, both in impact players and overall depth. Look at their High-A roster in Charlotte. I have MLB grades on at least ten prospects. Despite spending constraints and poor attendance, the Rays should continue to contend for the next five seasons, maybe even more.  Grade: A+

Texas Rangers

The Rangers international and amateur scouting departments are two of the top departments in their respective disciplines. They do an excellent job of identifying talent of the high-end variety and guys who signed for virtual peanuts. The struggle for the Rangers, in recent years, has been developing talent. This past offseason, they made a change up top, bringing in Matthew Blood, most recently of USA Baseball, to run their player development department.  This change hopefully helps turning the tools the scouting department uncover into baseball skills. Grade: C

Toronto Blue Jays

The last team is always the hardest one to grade. The team that scouted, signed, and continues to develop Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette should be one of the top organizations in baseball. However, the recent success of the organization developing players, outside of Noah Syndergaard, who they traded during development to the Mets, hasn’t been too good. The last Blue Jays run, 2015 and 2016, was fueled by their work in pro scouting, where they picked up most of their big assets through trades and free agency. On their 2015 squad, which won the AL East, the top homegrown position player was Kevin Pillar and the top homegrown pitcher was closer Roberto Osuna. As the stars got older, there weren’t enough reinforcements in the minors. Guys like Anthony Alford have faltered on the big stage. However, the recent strides in scouting and player development has made the future much brighter. Grade: C

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.