Opening Day is right around the corner, which means the return of all star players like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen. But what about the less known, up and coming stars who made the cut this year? Who is this new kid named Kris Bryant or the Cuban import Yoan Moncada? All of these burning questions will finally be answered, as My Weekly Sports goes in depth and looks at the 5 best farm systems in the MLB heading into the upcoming season. Here’s number 5:
#5. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a lot of star players in their lineup. Everyone loves to see Clayton Kershaw get 10+ K’s in a game or Yasiel Puig flip his bat whenever he puts one over the wall. But there’s a lot more to this team than meets the eye. The Dodgers also have a solid, young team developing in the minors that will add to an already unbeatable lineup in just a few short years. For starters, Joc Pederson has been nothing but a hitting machine all spring for the Dodgers. With an average of .409 (.477 OBP and .773 SLG), Pederson has collected 18 hits in his 18 games played this Spring. Now that Matt Kemp has been traded to San Diego, Pederson is definitely showing the Dodgers’ management why he deserves that starting spot in center field on Opening Day. On top of Pederson, the Dodgers also have tons of potential in Corey Seager. Seager might not be a threat to go yard every time he steps into the box, but with an OBP of .500 this spring he has consistently found his way on base. Seager also excels on defense, as a top shortstop prospect. While Seager might not be MLB ready in 2015, he will probably be shadowing the veteran Jimmy Rollins, who the Dodgers acquired this offseason, and could possibly get the call to start in 2016 when Rollins becomes a free agent. Now no team’s farm system is complete without pitching, and the Dodgers have young pitching talent in 18 year old Julio Urias. Urias made his spring training debut on March 6, where he threw 1⅔ innings, struck out two, gave up no earned runs and didn’t even allow the ball to leave the infield. While that is quite impressive for his first outing of the spring, Urias was a bit wild with his throws, recording three walks and a wild pitch. Urias definitely needs more time to develop in the minor leagues and will not be on the opening day roster. He’s got a ton of raw talent and potential, and if he keeps improving at the rate he is, expect to see him in the Dodger’s rotation in 2017, after he’s had some time to work on his control. The Los Angeles Dodgers really have it all when it comes to their prospects. They have power hitting outfielders, gold glove caliber infielders, and hard throwing pitchers, which is why they landed the #5 spot on this list.
#4. Minnesota Twins
The Twins are a team that is definitely flying under the radar. They don’t have very much depth on their 25 man roster, but when it comes to their minor league system they have some spectacular options. Byron Buxton, who I would rank as the #1 prospect in the entire league, has been given the nickname “Mike Trout 2.0”. Why has he been given this nickname you might ask? Because he is an all around up and coming star who has been unstoppable in the minors. In 3 years there he has produced a .300 batting average and an outstanding 24 triples. And for those who are wondering, in Mike Trout’s 3 full years in the majors he has mustered a .305 average and hit 26 triples, so his nickname is well earned and well deserved. Buxton might not have the kind of bat that Trout has when it comes to power, but he definitely knows how to hit for contact, not to mention that once Buxton gets on base he’s a huge threat, as he stole 105 bases in 2013. You won’t be seeing much of Buxton in the majors in 2015, but expect to see him get the call, at the earliest, in 2017. He still needs some more time to develop into the all star he’s expected to become. However, considering the Twins are lacking depth in their outfield, Buxton could very well be an everyday player right from the start. Next up on my Twins to watch list is the young third baseman Miguel Sano. Standing in at 6’4” and weighing 235 lbs. Sano’s physical appearance intimidates pitchers whenever he steps into the batter’s box. So far this spring, Sano has recorded a very respectable .800 slugging percentage, hitting a couple of home runs in his few games played. Sano is most known for his ability to step up to the plate and give little Billy in the left field bleachers a souvenir. In 3½ seasons in the minor leagues, Sano has been able to take 90 jogs around the bases, an average of about 25 home runs per season. Sano, like Buxton, is still a year or two away from his spot in the majors, so expect for him to get called up in 2016 or 2017. He’s going to have to compete with the versatile Trevor Plouffe for the starting third base job, and it should be interesting to see who ends up in the hot corner in the Twins future. Give the Twins a few years, and they’ll be back in playoff contention. If they’re able to develop their prospects, like Buxton and Sano, to their full potential, they could become a big threat to the AL central. This is why they’ve landed at #4.
#3. New York Mets
Pitching. The Mets farm system can be summed up with that one word. Give the Mets a few years and they will finally be the team they were in the late 1960’s/70’s. Why? The Mets are loaded with pitchers, a couple of whom could give Tom Seaver a run for his money when it comes to the best pitcher in Mets history. I’ll start off with the most obvious example, which is Matt Harvey. Yes, he is a major league starter right now, but a few years back he was just an A-grade prospect in the Mets’ farm system. So far in the majors, Harvey has put up Cy Young level numbers, especially in 2013, his first full season in the big leagues. Harvey ended that year with a 9-5 record, a 2.27 ERA with 191 strikeouts. You’d think with those numbers he’d be the obvious choice for the Cy Young but he fell second to the great Clayton Kershaw, who put up better numbers. Or maybe it was because Harvey got injured and needed tommy john surgery. Either way Harvey is the Mets’ best prospect, and he could have a hall of fame career. Next on my list of pitching prodigies is Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard has spent his last 5 years in the minors where he has developed into a pitching phenom. In those 5 years, Syndergaard has posted a 31-19 record, a 3.25 ERA, 474 strikeouts in 426 innings pitched and a solid 10 K/9 in triple A last year. Syndergaard will probably start the season down in triple A but he could see some major league playing time if Dillon Gee doesn’t fulfill his requirements, or with Zach Wheeler undergoing tommy john surgery. Speaking of Mr. Wheeler, he’s another pitcher on the watch list. Wheeler spent 4 years in the minors before getting the call, but while he was there he posted some very good numbers. Wheeler held his own with a 28-20 record, a 3.56 ERA and striking out 420 batters in 391 innings. Wheeler has spent 2 years in the majors and has posted somewhat similar numbers. He carries an 18-16 record with a 3.50 ERA and 271 strikeouts in 285 innings. You won’t be seeing Wheeler in 2015 as during this off season he underwent tommy john surgery and will miss the entire season. But expect to see him return in 2016, better and stronger than ever. Rounding off my pitching prospect palooza is Jacob deGrom. deGrom spent 3 seasons in the minor leagues before getting called up to the show in 2014. During his time down there he collected 21 wins, posted a 3.62 ERA and struck out 267 in 323 innings, solid numbers for his minor league career. deGrom spent 2014 as a member of the Mets’ rotation and contributed 9 wins to the team with a stellar 2.69 ERA and punched out 144 batters in only 140 innings. The Mets were taking it easy with deGrom last year, as to not overplay him in his first year. But expect to see more deGrom in the coming season. Give the Mets a few years and they’ll take first place in the NL East, but for now their unreal pitching prospects will land them in the top 3 on this list.
#2. Boston Red Sox
As a die hard Yankees fan, this really kills me, but I have to admit that the Red Sox have the second best farm system in the MLB. The Red Sox can thank the country of Cuba for providing them with their top talent, as their top two prospects are defectors. The first of the players of Cuban descent is Rusney Castillo. Castillo is an interesting case in that he played in the minor leagues from 2008 until 2012 (and he hit .315/.380/.501 with 42 home runs and 68 stolen bases), and then took some time off and didn’t return until midway through the 2014 season. Castillo has only played 10 major league games so far but in those 10 games he hit 2 home runs and hit over .300. Castillo is the perfect combination of power and speed, a Mike Trout-esque player who has the ability to hit home runs and even when he doesn’t he is still a huge threat on the basepaths. So far this spring, Castillo has posted a .263 average with 2 home runs in 7 games played. I’ll admit it isn’t really fair to evaluate Castillo’s level of talent based on spring training because he was injured for a good majority of it. He will probably start the season on the bench due to the injury, but as he recovers definitely expect to see him get a lot of playing time this year. The other Cuban import on this worst to first to worst team is one who was talked about nonstop for the entire offseason because no one knew what lucky team was going to sign him. Of course I’m talking about Yoan Moncada. Moncada defected from Cuba and was signed by the Red Sox soon after he arrived in the United States. The only stats I can report on Moncada are the numbers he accumulated while playing in Cuban leagues. He spent two years playing in the Cuba and batted .277/.388/.380. Moncada’s average is definitely respectable but the number that really jumped out at me was his on base percentage nearly reaching .400. This clearly demonstrates that Moncada is willing to reach base safely by any means necessary, and can do so in a successful manner. He isn’t really known as a power hitter, as he only smacked 4 home runs, but he is known to be a very successful fielder and is a speed threat wherever he goes. Moncada won’t start 2015 up in the big leagues but give him a few years to develop in the minors and he’ll be a serious threat when he gets the call. Not only did the Red Sox really luck out when they landed Moncada, but they also have a catcher who is up and coming. In todays day and age it is nearly impossible to find a young, talented catcher, and that is exactly what the Red Sox have. Blake Swihart is a solid, grade-A prospect who has the potential to be the next Yadier Molina. Not only is Swihart amazing defensively, throwing out 47% of runners attempting to steal (and as a comparison, Buster Posey’s best caught stealing percentage in a season was 50%, so very similar numbers), but he is a very talented hitter. In his three years in the minor leagues he has been able to collect over 300 hits, posting a line of .284/.338/.431 in 300 games played. Swihart won’t be MLB ready on Opening Day next Sunday, but he will see some playing time this season, and if he continues at the rate he is going, he will be the Red Sox starting catcher in a few years. The level of Cuban talent on this Red Sox team has landed them the #2 spot on this list.
#1. Chicago Cubs
This was no easy choice. There were a ton of teams deserving of this number one spot but I decided to give it to the Chicago Cubs. Ah who am I kidding, the Cubs are the obvious choice for the number one spot. All I would need to say is Kris Bryant, and the Cubs are automatically in the top 3, and additions like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Addison Russell just make them the obvious number one choice. Kris Bryant has been on fire this spring, putting up numbers that no prospect has ever produced. Bryant is batting an outstanding .425 in the spring, with an on base percentage of .477 and an unreal 1.175 slugging percentage. On top of those already fantastic stats, Bryant has hit 9 long balls and collected 17 hits in just 14 games. Unfortunately but fortunately for him, he’ll be starting the 2015 season in the minor leagues. This is only due to the fact that he has no player option in his contract, so what will happen is that if Bryant spends a certain amount of time in the minor leagues this season (which was calculated to be missing the first 9 games of the season), the Cubs get a free, additional year on Bryant’s contract, and with the way he has been performing, I have a feeling the Cubs are going to want to keep him for a very long time. Jorge Soler is another contact king who is a veteran in the Cubs’ farm system. Soler has been playing in the minors since 2009 and in those 5 seasons he has hit .305/.384/.548, tallying 169 hits in 163 games, 43 of those being doubles and 28 home runs. Unlike Bryant, Soler will be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, in fact, he’s landed himself the starting gig and will likely bat second in the lineup, behind the speedy Dexter Fowler. The only problem that I’ve found with Soler is his strikeout count. Soler seems to strike out quite a bit. In his 5 seasons in the minors Soler struck out in 20% of his at bats (111 out of 555 at bats). While I don’t see this being a major problem for Soler or the Cubs, it is definitely something to look out for. Continuing with the plethora of prospects, Javier Baez is one to keep an eye on. Baez has played three full seasons in the minor leagues and saw some major league playing time last year. While he was in the minors he was able to put together a very respectable repertoire, with a line of .278/.336/.545 and got 338 hits in 319 games, 76 of those hits being home runs, and 73 doubles. Not only is Baez a power hitting second baseman but he is a threat to steal when he gets on base, swiping 62 bags in his time in the minors. He has also developed into a very good fielder, something that wasn’t his forte when he first joined the Cubs back in 2011. Baez won’t be on the Cubs’ Opening Day 25 man card, but he will see some playing time and will definitely get the call in 2016. Rounding off the list that could really go on forever is the hard hitting shortstop Addison Russell. Russell truly can be considered a five-tool player. He can hit for contact, posting a .300 average in 3 seasons in the minors, and a .324 average this spring. He has the ability to hit home runs, as he collected 37 with 150 RBI’s during his minor league run. He can definitely steal bases, running at an 83% success rate, and he can catch and has a very strong arm. So far this spring, Russell has been living in the shadow of Kris Bryant, but he has definitely gone above and beyond to contribute to his team’s success. Russell may be a five-tool player but he still needs time to develop in the minor league, as he will spend a majority of the 2015 season down in Triple A Sacramento. The Chicago Cubs have more potential and talent than they know what to do with, and that is in no means a bad thing. I would give them 5 or 6 years and they will be a threat in the NL Central and probably make a their first postseason appearance in many many years. Their over abundance of talent and potential is what landed them the #1 spot on this list.