With about two months left in the Minor League schedule, the MiLB.com staff hands out grades to all 30 farm systems based on their prospect and team performance so far. The American League systems made up the first installment of the series on Monday. In this edition, Andrew Battifarano provides the grades for the NL East, Kelsie Heneghan analyzes the NL Central and Tyler Maun breaks out the red pen for the NL West.
A loaded farm system coming into the season, the Braves have not disappointed in terms of their top talent. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mike Soroka each moved up to the Majors, and though they've battled some injuries, they've played key roles for the NL East leaders through the season's first three months. There's also still plenty of talent on the rise in the Minors. Kolby Allard is an International League All-Star in his first crack at Triple-A and teammate Austin Riley was having a breakout campaign before hitting the disabled list. Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Touki Toussaint and Cristian Pache have all made positive strides this year, and Drew Waters might be the breakout prospect of the season after going in the second round last year, making this is an organization with a scary good outlook. The Braves drop out of the A range because their affiliates collectively rank 29th out of 30 farm systems in winning percentage, but there have been too many good individual parts here to ignore.
It was a tough but necessary rebuild for the Marlins this offseason, and their system improved leaps and bounds. But inconsistency is an issue with this club. There's a lot to love with the addition of pitchers like Sandy Alcantara (who has already earned a callup to Miami), Jorge Guzman and Nick Neidert. But on the hitting side, top prospect Monte Harrison has been streaky, and we're still waiting for Magneuris Sierra and Isan Diaz to break through as well. Trevor Rogers has struggled on the bump in his first season with Greensboro, Braxton Garrett is recovering from Tommy John surgery and Tyler Kolek -- 2014's No. 2 overall pick -- has yet to pitch this season.
New York Mets
This is far from a top-to-bottom loaded group, but the Mets have made plenty of positive strides in 2018. They had no players in MLB.com's Top 100 rankings to start the season, but 19-year-old shortstop Andres Gimenez has emerged in St. Lucie while Peter Alonso might be one of the biggest breakout stories in the Minors this year after mashing his way through the Eastern League with 15 homers before moving up to Las Vegas. Top pitchers in Justin Dunn and David Peterson have each earned midseason promotions as well, and Anthony Kay is healthy after elbow surgery. Jeff McNeil might not be ranked but joins Alonso as one of the Minors' best hitters in the first half. Though the expectations might have been low, Mets farmhands have been able to accomplish plenty this season.
The Phillies own the best organizational winning percentage in the NL East by a wide margin and they boast a talented system, but it's been a mixed bag for their most promising individual prospects. Mickey Moniak has failed to find sustained success for a second straight season, losing his Top 100 status, and 2017 first-rounder Adam Haseley has been little better than league-average at Class A Advanced Clearwater. Jhailyn Ortiz, Daniel Brito and Cornelius Randolph haven't fared much better at the plate. Adonis Medina and Franklyn Kilome have been up-and-down on the hill, and Tom Eshelman has found little to write home about in Triple-A. Sixto Sanchez, Enyel De Los Santos and Ranger Suarez deservedly get high marks, but it's been mostly a disappointing first half for the Phillies' top talent.
Raise your hand if you had Juan Soto making the Majors and destroying baseballs at Nationals Park this season. He's already shed his prospect status, which speaks to his meteoric rise and incredible rookie campaign. He and Carter Kieboom (promoted to Double-A Harrisburg) have shined bright this season, but they're the main highlights in an otherwise mediocre first half. Victor Robles injured his elbow four games into the season. Questions about Washington's pitching depth remain, with Erick Fedde and Seth Romero posting pedestrian numbers. Don't sleep on No. 5 prospect Luis Garcia, an 18-year-old infielder who has shrugged off a cold April to become a standout bat for Class A Hagerstown.
It hasn't been a great first half on the Chicago farm. After Adbert Alzolay started the season in extended spring training, he made a brief and not great impression on the Pacific Coast League before hitting the disabled list with a lat strain. Then the Cubs announced that their top prospect would need season-ending surgery. Fellow top arms Oscar De La Cruz, Jose Albertos and Brendon Little have not been making the grade while all four full-season affiliates are below .500. Righty Alex Lange and catcher Miguel Amaya have provided some bright spots from middle of the system, but with the affiliates posting the 28th-best winning percentage in baseball, those spots can be tougher to find.
Outfielder Taylor Trammell and right-handed pitcher Tony Santillan have shined for Class A Advanced Daytona -- the farm system's only above-.500 team -- while infielders Shed Long and Jeter Downs are beginning to blossom at other levels as well. Nick Senzel battled through vertigo to hit .310 in 44 games for Triple-A Louisville, but Reds fans won't get to see their top prospect this summer as he underwent season-ending surgery on his right index finger last month. Cincinnati has something good in its top pitching prospect, though, as Hunter Greene shook off a tough start to the season with a fantastic June, and his continued improvement will be a big second-half storyline.
Video: Dragons' Trammell goes yard
In just his first full season, Keston Hiura's made quite the impact on the Minors with his plus-hit tool, which helped him reach Double-A Biloxi on June 1. Righty Freddy Peralta excelled at Triple-A Colorado Springs and has forced his way into the Major League rotation, pitching quite well in the bigs. The system faces its toughest challenges right behind Hiura, with No. 2 and 3 prospects Corbin Burnes and Lucas Erceg. Burnes moved back to the bullpen after suffering to a 4.96 ERA as a Colorado Springs starter while Erceg's average is on the wrong side of .250. Corey Ray, the club's 2016 first-round pick, also has room to improve in the second half. But with a collective winning percentage solidly above .500, Brewers affiliates could have had a worse opening half.
Success starts at the top in the Pirates system, with Mitch Keller and Austin Meadows living up to their hype as they've gotten bumps to Triple-A and the Majors, respectively. Last year's first-round pick Shane Baz kicked off his campaign in Rookie ball and is already going strong on the mound in limited action. Also, infielders Ke'Bryan Hayes, Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer and Oneil Cruz have all been solid while outfielder Calvin Mitchell has given himself some real helium in prospect circles. Not to mention all four full-season affiliates are above .500. With that being said, shortstop Cole Tucker and outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Lolo Sanchez are still trying to find their rhythms at the plate with averages below .270.
St. Louis Cardinals
Alex Reyes was on the mend and he was striking everyone out. But in his first start back in the Majors, he tore a lat tendon that needed season-ending surgery. Fellow righties Ryan Helsley and Junior Fernandez also spent time on the disabled list. But upper-level players in the top-heavy Cardinals system are banging on the door with slugger Tyler O'Neill and southpaw Austin Gomber getting time in the Show Me State. And it shouldn't be long before Redbirds Dakota Hudson, Max Schrock, Randy Arozarena and Oscar Mercado are busting through, either. Andrew Knizner continues to force the issue of too many catchers as he made the leap to Triple-A with ease. Notably, Cardinals affiliates -- led by Pacific Coast League-leading Memphis -- have the third-best combined winning percentage among farm systems.
There isn't a ton to love in the D-backs system right now, and the pieces that are there aren't exactly blowing the doors off the 2018 season. Top prospect Jon Duplantier, Arizona's only Top 100 talent, has made just seven starts this year for Double-A Jackson. While his numbers have been solid -- a 2.52 ERA and 51 strikeouts against 11 walks in 35 2/3 innings -- he didn't debut until April 21 and hasn't pitched since May 27. Most of Arizona's talent is concentrated at Class A Advanced Visalia, where four of the team's top five position players (including 2017 first-rounder Pavin Smith) are part of an offense that ranks third-from-last in the California League.
Here's the good: Brendan Rodgers continues to be a stud, continuing the momentum he established in his 2017 second-half promotion to Double-A with a strong first half there this year. The way he's playing, he may soon be once again paired with with former middle-infield partner Garrett Hampson. Up at Triple-A, Hampson continues to post a similar trend to his annual line of a .300 average and .850 OPS. After a hot start, Colton Welker cooled at Class A Advanced Lancaster. On the mound, outside of Peter Lambert's dominant first half and recent promotion to Triple-A, the Rox haven't seen much. Riley Pint struggled brutally in his Class A debut on Opening Day and wasn't seen again before resurfacing with short-season Boise, where his command continued to be an issue before he was removed from the roster. Ryan Castellani hasn't solved Double-A hitting yet.
Video: Rodgers hammers a solo blast for Hartford
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers system is The Alex Verdugo Show for the moment. The outfielder has left little doubt that he's conquered Triple-A with a steady offensive campaign for Oklahoma City. Catcher Keibert Ruiz continues to impress by holding his own in Double-A at just 19 years old, and outfielder Yusniel Diaz is doing the same at 21 with an even K/BB ratio. Dennis Santana had been the headliner on the mound. The right-hander needed just eight dominant stars with Tulsa to get the call to Triple-A, where he was even better before making his Major League debut on June 1. But he's been on the disabled list ever since early June with a right rotator cuff strain. Fellow righty Mitchell White, the Dodgers' top pitching prospect, has struggled in Tulsa with an ERA that jumped to 6.33 through 11 starts. Left-hander and No. 15 prospect Caleb Ferguson worked his way up to the Majors after posting a 1.53 ERA in 47 innings at Tulsa and OKC.
San Diego Padres
The Padres' future is brighter than a sunny day in La Jolla. After a slow start in Double-A, Fernando Tatis Jr. torched Texas League pitching through the bulk of the first half. One step up the ladder, as has been his hallmark throughout his career, Luis Urias is more than holding his own as one of the youngest everyday players at the level. While top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore has struggled at Class A Fort Wayne (partially due to blisters), the same can't be said for virtually any other of the healthy pitching prospects ranked in San Diego's top 12, who are all having impressive seasons. Chris Paddack, in particular, has astounded with an 83/4 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. Padres affiliates also collectively rank seventh in winning percentage, backing up how solid the individual pieces have been.
San Francisco Giants
In an already thin system, even San Francisco's top prospects aren't having banner seasons. The Giants' No. 1 prospect, Heliot Ramos, has shown flashes but not consistency at Class A Augusta -- although at 18 he is young for the level. Chris Shaw and Steven Duggar have put together solid campaigns at Triple-A Sacramento, but the story there is right-handed pitching prospect Tyler Beede. The system's top arm still can't seem to figure out the level and was roughed up in his only two big league appearances this season, as well. Double-A Richmond righty Shaun Anderson and 2017 fifth-rounder Jason Bahr have provided some bright spots on the pitching side.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.