Toolshed: LCS development successes

Ranking top five homegrown talents from the final four clubs

Alex Bregman is in the AL MVP discussion just four years after the Astros took him second overall in the Draft. (Eric Christian Smith/AP)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | October 11, 2019 10:00 AM

There's always something a little special about something or someone that's been homegrown.

The 2019 Major League playoff field has been whittled down to four clubs ahead of the American League and National League Championship Series -- the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals. And like any successful franchises, these final four organizations have leaned heavily on players built up from their own farm systems to get within eight wins of a World Series title.

To illustrate that, Toolshed ranks the top five player-development successes based on a mix of past performance, future potential and present importance. To be eligible, a player must have appeared on the ALDS or NLDS roster and been considered a prospect for their current club at some point in their careers, meaning traded players are eligible as long as they were dealt when they retained their rookie eligibility.

Houston Astros

1. Alex Bregman -- The Astros could only draft Bregman with the second overall pick in 2015 out of LSU because Houston didn't sign Brady Aiken after taking him first overall the year before. What initially seemed like misfortune with the miss on Aiken turned into Texas gold for Houston. Bregman made the Majors in his first full season in 2016, and after three solid years as a Major Leaguer, the third baseman is a legitimate AL MVP candidate, perhaps even the favorite, after hitting .296/.423/.592 with a career-best 41 homers. At just age 25, Bregman's prime is still ahead of him, thanks to an accelerated developmental route coming out of college.

2. Jose Altuve -- It's so easy to think of what Altuve has become -- six-time All-Star, three-time batting champ, 2017 AL MVP -- that it can be difficult to remember him as a Minor Leaguer. Signed for only $15,000 out of Venezuela, Altuve was knocked for his size, but he never stopped producing at the plate in the Minors, batting .389/.426/.591 over 87 games between Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi in 2011 before making his Major League debut at just 21 years old that July. He's only been back in the Minors on rehab assignments since. A slight downturn in 2019 allowed Bregman to pass him here, but any other organization would love to claim Altuve as its biggest homegrown success story.

3. George Springer -- A first-round pick in 2011 out of UConn, Springer was known in the Minors as an impressive slugger with good speed and a high strikeout rate. All of that remains true, except the basestealing threat perhaps. Still, the 30-year-old has become one of the game's most dependable outfielders and put up career bests with 39 homers, 156 wRC+ and 6.5 fWAR in 2019. His 24.6 WAR since his debut in 2014 is fifth-highest among Major League outfielders, behind only Mike Trout (52.5), Mookie Betts (37.2), Christian Yelich (31.8) and Bryce Harper (26.6).

4. Carlos Correa -- Correa has been by far the greatest success of the Astros' three No. 1 overall picks this decade -- Aiken and Mark Appel being the others -- and would proudly lead most other lists in this column. The shortstop climbed to the Majors in his third full season in 2015 after hitting .312 with an .876 OPS in the Minors and hasn't much looked back with three-win seasons in four of his five Major League campaigns. Injuries have limited him in 2018 and 2019, but coming off a season at age 24, Correa's best years could very well still be ahead of him.

5. Yordan Alvarez -- The favorite to win this year's AL Rookie of the Year award, Alvarez famously signed with the Dodgers out of Cuba, only to be traded to the Astros for Josh Fields in August 2016 before he played a single game. After three stateside seasons, the 22-year-old is already one of the game's most dangerous left-handed sluggers, as he showed by hitting 27 homers in 87 games this summer. Defense will always be a question, but there's more than enough thunder in the 6-foot-5 thumper's bat to position him in the middle of the Astros lineup for the long term.

New York Yankees

1. Aaron Judge -- Judge isn't just the face of the franchise any more; he's becoming a face of the entire league, as evidenced by his lead in jersey sales and prominence in Major League Baseball's "We Play Loud" campaign. That's not without reason. Even in an injury-riddled 2019 season, the outfielder still produced a .272/.381/.540 line with 27 homers, making him worth 4.6 WAR over 102 games. His 52 homers in 2017 were a Major League rookie record until fellow New York slugger Pete Alonso broke it this summer. Funnily enough, the 2013 32nd overall pick topped out at 20 homers in a Minor League season before his power truly took off in the Majors. Nevertheless, his pop is here to stay in the Bronx for seasons to come.

2. Brett Gardner -- Gardner's road to Yankee Stadium has been well documented. The outfielder was a walk-on at the College of Charleston before becoming a third-round pick by New York in 2005. He's only known one organization, even after entering free agency last season and signing for what was expected to be a fourth outfield role in 2019. Instead, he set career highs with 28 homers, a .503 slugging percentage and an .829 OPS. His 3.6 fWAR was tied for third-best among Yankees position players in 2019. In an historic franchise, Gardner finished the season ranked 23rd among Yankees position players all-time in career WAR (37.0), 18th with 1,499 games, 20th with 876 runs scored, 12th with 68 triples and third with 267 stolen bases. He may not reach the heights of other homegrown pinstriped players, but his longevity isn't in question.

3. Gary Sanchez -- Prospect prognosticators were quite high on Sanchez well before he reached the Majors with MLB.com ranking him in the game's Top-100 prospects before the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 seasons, banking on his impressive power and plus arm providing New York with plenty of long-term value. After a roller-coaster of development, the 26-year-old is meeting the hype in some ways with 105 homers in his first five Major League seasons. The hit tool has been lacking in recent seasons -- anyone in New York will remind you Sanchez hit .186 in 2018 -- but the power and arm make up for it. No American League catcher has a higher WAR since 2016 than his 11.5.

4. Gleyber Torres -- Yes, Torres was already one of the game's top prospects when he was shipped to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman by the Cubs, who you may have heard ended up winning that 2016 World Series. But the Yanks get credit for finishing the middle infielder's development off. Torres played 86 games in the New York system across the top three levels before becoming a mainstay in the Bronx in 2018. (There was a Tommy John surgery mixed in there as well.) At just 22, Torres is already a well-above-average hitter with a career 123 wRC+, and his 38 homers over 144 games this season portend even bigger offensive seasons to come. With Didi Gregorius becoming a free agent this offseason, expect Torres to take over at short for the long haul.

5. Luis Severino -- Severino's breakout came in his first full season in 2014, when he posted a 2.46 ERA with 127 strikeouts over 113 1/3 innings between Class A, Class A Advanced and Double-A. One year later, he was pitching in the Majors. Before shoulder injuries limited him in 2019, the 25-year-old right-hander looked like New York's ace, and there's a reason why he's getting postseason starts even after all the missed time. Assuming he can stay healthy, the Yankees have plans to keep Severino in the rotation over the long term because of his upper-90s velocity and impressive slider.

St. Louis Cardinals

1. Yadier Molina -- Come on, like this could be anyone else. While his brothers were more journeymen during their time in the game, Molina has been with one organization and one organization only since he was taken in the fourth round of the 2000 Draft. Never a Top-100 prospect, the Puerto Rico native is a nine-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glover, two-time World Series champion and borderline Hall of Famer behind the plate. Should he stay in St. Louis until he retires -- and all signs point that happening for the 37-year-old -- then Molina's name will be up there with Musial and Gibson as all-time-best career Cardinals.

2. Adam Wainwright -- Wainwright showed flashes of it during these playoffs, but it's always good to remember that he was one of the best starting pitchers in the game at the start of the decade. Between 2009 and 2014, he ranked seventh among pitchers in fWAR with 25.3, despite missing the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery. (His 1,130 2/3 innings are the fewest among anyone in the top 10 over that period.) More injuries have hampered the right-hander's progress in recent seasons, but the Cardinals would still do the December 2003 trade that brought Wainwright over from the Braves when he was a top-50 overall prospect 10 times over if they could.

3. Jack Flaherty -- Most recently seen dominating on the bump in Game 5 of the NLDS (not that the Cardinals offense needed any pitching help), Flaherty was one of the most dominant starters in the second half with a 0.93 ERA and 130 strikeouts over 106 1/3 innings from July 7 onward. There was always the hope that this is what the 2014 34th overall pick could become, considering he entered his rookie year in 2018 as MLB.com's No. 38 overall prospect. The Cards could very well go as far as Flaherty's arm will take them in 2019, and this year might not be the last time we say that.

4. Matt Carpenter -- A 13th-round pick out of TCU in 2009, Carpenter has long been one of the Cardinals' biggest developmental success stories. Even after making his Major League debut in 2011, he still didn't enter the following season as a top-10 prospect in the St. Louis system because of his age -- he was a fifth-year senior in college -- and defensive questions. Eight years later, he's a three-time All-Star at third base and has finished in the top in NL MVP voting twice. The 33-year-old's production took a dip in 2019, particularly in the power department, but his overall body of work and backstory push him here.

5. Kolten Wong -- There could be any number of ways to go here. Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman have emerged as solid infield options in the past few years. Dakota Hudson has worked his way into the St. Louis rotation, and Carlos Martinez has shined in a variety of roles, the latest being as the Cards closer. But the nod here goes to Wong, coming off his best offensive season as a pro and ahead of a possible Gold Glove season at second base. The 2011 first-rounder out of the University of Hawaii has taken some time to solidify himself offensively, but in 2019, he reached base at a solid .361 clip and swiped 24 bags, a combination that has allowed to him sit in the No. 2 spot in the St. Louis lineup of late in the playoffs. Mix in the defense and Wong was a borderline top-five second baseman this season, finally living up to the potential that last made him the No. 58 overall prospect heading into 2014.

Washington Nationals

1. Anthony Rendon -- The Nats, of course, had high hopes for the Rice product when they took him sixth overall in 2011, and lo and behold, he has thrust himself into the discussion among the game's best third basemen. Seriously, only Josh Donaldson (33.3) has a higher fWAR than Rendon's 31.6 since 2014. The 29-year-old is coming off his best season yet as well right before he hits free agency with a .319/.412/.598 line and 34 homers in 146 games. He twice entered a season as a Top-100 prospect, but even this has beaten expectations.

2. Stephen Strasburg -- If not for Rendon's near-MVP status, Strasburg would slot in nicely at No. 1. He's already been in that position, of course, as the top overall pick in the 2009 Draft. Strasburg has been a little bit of a victim of early hype -- he was also up there for top overall prospect slot going into his first full season in 2010 -- but he's still been as reliable an arm as can be found in the National League. Since his real first full season in the Majors in 2012, Strasburg ranks seventh among all pitchers with a 33.3 WAR. He has an opt-out this offseason and could hit the market. Given the foundation he's provided Washington over the years, expect the Nats to fight hard to keep him.

3. Juan Soto -- Full disclosure, this might not age well. Soto very well could leap over Strasburg and Rendon in the coming years. He's already a career .287/.403/.535 hitter before his 21st birthday and has been worth 8.5 WAR through only two seasons. He was one of the best teenage Major League hitters of all time, and his arrow is only pointing up coming off a 34-homer campaign this summer. All of this after Soto had one of the most memorable in-season rises in recent Minor League history, opening 2018 at Class A Hagerstown and reaching Washington by late May. Watch this space.

Offseason MiLB include

4. Ryan Zimmerman -- Mr. National himself. The Nats grabbed Zimmerman with the fourth overall pick in 2005 -- one year after moving from Montreal -- and allowed the corner infielder to make his Major League debut that same year after playing in only 67 Minor League games. He has made two All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove in his 15-year career, and his 38.2 WAR over that span is the highest by position players who have called Washington home since the move. Like Gardner, Zimmerman hasn't reached the heights of some of his Nationals compatriots, but his longevity earns him plenty of points here.

5. Trea Turner -- Turner's inclusion here is a bit of a cheat, but technically, he was a Nationals prospect once upon a time. The North Carolina State product was the 13th overall pick by the Padres in 2014 and became the industry's worst-kept secret as the player-to-be-named-later in a three-team deal that December. He made his Nationals organization debut on June 16 -- the first date he was allowed to be moved under old rules -- and played 56 games between Double-A and Triple-A before making his Major League bow on Aug. 21. After some forays in center field and at second base, Turner has become the Nats' everyday shortstop and resident speedster with 30-plus steals in four straight seasons.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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