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Farm System Rankings: Under-21 talent

Red Sox, Dodgers boast best collections of youth among 30 teams
March 7, 2016

With Spring Training in full swing and the regular season almost upon us, has been looking at the state of all 30 farm systems. Instead of ranking them, 1-30, for this edition, we'll give each system a grade based on the quality of its prospects who will be 21 years old or younger on Opening Day, April 7. These rankings only count prospects, i.e. players with rookie eligibility still intact, so Carlos Correa does not factor in the Astros' grade, for instance. Without further ado, the ratings, or more accurately, the grades:

American League East

 Baltimore Orioles

Top qualifiers: Hunter Harvey, Chance Sisco, Jomar Reyes, Ryan Mountcastle

Analysis: There are some pieces to like here. Harvey remains a top 100 prospect heading into his age-21 season and Sisco has earned similar consideration from others because of his slightly above-average hit tool at the premium position of catcher. But the former hasn't pitched in a Minor League game since 2014 due to injury issues and Sisco will need to improve defensively if he's going to replace Matt Wieters someday. Like the rest of the system, the Orioles' younger prospects are facing too many question marks. Grade: C

 Boston Red Sox

Top qualifiers: Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe

Analysis: The Red Sox already had one of the most exciting groups of top four prospects, with Moncada, Devers, Espinoza and Benintendi all ranking among's top 40 overall. Add in the fact that all four will be 21 come Opening Day and that type of talent is the envy of most other systems. Benintendi likely will be the first of the four to reach Fenway Park, while Cuban sensation Moncada could get plenty of helium in his second stateside season. Further down the list, Basabe should be one to watch as he brings plus speed and above-average power to full-season ball. Grade: A+

 New York Yankees

Top qualifiers: Jorge Mateo, Dustin Fowler, Domingo Acevedo, Wilkerman Garcia, Ian Clarkin, Tyler Wade

Analysis: The Yankees' grade gets a big boost from Mateo, one of the game's fastest prospects who led the Minors with 82 stolen bases last season. The 20-year-old still has some growing to do defensively, but New York isn't about to hurry his development as he's likely ticketed for Class A Advanced Tampa. From there, it's a bit of a dropoff, with top 100 candidates Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and James Kaprielian all missing the age cutoff. Domingo Acevedo, with his triple-digit heater, might have the highest ceiling among those left, even if he's more likely to end up at the back of a bullpen. Grade: B-

 Tampa Bay Rays

Top qualifiers: Brent Honeywell, Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, Garrett Whitley

Analysis: This is a deeper group of young prospects in a system usually considered in the middle of the pack. Honeywell and Adames give the Rays two near-consensus top 100 prospects, and even Bauers was pegged at No. 78 on Baseball America's list after holding his own at age 19 over half a season at Double-A Montgomery. Whitley has the chance to develop into a five-tool player after being drafted 13th overall out of a New York high school last June. Top prospect Blake Snell might be too old for this list, but there are several other pieces to like here. Grade: B

 Toronto Blue Jays

Top qualifiers: Anthony Alford, Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Richard Urena, Rowdy Tellez, D.J. Davis, Justin Maese

Analysis: The Jays system is nothing if not a young one. Hurt by trades for Josh Donaldson and David Price over the last year, the farm features eight top 10 prospects (by's standards) who will be 21 or younger on Opening Day. Alford, the farm's only consensus top 100 prospect, is the obvious standout with his plus hit tool and plus-plus speed, but there's plenty of young depth behind him, particularly in the pitching department with Greene, Reid-Foley and Maese. Guerrero will get plenty of ink for his name as he looks to make his organizational debut as a 17-year-old at some point this season, even if he doesn't have the skills to match his future Hall of Famer father. Grade: B

American League Central

 Chicago White Sox

Top qualifiers: Spencer Adams, Jordan Guerrero, Trey Michalczewski, Corey Zangari, Tyler Danish

Analysis: Top prospects Carson Fulmer and Tim Anderson don't meet our age requirements, and that'll hurt the grade here. Adams is the best of the bunch with excellent control (1.3 BB/9 last season), while 2015 sixth-rounder Zangari could turn into quite the slugger, starting this year in his first full season. But overall, there aren't any under-21 prospects that project as more than Major League average -- and that's if they hit their ceilings. Grade: C-

 Cleveland Indians

Top qualifiers: Clint Frazier, Bobby Bradley, Brady Aiken, Rob Kaminsky, Justus Sheffield, Francisco Mejia

Analysis: A lot more to like in the Indians system. Frazier,'s No. 27 overall prospect, has two solid seasons at the Class A levels under his belt and could put his killer bat speed toward a breakout age-21 season, starting at Double-A Akron. In his two seasons, Bradley has led two leagues in home runs and, showing a desirable amount of power, even for a first base prospect. Kaminsky, Aiken and Sheffield give the system three intriguing left-handers, particularly Aiken if he can return to his first overall pick form following Tommy John surgery. Top talent and depth will always earn solid grades here. Grade: A-

 Detroit Tigers

Top qualifiers: Derek Hill, Beau Burrows, Joe Jimenez, Jairo Labourt

Analysis: The Tigers already have a bit of a forlorn system -- ranked it 17th for pitchers and 27th for hitters -- and they're hurt even more in that seven of their top 10 prospects will be older than 21 on Opening Day. Hill (2014) and Burrows (2015) are both first-rounders and both are capable of turning into top 100 prospects, even if they haven't stood out so far. But the next best 21-and-under prospects are Jimenez, who's already a Class A reliever, and left-hander Labourt, who posted a 5.12 ERA in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. That's not encouraging. Grade: D

 Kansas City Royals

Top qualifiers: Raul Mondesi, Ashe Russell, Marten Gasparini, Nolan Watson, Scott Blewett, Foster Griffin

Analysis: Despite being only 20, this will be Mondesi's fifth season leading the charge for the Royals' U-21 contingent. It could be his last, with Kansas City calling up the speedy shortstop, who's also solid defensively, for last fall's World Series. He's likely be headed back to Double-A Northwest Arkansas to start 2016 but could be aggressively pushed to Triple-A Omaha, with a return to Kansas City likely if anything happens to Alcides Escobar. There's some solid, but not great, young pitching behind him in Russell & Co., while Italian sensation Gasparini trying to become the club's next shortstop wunderkind in his first full season. Grade: C+

 Minnesota Twins

Top qualifiers: Jose Berrios, Tyler Jay, Nick Gordon, Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves

Analysis: Good to great pitching and a quality shortstop. That's what the Twins' group comes down to. Berrios has nothing left to prove in the Minors and, indeed, some projection systems believe he could be Minnesota's best starting pitcher once he's inevitably called up. Drafted sixth overall last June, Jay will replace Berrios as the system's top pitching prospect whenever the latter graduates, while Stewart and Gonsalves hope to be two cogs in a solid Double-A rotation. Gordon doesn't quite have the same luster he did when the Twins drafted him fifth overall in 2014, but he's good enough offensively and defensively to check in on the back half of most top 100 lists. No Buxton, no Kepler, no Polanco, still no problem for the Twins here. Grade: A-

American League West

 Houston Astros

Top qualifiers: Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker, Daz Cameron, Jonathan Arauz, Miguelangel Sierra

Analysis: A lot of the Astros' top talent gets wiped out for these rankings, but the system is deep enough that 2015 breakout star/top pitching prospect Martes and first-rounders Tucker and Cameron remain. Don't sleep on Arauz, either, after the middle infielder made his stateside debut at 16 last season. If anyone in the group has the chance to crack the Majors in 2016, it's Martes after he thrived at three levels last season. But with the older members of the farm looking more ready, Houston will be more than willing to let this group get the development time it needs to keep the farm top-notch. Grade: B+

 Los Angeles Angels

Top qualifiers: Jahmai Jones, Joe Gatto, David Fletcher, Jaime Barria

Analysis: It's been well chronicled that the Angels are devoid of standout talent, and that's the case again here. A 2015 second-round pick, Jones looks like the only possible everyday Major Leaguer and Gatto showed a nice enough sinker that there's reason to believe he could move into the back end of a big league rotation some day. Even those are stretches, though, and some gymnastics would have to be involved to believe in the rest of the system. Grade: F

 Oakland Athletics

Top qualifiers: Franklin Barreto, Richie Martin, Casey Meisner, Yairo Munoz, Dakota Chalmers

Analysis: The A's get a big boost in their grade from the fact that top prospect Barreto is eligible after thriving at Class A Advanced at the age of 19. He turned 20 on Feb. 27 and looks set for a move to Double-A Midland, where he'll play against competition on average four years older than him. That said, Oakland missed out on sluggers Matt Olson and Renato Nunez, both of whom turn 22 just before Opening Day. Instead, fellow shortstop Richie Martin and his plus speed and defensive skills (and light bat) fill in ahead of his full-season debut. Grade: C+

 Seattle Mariners

Top qualifiers: Alex Jackson, Luiz Gohara, Tyler O'Neill, Nick Neidert, Andrew Moore

Analysis: The good news is that the M's only top 100 representative is here in Alex Jackson. The bad news is that not only is Jackson's stock down since he was drafted sixth overall in 2014, but the rest of the system isn't great, either. O'Neill showed some nice pop with 32 homers in the hitter-friendly California League and Gohara has some believers as a hefty lefty who can develop into a mid-rotation starter over time. But overall, there are ample systems with more young talent than Seattle. Grade: C-

 Texas Rangers

Top qualifiers: Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson, Dillon Tate, Luis Ortiz, Michael Matuella, Eric Jenkins, Josh Morgan

Analysis: An already good system looks even better when you consider just how young it is. Among its top 100 prospects, only Joey Gallo -- who turned 22 in November -- will be older than 21 on Opening Day. Tate even meets the requirement here after three years at UCSB as he turns 22 on May 1. That's a lot of talent that doesn't have to be rushed, but Mazara and Brinson could break down the door to the Majors at some point in 2016. Grade: A

National League East

 Atlanta Braves

Top qualifiers: Ozhaino Albies, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint, Lucas Sims, Austin Riley, Rio Ruiz

Analysis: Much has been made about the additions the Braves have made to their farm system this offseason, but most of their U-21 talent was already in place. Albies exceeded expectations as an 18-year-old at Class A Rome last year with a plus bat and plus-plus speed, while Allard possesses two plus pitches coming out of high school as the 14th overall pick. Fellow pitchers Toussaint and Sims still have high ceilings if they can iron out their respective control issues, and Riley was the Braves' breakout star after hitting .304 across two levels. This system looks even better when you add in the older talent, but even without it, it's pretty good. Grade: A-

 Miami Marlins

Top qualifiers: Tyler Kolek, Josh Naylor, Stone Garrett, Isaiah White, Isael Soto

Analysis: At first blush, it's a good sign for our purposes that both of the Marlins' top two prospects -- Kolek and Naylor -- are so young and represent their last two first-rounders. Upon further review, neither is as impressive as he looks on paper. Kolek dropped out of the top 100 after suffering control issues in his first full season and Naylor was a suprise pick at No. 12 last June. The latter could grow into a prodigious power hitter in time, but for now, that pick remains a head-scratcher. The rest of the system doesn't look like it has any impact Major Leaguers, even among the younger prospects. Grade: D

 New York Mets

Top qualifiers: Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario, Desmond Lindsay, Luis Carpio, Wuilmer Becerra, Marcos Molina

Top qualifiers: The Mets' best position player prospects find their way onto this list in first baseman Smith and shortstop Rosario, both of whom should be part of the Double-A Binghamton infield as 20-year-olds on Opening Day. If Smith can add a little to pop to an already solid offensive profile, he could surge even higher from his spot as's No. 51 overall prospect. (On the MiLB podcast, he said neither he nor the Mets are worried about that tool.) There aren't many standouts in the rest of the group. Molina could have played that role, but Tommy John surgery means he'll be out for the summer. Grade: B

 Philadelphia Phillies

Top qualifiers: J.P. Crawford, Cornelius Randolph, Franklyn Kilome, Adonis Medina, Scott Kingery

Analysis: Crawford just turned 21 in January and, with his plus bat and impressive defense, could be next to join Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell and Corey Seager among the group of exciting young big league shortstops within a few months of Opening Day. With Freddy Galvis holding down the fort in Philadelphia, the seat likely will be more than open whenever Crawford is ready to fill it. Randolph joins Crawford as a top 100 prospect after being drafted 10th overall last year and should bring some decent power to the lower levels of the system in his first full season. Kilome is similarly knocking on the door but needs to improve his secondary pitches beyond a mid-90's fastball. If you're looking at the talent that came over in the Cole Hamels and Ken Giles trades, they're all older than 21. Grade: B+

 Washington Nationals

Top qualifiers: Lucas Giolito, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Anderson Franco, Osvaldo Abreu

Analysis: This is one of those groups where just having Giolito gets the Nationals to a certain grade. With an 80-grade fastball and a hammer curve, the 21-year-old right-hander has all the makings of a future Cy Young contender and should be in Washington by the second half of the season, September at the latest. Robles pushes the grade even higher after hitting .352 with 24 steals and plus defense as an 18-year-old in two short-season circuits last year. Unfortunately, the rest of the system falters, so depth is an issue. But Giolito and Robles are enough to push for honor roll. Grade: B+

National League Central

 Chicago Cubs

Top qualifiers: Gleyber Torres, Ian Happ, Duane Underwood, Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, Dylan Cease, Oscar de la Cruz, Eloy Jimenez

Analysis: The Cubs don't need much help in the youth department, given what's going on at the Major League level, yet they're here anyway. As an 18-year-old in 2015, Torres held his own while climbing to Class A Advanced during his first full season and is in the upper half of all top 100 lists. Happ, Underwood, Almora, McKinney and Cease also have popped up on the same lists. The Cubs don't have the same number of elite prospects as they did last year, when Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber earned such distinctions, but they still boast an incredibly deep system. Grade: A-

 Cincinnati Reds

Top qualifiers: Jose Peraza, Tyler Stephenson, Tyler Mahle

Analysis: There's no doubt the Reds have made their farm system better during their rebuild, adding prospects like Cody Reed, John Lamb, Rookie Davis and Eric Jagielo in trades dating back to last year's deadline. But the only major prospect they've acquired that fits the parameters here is Peraza, who they got from the Dodgers in the three-team deal involving Todd Frazier. The jury remains out on Peraza's ceiling, but there's no doubting his speed and ability to hit for average. Stephenson, the 11th overall pick last year, has some work to do at and behind the plate to show he can join Peraza in the top 100, but the 19-year-old should have every chance to make that happen in his first full season. Add in the plus control of Mahle, and there's some decent ceiling to this group, even if there's little depth.  Grade: C+

 Milwaukee Brewers

Top qualifiers: Orlando Arcia, Brett Phillips, Trent Clark, Jacob Nottingham, Gilbert Lara, Kodi Medeiros, Cody Ponce, Devin Williams, Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison

Analysis: The Brewers are in the enviable situation of having not only a good group of especially young talent but a gorup that should help the big club fairly soon. Arcia --'s No. 6 overall prospect -- should be right on the precipice as the shortstop of the future at Triple-A Colorado Springs, waiting for the Super Two deadline to pass. Phillips, who has garnered plenty of attention for his laugh this spring, also is a candidate to bring his five-tool profile to the Majors at some point in 2016. Throw in recent offseason additions Nottingham and Diaz as well as 2015 first-rounder Clark, and there's a lot to like here. Grade: A

 Pittsburgh Pirates

Top qualifiers: Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker

Analysis: The Pirates have one of the better mixes of younger and more experienced prospects among the 30 farm systems. Meadows will be happy to break out of the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in his age-21 season, and the Pirates won't rush him into arguably the Majors' most talented outfield. Ramirez and Hayes also look to be on the rise offensively after positive seasons in the Florida State and Gulf Coast leagues, respectively, while McGuire remains one of the Minors' best defensive catching prospects. There are no arms here as the Bucs' best prospects are all upwards of 21. But the position players are solid enough. Grade: B

 St. Louis Cardinals

Top qualifiers: Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Magneuris Sierra, Edmundo Sosa, Nick Plummer, Harrison Bader, Junior Fernandez, Carson Kelly, Jake Woodford

Analysis: The Cardinals can be divided into three groups. One group high at the top with Alex Reyes, another a couple notches below with Jack Flaherty and another a couples below him with everyone else. Reyes is at a level with Giolito and Tyler Glasnow as the Minors' most exciting right-handers and should give the Cards yet another high-quality arm in the rotation by 2017. Flaherty showed three above-average pitches in his first full season at Class A and should have every chance to become a mid-rotation starter after a couple more years of development. After them, there isn't much to move the needle, although Fernandez could do that if he can show he's more than just a high-90s fastball. Grade: B-

National League West

 Arizona Diamondbacks

Top qualifiers: Domingo Leyba, Brad Keller, Cody Reed

Analysis: This piece wasot designed with the D-backs in mind. Even if the Shelby Miller never happened, the top of the Arizona system would still be relatively old. Leyba, who checks in at No. 7 in's ranking, is the highest-ranked prospect who will be 21 or under, and there isn't much else beyond him. Pioneer League MVP Isan Diaz might have bumped this grade to a D, if he hadn't been shipped to the Brewers in the deal for Jean Segura. But note, this grade isn't as much of an indictment as it may seem. The D-backs aren't completely failing, they just don't have any U-21 talent on the farm worth writing about. And that's the point. Grade: F

 Colorado Rockies

Top qualifiers: Brendan Rodgers, Ryan McMahon, Forrest Wall, Dom Nunez, Antonio Senzatela

Analysis: The first post in this series pointed out that the Rockies boast the best group of hitting prospects in baseball. Here, we'll note they also have a solid of core of youngsters. After being drafte third overall, Rodgers is set to take off in his first full season of pro ball out of high school, while McMahon will be out to show his prodigious power can play outside the California League. Wall adds another top 100 threat with plus speed. Without the top arms of 24-year-old Jon Gray and 23-year-old Jeff Hoffman and some of the older position prospects, this isn't an elite group. But it's a good one. Grade: B+

 Los Angeles Dodgers

Top qualifiers: Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Grant Holmes, Alex Verdugo, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger

Analysis: If a system has two of the game's top four prospects and both are going to be 21 or under on Opening Day, that system is going to get at least an A. The Dodgers get the extra bump because Holmes, Verdugo and Bellinger have gotten top 100 consideration from various rankings. Having Seager and Urias would have been enough to make this group look great; everyone else makes for some excellent icing. Grade: A+

 San Diego Padres

Top qualifiers: Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Ruddy Giron, Austin Smith, Logan Allen, Michael Gettys, Jacob Nix

Analysis: The first thing that jumps out is that the Padres pried a good chunk of young talent away from the Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel deal, with Margot, Guerra and Allen coming over from Boston. Margot and Guerra, in particular, are consensus top 100 prospects and give San Diego a big boost in the youth department. The Padres aren't quite in rebuild mode -- at least not compared to the Braves, Reds, Brewers and Phillies -- but this is a good step in that direction. Grade: B

 San Francisco Giants

Top qualifiers: Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, Lucius Fox

Analysis: Arroyo gives this list some credibility as the Giants' lone top 100 prospect, Bickford adds a little himself as the 18th overall pick in last year's Draft and Fox has lots of promise as a $6 million signing out of the Bahamas. But after that, most of the top talent (in an already down system) is above the 21-year-old threshold. Outside of the top four, you have to go to No. 13 in's rankings to find the next under-21 talent in Jalen Miller. Grade: C-

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.