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 received their marks Monday. This edition covers the National League organizations as Sam Dykstra analyzes the NL East and NL West while Kelsie Henegan uses her red pen on the NL Central.
National League East
There was a time when the theme of the Braves system was pitching, pitching and Ronald Acuña Jr. It's a little different these days with outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters grabbing so many headlines for the way they've taken off at Double-A Mississippi in their age-20 seasons. It's not hard to envision that pair playing alongside Acuña at some point in the future (perhaps near future). Also, lest we forget that torrid slugging start Austin Riley got off to that prompted his push to Atlanta. But back to the pitching: Ian Anderson has been the most consistent performer of the bunch with three above-average pitches at Mississippi, while rotation-mates Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller and Joey Wentz have had their moments and Jasseel De La Cruz has risen three levels to join them. Production hasn't been there for the biggest names, however, with Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson seeming to take a step back and Luiz Gohara not pitching at all. There's still a lot to like in the group, and parts of the farm have helped the Braves to the top of the division in the Majors, but a small part of us can't help but feel this first half could have gone a little better.
This still isn't a fully rebuilt farm system, but there have been several positive steps taken by Fish prospects this season. Zac Gallen put up some of the best numbers in Triple-A before he joined the Miami rotation on June 20. Before that, Jordan Yamamoto got the call straight from Double-A Jacksonville, and he's been somewhat of a revelation during his first foray in the big leagues. Lower down, first-rounders Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers have overcome injury histories to shove at Class A Advanced Jupiter, and Edward Cabrera might have been the breakout prospect of the system at the same level before he moved up to Double-A Jacksonville. Top prospect Sixto Sanchez continues to show the highest ceiling of them all now that he's featuring his above-average three-pitch mix with plus control in the Southern League. When it comes to hitters, Monte Harrison and Isan Díaz are showing why they're deserving of second-half callups, and both will head to the Futures Game this weekend with Sanchez. The biggest disappointment thus far has been No. 3 prospect Víctor Víctor Mesa, who hasn't gotten off the ground at Jupiter, and the 23rd-best winning percentage across the Minors earns Miami no points here. But this solid grade for a farm system in need of one should be considered a win.
New York Mets
Anthony Kay is the big story here. The 2016 first-rounder, who had missed time earlier in his career due to Tommy John surgery, was a breakout phenomenon at Double-A Binghamton, where he had a 1.49 ERA in 12 starts. (He's been hit around since his move to Triple-A Syracuse, but that's also the case for many pitchers at the Minors' highest level.) Also, Pete Alonso began the season as a prospect, so New York gets some credit for allowing him to open in the Majors, where he's been one of the best sluggers in the game. The praise should pretty much end there, however. None of the system's top four position player prospects -- Andrés Giménez, Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos and Shervyen Newton -- have an OPS above .700. David Peterson and Simeon Woods Richardson have shown flashes but have been inconsistent on the mound. The system as a whole ranks 21st in winning percentage. Those in Queens looking for hope in the Minors might want to keep focusing on the continuing promise of Alonso, Kay and Jeff McNeil instead.
The Phillies caught some gruff for starting 2018 first-rounder Alec Bohm at Class A Lakewood despite his status as a college bat, but the Wichita State product has done well to climb to Double-A Reading, where his above-average pop is already playing well. Adonis Medina -- the club's other Top-100 representative -- has spent his entire season in the Eastern League, where he is an All-Star despite seeing his K rate drop drastically. Adam Haseley caught fire in May and moved up to the Majors in early June, only to play two games before suffering a groin injury. He's back in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Outside of those big four, Francisco Morales has been a strikeout machine, Deivy Grullon is hitting his way into Major League consideration and Spencer Howard is finding health after suffering from shoulder soreness earlier in the season. Still, the ceiling is certainly lacking outside of maybe Bohm here, and the near Major League-ready arms (Ranger Suárez, Cole Irvin, Enyel De Los Santos, JoJo Romero) haven't done enough to break through at the upper levels. The 15th-best winning percentage only solidifies a grade in the C range.
It's a series of one step forward, one step back throughout this system. Carter Kieboom has put up the best offensive numbers of any Nationals prospect, but his time in the Majors was a dud on both sides of the ball and he's been back with Fresno since May 7. Luis Garcia was aggressively moved to Double-A Harrisburg as a 19-year-old but has been unable to get things going there. Those are the organization's only Top-100 prospects, and outside of them, few have done enough to come close to breaking through. Mason Denaburg, last year's first-rounder, could now that he's pitching in the Gulf Coast League, but he's got some lost time to make up for. As an organization, the group ranks 19th in collective winning percentage, not enough to save it from this rough grade.
National League Central
Injuries have not been kind to the Cubs system. Top prospect Nico Hoerner missed two months after getting hit by a pitch, right-hander Adbert Alzolay didn't make his first start until May 12, Justin Steele is currently on his second IL stint and Keegan Thompson has only made one start this year. Things are going well for Hoerner and Alzolay when healthy, however. Hoerner notched an .891 OPS before the injury and is just about ready for a return, while Alzolay bounced back to make his Major League debut. And with Cole Hamels battling his own injury, the 24-year-old is expected to make an extended stay in Wrigleyville. Brennen Davis is raking for Class A South Bend, and teammate Cole Roederer started to hit his stride in June; however, Brailyn Marquez was really challenged by Midwest League batters last month. Also, Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan have yet to find their groove one level up. The full-season clubs have been split between success (Iowa, South Bend) and rough times (Tennessee, Myrtle Beach), so club victories aren't enough to push the grade up.
While the Reds remain at the bottom of the NL Central, it hasn't been much better in the Minors. Hunter Greene lost the 2019 season to Tommy John surgery while Tony Santillan was placed on the IL with a shoulder injury -- something he is no stranger to -- after notching a 4.85 ERA and already matching his 2018 walk total. From the plate, Taylor Trammell, Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson have each turned in an OPS below .800. And while their numbers aren't terrible, especially India, they are not up to snuff with their rankings and Draft status. Michael Siani, Jose Israel Garcia and Jose Siri aren't doing much to impress at the plate, while Vladimir Gutierrez and Lyon Richardson are having trouble from the mound. It's no wonder the Reds organization has the fifth-worst winning percentage in the Minors. Nick Senzel's graduation to the Majors at least earns the group some points in the first half.
Top prospect Keston Hiura has truly been the system's shining star, making his Major League debut in the first half. After being sent back down to Triple-A San Antonio, the 22-year-old second baseman quickly showed he belonged in the Senior Circuit, and it wasn't long before he was recalled. Beyond No. 1, Brice Turang and Aaron Ashby have had solid first full seasons, with the latter really excelling after a promotion to Class A Advanced Carolina. Mauricio Dubón is making a pitch for next callup, and while teammate Lucas Erceg is matching him homer for homer, he's having trouble getting on base otherwise. Also making his way to the Triple-A level, Trent Grisham is becoming the all-around offensive threat Milwaukee hoped he would when it took him 15th overall four years ago. On the other side of the ball, Brewers top pitching prospect Zack Brown can't seem to capture the magic of his big 2018 campaign. And then there are outfielders Corey Ray and Joe Gray, who both have high ceilings but have yet to show it this season due to injuries and illness. With all this being said, the Brewers organization has the second-best winning percentage in baseball.
Each of the top eight prospects in the Pirates system play for either Triple-A Indianapolis or Class A Advanced Bradenton (or both in Luis Escobar's case), so it's no wonder those are the top performing teams in the system. Top prospect Mitch Keller's ERA took a beating in June, but he also got to make three starts in the Majors. While his numbers weren't great in The Show, he showed he could shake off a tough inning or two. Righty Escobar has been electric in his first taste of Triple-A, while Ke'Bryan Hayes, Kevin Kramer and Jason Martin have been inconsistent for the Indians -- though Martin has bounced between the Majors and Minors a few times. Meanwhile in the Florida State League, Travis Swaggerty and Cal Mitchell cooled down in June while Oneil Cruz finally returned from an April injury. The Pirates prospects (and affiliates) have the pieces. It's just about consistently putting them together across the board like they did with Bryan Reynolds upon his move up in April.
St. Louis Cardinals
Like the MLB club, the Cardinals system is doing just alright, albeit more on an individual basis. Top prospect Nolan Gorman is trying to find his power stroke again after earning a midseason promotion to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, while breakout prospect Dylan Carlson already tallied a career high in homers at Double-A. Andrew Knizner continues to do well at and behind the plate in Memphis while he tries to find his place in St. Louis en route to eventually replacing Yadier Molina. Then it falls off a bit in the Cardinals' rankings with Elehuris Montero, Jhon Torres and Malcom Nunez battling the Mendoza Line in limited playing time. Lane Thomas, Génesis Cabrera and Ryan Helsley have each reached Busch this year, with Helsley likely to return shortly after recovering from a shoulder impingement. With all the transactions, the Cardinals' system only has one full-season team (Class A Advanced Palm Beach) even close to .500.
National League West
A mixed bag here, but even the negatives have a positive shine on them. Jon Duplantier played a valuable role, shuttling between Triple-A Reno and the Majors to provide the big club with pitching depth, but he's been out since early June with a shoulder issue. Jazz Chisholm has struggled to make contact at Double-A, but when he does, it's been loud as he's shown his power breakout in 2018 was no joke. Taylor Widener really struggled early at Triple-A, but he's shown serious signs of turning things around lately. Outside the biggest names, Kristian Robinson continues to show a considerable ceiling at Class A Short Season Hillsboro, Alek Thomas is already a Futures Gamer and Domingo Leyba has pushed his way into becoming a Major League option. Although not technically ranked prospects, Kevin Cron and Yasmany Tomás also deserve mentions for their incredibly powerful performances in the Pacific Coast League. D-backs affiliates rank sixth in winning percentage, giving the grade a further bump, even if the Arizona system isn't about to match the ceiling of others on this list.
It seems there will always be impressive hitting performances in this system, and there's no shortage this season, led by Roberto Ramos at Class A Advanced Lancaster, Yonathan Daza, Sam Hilliard, Brian Mundell at Triple-A Albuquerque and Terrin Vavra at Class A Asheville. Top prospect Brendan Rodgers made the Majors but struggled to show he was worthy of regular at-bats before hitting the IL with a shoulder injury. On the pitching side, 2018 first-rounder Ryan Rolison has moved into the Top-100 list with the way he's gotten whiffs in his first full season. Ben Bowden, the club's Futures Game rep, has been downright dominant as a reliever, while Rico Garcia has been unhittable at times, at least at Double-A. There are a fair share of disappointments here -- Grant Lavigne isn't taking off and Riley Pint still can't stay healthy -- and the 24th-best winning percentage drops some points here, but not enough to keep Colorado from a solid grade.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Remember how Alex Verdugo opened the season as a prospect? It didn't take him long to graduate, but he still counts here as he's become a solid regular for the Major League club. The story throughout the system has indeed been impressive first halves from the system's top prospects. Gavin Lux was one of the best hitters at Double-A before getting his bump to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Dustin May showed plenty of promise on the mound when he made the same move. Tony Gonsolin and Will Smith have already parlayed solid PCL turns into Major League time. Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray -- acquired from the Reds in the offseason -- have made strong first impressions. If there is a nit to pick, it's that Keibert Ruiz still hasn't dominated offensively in his second turn at Double-A, but even then, this is still just his age-20 season, meaning he has more development time ahead of him. Add in that Dodgers affiliates rank fifth in collective winning percentage, and there's been a lot to like about Los Angeles' NL system in 2019.
San Diego Padres
The Padres entered 2019 as the best system in baseball, graduated Fernando Tatis Jr., Chris Paddack and Francisco Mejía and still manage to hold the belt, thanks to a league-best nine Top-100 prospects. The emergence of Xavier Edwards and the improvements of Josh Naylor helped replace those losses. Meanwhile, MacKenzie Gore has taken over as arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball. Luis Urías has hit like someone who should have been out of Triple-A a long time ago. Luis Patiño and Ryan Weathers are dominating the lower levels. Players like Luis Campusano, Ty France, Andres Munoz and Joey Cantillo are breaking out enough to become must-follows most nights in the Minors. Sure, there have been some slipups -- Adrian Morejon's ERA is high at Double-A, Hudson Potts and Buddy Reed aren't quite taking off at the same spot -- but that's looking for trouble. This is a group that has maintained its already lofty reputation, and that was no easy task.
San Francisco Giants
There were times when this was looking much worse. Top prospects Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos were each limited by injuries in the first half but have returned now to the Class A Advanced San Jose lineup, where they're holding their own. Much further down, Marco Luciano looks like the next big young shortstop prospect to pop with the way he's taking to the Arizona League at just 17, and 19-year-old Alexander Canario has already moved to Class A Short Season after hitting seven homers in 10 games at the complex circuit. On the pitching side, Shaun Anderson graduated into the San Francisco rotation, and Sean Hjelle and Jake Wong have been fairly quick movers toward joining him some day. But beyond the top three in Bart, Ramos and Luciano (and maybe Canario), there isn't a high ceiling here, and the organization's depth took a hit when Logan Webb was suspended 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancer. There are some steps here, particularly from Luciano, but on the whole, this first half felt more like treading water by the bay.