The Chicago Cubs may be struggling to make noise in the big leagues, but their farm system has become the best in baseball.
Nobody will be happy after a 101-loss season, and pointing out that young talent is on the way may not matter to impatient fans.
If we're being honest, the team has room for improvement in all areas. Their best starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, had a 3.81 ERA with 180 strikeouts. Those numbers are solid, but not when they lead the entire team.
The 2012 squad finished in the bottom third of the league in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage—which makes it easy to see why the club struggled.
But while some teams look toward a win-now strategy (like the Yankees and Dodgers), the Cubs are building for their future, and it begins with their farm system. It may not please everybody, but there's reason for optimism over the next few years.
Here are four reasons why the Chicago Cubs' farm system has become the best in baseball.
Theo Epstein made baseball headlines in 2011 by leaving the Boston Red Sox to become the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs.
If anyone knows something about taking a team mired in a historically long drought and turning them into championship contenders, it's Epstein.
He was part of a Red Sox organization that acquired key contributors Curt Schilling, David Ortiz and Kevin Millar en route a World Series title in 2004, the club's first in 86 years. During his time in Boston, young players like Jacoby Ellsbury made their way through the team's farm system to eventually become stars in the major league lineup.
Having management with a proven record is a huge key for success in any organization, and Epstein has just that. He knows what winning baseball looks like despite low expectations and resignation from the fanbase, and there's no reason to think he can't have similar success in Chicago.
The team has passionate fans and Epstein cares deeply about the game, as evidenced by his time in Boston. If there's one reason the Cubs' farm system is solid and will continue to be solid, it's Theo Epstein.
The Cubs' farm system has become one of the best in baseball because it's starting to really develop the young talent.
Take Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, for example. Rizzo came to the team from the San Diego Padres, who brought Rizzo up to the major league team too early.
After landing in Chicago, Rizzo tore up triple-A ball by hitting .342 with 23 home runs before getting the call up to the majors once again in June. Only this time, he continued his torrid pace and earned himself a rookie of the month award in the National League.
Before Rizzo made his impact, it was Castro who got the call up from double-A ball in 2010 at just 20 years old. All he did after that was make back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Both Rizzo and Castro are talented building blocks for a future that looks much brighter than the recent past. While Rizzo may not have been in the farm system for long, the triple-A Iowa Cubs at least helped him gain confidence which propelled him back into the majors.
It's one thing to boast about having an excellent farm system, but with talent like Rizzo and Castro in the major leagues, the Cubs have proof as well.
You can't have a great farm system without featuring promising young hitters as well as talented pitchers.
The Cubs have a good balance of the two, but it begins with their hopes for improved offense, and that starts with guys like Brett Jackson.
Jackson eventually worked his way up to the major leagues, and found himself starting for the Cubs in early August.
Another prospect that could have an impact in the coming years is Matt Szczur, whose game is a lot smoother than his last name.
Dan Vogelbach is a third name to watch for after he was drafted in 2011. He's a bigger guy with power to go deep at any moment.
While some prospects make an impact right away, others take awhile. And still others may never make it at all. But the Cubs have multiple guys with potentially bright futures, putting their farm system among the very best.
Finally we arrive at the pitchers, which typically make or break a World Series run. Just look at what the San Francisco Giants' staff did to the Detroit Tigers potent lineup in this year's fall classic.
The Cubs' farm system features a couple young righties in Dillon Maples and Trey McNutt that have a real chance to help the team for many years.
Jim Caples of Baseball America listed them as the fourth and fifth-best prospects in the Cubs' system a year ago.
Maples chose to forgo his scholarship offer from North Carolina, which would have seen him play both football and baseball, to join the Cubs. He hasn't had much of an opportunity to develop his stuff, but the promise is there and the hope is that he'll get a chance to pitch plenty of innings next spring.
McNutt was actually drafted all the way down in the 32nd round of the 2009 draft, but early success led some to believe he had major league talent. He may not have the hype that surrounds some of the higher draft picks, but he posted a strong 2010 campaign en route to the double-A Tennessee Smokies team.
Both of these pitchers may not have a strong impact for a couple more seasons, but they nonetheless add intriguing talent and depth to a farm system that is truly one of baseball's best.