Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg do not a system make. One prospect cannot turn a team around overnight. Still, the enthusiasm and optimism fans draw from elite prospects can be worth the trade offs of a top-heavy system. True impact players are rare at every level; five-star superstar prospects are even more so.
The Kansas City Royals have such depth that their farm system runs away with top honors overall, but they do not have the best future star in the game's minor leagues. Nor do the Nationals. Whose stud rates highest? Whose system is entirely bereft of a top-level prospect? Read on for power rankings of the best prospect in each minor-league system.
Rogers is a veteran of two shoulder surgeries but only four big-league appearances. He has a steaming fastball and a pair of sharp breaking pitches in his arsenal and he could eventually become a top-of-the-rotation type, but he will always have lingering questions because of the shoulder problems.
Milwaukee's farm system was among the weakest in baseball even prior to a pair of trades this winter; they now lack any impact player whatsoever.
The Mets got way too aggressive with their fire-balling youngster in 2010. He met with very little success as a 20-year-old reliever and will be sent back to the minors for some fine-tuning to begin this season.
Mejia has a very live arm, but the Mets have a shallow system and that's the real story here. Mejia is the best of a tepid bunch.
Gordon has elite speed, and though he will never be a top-echelon defender, he will probably be able to stay either at shortstop or second base. He will never hit for power and may struggle to make contact as he ascends to the big leagues, but Gordon could steal bases like Juan Pierre at a much more valuable defensive position.
Pineda could join Felix Hernandez in the Mariners rotation by Opening Day. That is not the same as saying Pineda is the next Hernandez; he isn't. But he has terrific command and should strike out his share of batters even at the MLB level. His success will come, but it may not come right away.
Be not fooled by the picture. Dominguez will hit, you know, enough I guess, but his primary value is as some kind of wannabe Brooks Robinson at the hot corner.
Dominguez figures to anchor the Marlins' defense over the next few years, while Logan Morrison, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Chris Coghlan do what they do—which is hit, more than enough.
Parker had Tommy John surgery in October 2009, so he should be back to 100 percent (or roughly so) by Opening Day. Still, Arizona will surely try to bring him along slowly. There is no doubt Parker can be a future star, but he needs to prove he can hold up to a full-time workload before he becomes a truly elite prospect or positive contributor again.
Kipnis had the bat to be drafted as an outfielder, and he still has patience and modest power at the plate. Now, however, scouts can add an extra tick to his future value, because Kipnis has made the successful conversion to second base. He might not win any Fielding Bible Awards, but he has held his own defensively so far and now has a much faster route to the big leagues.
Speaking of successful conversions to second base, Green does not have the arm to stay at shortstop.
Unfortunately, the move will make Green slightly less rather than slightly more valuable, but he has the power to put up terrific numbers for that position, too. The ceiling here may be as high as Ryne Sandberg territory.
He still strikes out too much and hits for too little power, but Hicks has all the tools to become a true superstar. His defense in center field is excellent; so is his plate discipline. If he can learn to make a bit more contact, he is a rich man's Shane Victorino. Hicks highlights a very athletic Twins system.
Jackson also demonstrates a good balance of power, on-base ability and athleticism in the outfield. He has developed more smoothly and further than Hicks, and his ceiling is as a good leadoff hitter with above-average pop. Think Bobby Abreu.
Jackson could be in Chicago by season's end and projects as a regular for the Cubs by the outset of 2012. The one drawback: Jackson's frame and game likely spell a move to a corner outfield spot.
Drabek is supremely polished as a pitcher, throwing with command of nearly all his offerings and mixing his pitches well.
He may struggle with command as he faces big-league hitters for the first time over a full season, and the stuff is not yet strong enough to consistently get swings and misses as the game wears on, but Drabek has an outside shot at becoming a true ace for the Blue Jays. When scouts talk about high-floor guys, Drabek is the type of guy they mean.
The Rockies have some more highly-touted talents in the lower levels of their system, but Rosario could be big-league ready much sooner and has all kinds of potential. He hits for power but lacks plate discipline, walking too rarely to safely project him as a tremendous upgrade over Chris Iannetta offensively.
Of course, offense is less than half the battle for a backstop, and Rosario is already a far superior defender behind the dish than is Iannetta.
After showing signs of dominance at lower levels, Perez walked a batter every other inning in 2010 and finished with a 5.96 ERA. That is less of a setback, though, when one considers that Perez was just 19 and pitched at Double-A all season. This southpaw has a live arm and a bright future.
The sky is the limit for Sale, but the White Sox will wisely use him in relief this season to keep his innings down. He throws with the suddenly infamous inverted W mechanical tick that so many scouts worry causes problems in the elbow and shoulder, and although I view that risk as a bit overstated in Sale's case, making sure he is not overworked is a good way to minimize any chance of Chicago losing its best young arm.
Lyles strikes batters out in the minor leagues but his curve would need to keep improving for him to whiff opponents consistently in the National League. Still, he is a fine pitcher with a very good chance to become a durable and apt No. 2 starter. In the Astros' system, he stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
Kelly's odds of joining a World Series-winning rotation may have taken a big hit when the Red Sox traded him out west in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, but selfishly, San Diego is the perfect place for Kelly.
More a pitcher than a thrower, Kelly does not strike out tons of hitters but does have excellent control. That will serve him well as PETCO Park. So, too, will his remarkable athleticism and defensive presence around the mound.
He has the long legs that drive him through a power delivery, making his arm seemingly less susceptible than it otherwise might be to injury when he rears back for his high-90s heat. Miller may be the Cardinals' answer when Chris Carpenter's contract expires at season's end—because really, who isn't going to be glued to their seats trying to find out how the Cardinals will replace Chris Carpenter this winter?
Machado is big, athletic and a polished hitter who could go from high-school draftee to big-leaguer in a matter of a few years.
He will not be a world-beating defensive shortstop, but his career should be filled with seasons that look an awful lot like the prime of the incumbent shortstop in Baltimore: J.J. Hardy, who hit 50 homers and played very good defense in his very brief two-year stint as an All-Star caliber player at the position.
That the Giants, who finally graduated Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner last season, still have a talent of Belt's caliber on the farm is plainly unfair. Belt caught most by surprise with his breakout effort in 2010, but scouts who watch him say he is for real. The Giants have committed to Aubrey Huff, but an outfield spot might open up for Belt before season's end.
This rates as pretty high praise of a pitcher who has not yet, you know, pitched in the professional setting. He does not have much to prove as a prospect, though. He throws a great mid-90s fastball with two sharp breaking balls and has shown good command of each. His build is reminiscent of Stephen Strasburg, but his delivery is different enough to mitigate concerns about an elbow injury for the time being.
At age 19 and in his first pro season, Turner struck out 102 against 23 walks in 118 innings for the Tigers last season. He could be on the fast track to the big leagues by 2012.
He prizes command so much that he sometimes takes a bit too much off his fastball and changeup, which could get him hammered someday, but assuming he keeps his nose to the grindstone, the Tigers have a future ace here.
I'll admit it: I'm an absolute sucker for a defensive whiz at shortstop. Iglesias will hit just enough to be a good big-leaguer, but he plays defense like few have ever played at the toughest position in sports. Boston isn't expecting him in the immediate future, or Marco Scutaro would already be gone, but whenever he does arrive, he will give the Sox one of the three best defenders in baseball for several years.
Will he stay behind the plate? Likely not. Montero is a tremendous slugger but not a great receiver and the team will surely try to protect him by giving him at least some plate appearances as a DH over the coming years. Whenever and wherever he plays, though, Montero will be the first legitimate 40-homer threat behind the plate since Mike Piazza.
If Ryan Howard leveled off his swing and balanced his game more between power and speed, he would be almost indistinguishable from Brown at the plate. Brown is a terrific athlete who will likely play in a platoon in 2011 but who deserves full-time plate appearances as soon as he shows he can hit enough.
The 105-mile-per-hour man will be back in the Cincinnati bullpen this spring, and though one must hope he will eventually start so as to maximize his value, Chapman is one heck of a set-up man. He could the closer by season's end, and he will almost certainly strike out 10 or so batters per nine innings.
This kid is six-string electric on the mound. That the Braves get to add him to a rotation that already features Tommy Hanson and should still contain Tim Hudson hardly seems fair. Teheran is the best pitching prospect in baseball, a sturdier Pedro Martinez in the making.
This Kansas City youth movement could be really fun to watch, and it should start this year: Expect to see Moustakas and perhaps Eric Hosmer slugging for the parent club by Opening Day 2012 at the latest. Moustakas' most comfortable position is at the plate, but he does enough to stay at third and should be an elite producer there for some time.
By all rights, he should be at least two years from playing for the Nats, but the Nats are really bad, and anyway Harper made a ton of noise in his pro debut at the Arizona Fall League. Whenever he makes it to the show, Harper's colossal power will translate into elite home run production for years. He already has the batting eye to actualize that power, too. Scary.
What's not to like? Hellickson has gotten a taste for mammal blood after pitching in relief for Tampa late last year. He has every tool scouts look for, both physically and mentally. He may not have Strasburg's or Chapman's gimmicky velocity, but Hellickson has command and durability to spare.
He pitches for a good team with a very solid defense, and Hellickson might just win the AL Rookie of the Year this season as a result.
Hellickson faces no threat on the award front from Trout, who will not reach the bright lights of Los Angeles in 2012. It will be his age 19 season, after all, so there really is no hurry.
But Trout, who boasts elite speed and sufficient power on offense to go with great defensive instincts, will someday battle for his own Rookie of the Year honors—and perhaps an MVP or two. Trout may be as good or better than some of the game's real greats before he hangs them up. Think Rickey Henderson. Think Joe Morgan. Trout is a beast.