MLB Power Rankings: Rating Each Major League Team's Farm System

Zachary BallAnalyst INovember 22, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: Rating Each Major League Team's Farm System

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    Having the top farm system in baseball in no way guarantees success. Just ask the Royals, Pirates and Nationals, each of whom have had the top-ranked systems in past years but have failed to break free of their losing ways.

    Still, it doesn't hurt to have a deep pool of talent. The Rays have used a constant flow of young talent to stay competitive in a division that thrives on free agency, while the Giants and Rangers have built a steady nucleus around players who were drafted, signed and developed by the organization.

    There's no doubt that the Royals, Rays and Braves have a few of the top systems in baseball right now, but a few other teams near the top may surprise you (Oh, Canada!).

    So, without further ado, I present the top farm systems in baseball, ranked worst to first.

Chicago White Sox D-

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    Overall grade: D-

    Strengths: Outfield

    Weaknesses: Pitching, shortstop, second base

    To say that the White Sox have underwhelmed in the draft the past few seasons would be an understatement. Their propensity to go after top free agents, which in turn costs them draft picks as compensation, has also hurt the depth of their system. As a result, they now have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

    There is no consensus top prospect with the graduation of 1B/OF Dayan Viciedo, and the players with claims to the spot (RHP Addison Reed, OF Trayce Thompson and OF Jared Mitchell) all have considerable holes in their game.

    Few teams have been better at sticking to the guidelines set forward by the commissioner's office in the draft, so hopefully the new changes to the draft process, as outlined in the new CBA, will help the Sox get their system back into decent shape.

Cleveland Indians D

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    Overall grade: D

    Strengths: Shortstop, catcher

    Weaknesses: Pitching, outfield, corner infield

    The Indians lost two top-notch starting pitchers in RHP Alex White and LHP Drew Pomeranz in the deal that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland but managed to pick up another elite player in the draft. SS Francisco Lindor should anchor the infield for the next decade.

    The system isn't particularly strong in any other position, although Alex Lavisky and Chun-Hsiu Chen offer notable upside at catcher.

    They added some pieces in the 2011 draft, including RHP Dillon Howard and now have a decent crop of pitchers (RHP Zach McAllister and Nick Hagadone), although injuries have robbed them of the regular services of one of their top prospects, RHP Jason Knapp.

San Francisco Giants D

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    Overall grade: D

    Strengths: Relief pitching, outfield

    Weaknesses: Starting pitching, first base, second base

    The Giants system wasn't particularly strong to begin with, but they lost their top prospects, one to a trade (Zack Wheeler) and one to graduation (Brandon Belt) this past season, leaving them in worse shape than they entered the year. Granted, they still have several talented players, led by OF Gary Brown, who had a fantastic full-season debut. He's joined by LHP Eric Surkamp, arguably the team's top pitching prospect.

    They chose not to go the flashy route in the draft, selecting solid SS Joe Panik out of St. John's with their first-round pick. They missed out on getting a cornerstone catcher when they failed to sign Oregon State backstop Andrew Susac, and they couldn't ink his teammate LHP Josh Osich either.

    They hope to continue to get strong performances from C Tommy Joseph and RHP Heath Hembree, the team's future closer should Brian Wilson ever leave. Hembree features some of the best velocity in the minors and could be a superb set-up man even if Wilson sticks around for a few more years.

Los Angeles Dodgers D

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    Overall grade: D

    Strengths: Pitching

    Weaknesses: First base, shortstop, catcher, outfield

    It's been quite a year for the Dodgers, but with the upcoming sale of the franchise, hopefully the team can get back on track and continue to rebuild a terrible farm system. It hasn't necessarily been poor drafting that has hurt the team, rather promotions and trades have killed any hope they ever had at building depth.

    Gone are SS Dee Gordon, RHP Rubby de la Rosa and OF Trayvon Robinson. Outfielders Kyle Russell and Jerry Sands offer plenty of power but don't figure to be above-average hitters at the big-league level.

    They also get docked some points for the failure to develop many of their first-round pitchers from years gone by, including RHPs Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin.

Detroit Tigers C-

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    Overall grade: C-

    Strengths: Third base, first base

    Weaknesses: Outfield, shortstop, second base

    The Tigers benefit from having RHP Jacob Turner, one of the top pitchers in the minor leagues, and despite the fact that they traded away a solid amount of talent to acquire pieces this past season, they held on to one of the most underrated players in the minors, 3B Nick Castellanos, who tore up Low-A ball as a teenager.

    The pitching, beyond Turner, is weak, and the Tigers have holes at shortstop, second base and in the outfield. They filled a huge need by taking C James McCann with their first pick in the 2011 draft.

Baltimore Orioles C-

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    Overall grade: C-

    Strengths: Shortstop and third base

    Weaknesses: Pitching, first base and outfield

    The O's have one of the worst farm systems in baseball, without a doubt, but are anchored by two elite-level prospects in RHP Dylan Bundy and SS Manny Machado. Those two are arguably the top prospects at their position in the minors.

    Aside from those two, the cupboard is pretty bare. Curacao native 3B Jonathan Schoop had a breakout season and reached High-A as a 19-year-old. He could be the team's long-term answer at the hot corner but so could 2011 draftees Nicky Delmonico and Jason Esposito.

    Like every other system, the O's were dealt some major injuries in 2011, specifically to RHP Daniel Klein.

Minnesota Twins C-

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    Overall grade: C-

    Strengths: Pitching, third base, outfield

    Weaknesses: Catcher, first base

    The Twins have let their farm system get away from them over the past five years, and they're starting to feel the sting at the big-league level. They have no solid option at catcher to fill in for the ever-injured Joe Mauer, and their pitching depth is mostly made up of pitchers who are still at the lower levels.

    Speaking of lower levels, they happen to have one of the top power hitters in the minors down at rookie ball. Third baseman Miguel Sano has explosive tools, and despite a likely move to the outfield he still figures to be a perennial All-Star.

    RHP Kyle Gibson will miss the majority of the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, leaving RHP Liam Hendriks as the team's top hurler.

Los Angeles Angels C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: First base, second base, outfield

    Weaknesses: Catcher

    The Angels farm system benefits greatly from OF Mike Trout missing out on losing his prospect status by seven at-bats. Otherwise they would rank ever closer to the bottom. Trout is a top-notch player with speed to burn and above-averge hitting ability.

    First baseman C.J. Cron is the top position player outside of Trout, offering outstanding power and hitting ability. Second baseman Jean Segura is the only other player to get excited about.

    On the mound they're very weak. Graduations and trades have cost them the services of LHP Tyler Skaggs and RHP Tyler Chatwood, leaving them with a slew of talented, but otherwise raw, pitchers that includes RHPs Cam Bedrosian and Daniel Tillman. 

Chicago Cubs C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: Third base, outfield

    Weaknesses: Pitching, shortstop

    Losing RHP Chris Archer and SS Hak-Ju Lee to Tampa in the Matt Garza trade had a devastating effect on the Cubs farm system. Getting terrible years from RHP Trey McNutt and a few other top prospects didn't help either.

    Luckily, the Cubs have two of the most athletic outfielders in the minor leagues in Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur. Jackson has the better all-around polish but lacks any true plus tool. Szczur has blinding speed and has a very patience approach at the plate.

    Newly-acquired 3B Javier Baez is one of the finest pure hitters in the minors and coupled with Josh Vitters and Junior Lake, gives the Cubs some of the best depth in the minors.

    Second-round pick 1B Dan Vogelbach could be a steal and offers the best power in the system, while 14th-rounder Dillon Maples offers No. 2 or No. 3 stuff. Signing him was a major coup.

    RHP Tony Zych could also be a major factor. He has closer's stuff and could one day succeed Carlos Marmol as the team's top reliever. He could reach the Majors by the middle of next season.

    Expect the Cubs to dramatically improve their system over the next year or so, with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer calling the shots.

Philadelphia Phillies C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: Pitching, catcher, shortstop

    Weaknesses: Outfield, third base, second base

    The Phils system took a major hit during 2011, losing both RHP Jarred Cosart and 1B/OF Jonathan Singleton to trades and RHP Vance Worley to the big-leagues. They got huge performances from RHP Trevor May and LHP Jesse Biddle, but overall their depth is still lacking.

    They did get some high-ceiling players in the draft, including SS Roman Quinn, OF Larry Greene and SS Tyler Greene, but they still have glaring holes at several positions. With Jimmy Rollins potentially headed out of town, they have no in-house replacement ready to step up at shortstop.

    They're set at catcher with Sebastian Valle, one of the most underrated backstops in the minor leagues.

Miami Marlins C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: Outfield, pitching

    Weaknesses: Catcher, first base

    The Marlins have a middle-of-the-road system, anchored by one of the top young outfielders in the minor leagues, Christian Yelich, who had such a great year as a teenager in Low-A ball that he's starting to hear his name mentioned with the upper class of outfield prospects. He offers great speed and incredible raw power, and his plate discipline is amazingly advanced for his age.

    They're also strong in the pitching department, getting two solid players in the 2011 draft in RHP Jose Fernandez, who has No. 2 starter potential and LHP Adam Conley, who could emerge as the team's closer of the future.

    LHP Chad James is also a wild card. He's been saddled with some of the worst luck in baseball the past two seasons but remains one of the top pitchers in the system.

    The team needs desperately to find a long-term catching solution.

Oakland Athletics C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: Third base, shortstop, outfield

    Weaknesses: Pitching, catcher

    The A's graduated some talent last year, including 2B Jemile Weeks and RHP Tyson Ross, leaving them with one of the least impressive farm systems in the American League. They have drafted well the past few years, and as a result their top prospects are their most recent first-round selections, including SS Grant Green (2009), OF Michael Choice (2010) and RHP Sonny Gray (2011).

    Gray almost reached the Majors in his pro debut and will likely reach Oakland at some point in 2012. Green could easily join him. Choice has as much power as any hitter in the minors. The team picked up another solid power hitter in 3B B.A. Vollmuth in the third round this past season, and along with Steve Parker now has some of the best depth at third base, with Green likely headed there at some point.

    Shortstop Yordy Cabrera has high upside, as does OF Aaron Shipman, one of the top athletes in the system.

Milwaukee Brewers C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: Pitching, third base

    Weaknesses: Outfield, shortstop, catcher

    The Brewers had to complete a major overhaul of their farm system after shelling out four of their top prospects to the Blue Jays and Royals in exchange for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and they got incredibly lucky that they were able to snatch up two players of great potential: RHP Taylor Jungmann and LHP Jed Bradley. Both offer No. 2 starter ceiling.

    Beyond Bradley and Jungmann, they also have homegrown RHP Wily Peralta, who Baseball America ranks as their top overall prospect heading into 2012. RHP Tyler Thornburg was also a welcomed surprise in 2011, ranking among the top two or three in every pitching category in the system.

    The Brewers still have plenty of work to do, as they lack talent at catcher, shortstop and in the outfield.

Colorado Rockies C

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    Overall grade: C

    Strengths: Third base, outfield, pitching, catcher

    Weaknesses: First base, second base

    The Rockies also graduated tons of talent in 2011 but still retain many of their top prospects, including LHP Tyler Matzek, OF Kyle Parker and OF Tim Wheeler.

    Matzek had a rough year but bounced back to finish on a tear. The team also got strong years from RHP's Chad Bettis and Edwar Cabrera, who led all minor leaguers in strikeouts.

    Third baseman Nolan Arenado was long thought of as the long-term successor to Todd Helton at first base but showed enough athleticism this past year to warrant a longer look at the hot corner. They also earn some extra points for returning C Wilin Rosario, although he's likely to spend the majority of 2012 in the Majors.

Boston Red Sox C+

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    Overall grade: C+

    Strengths: Catcher, third base, second base and outfield

    Weaknesses: Shortstop

    The Sox have overall solid depth in their farm system but lack any true elite players. They have a couple who come close (RHP's Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo), but for the most part the Sox have been drafting late in the first-round—if they have any picks at all in the first-round at all, that is—leaving them scrambling for help.

    Their pitching took a giant step back in 2011, with LHP Drake Britton having a terrible year and very few players stepping forward to fill the void.

    Luckily, they're in solid shape at just about every other position on the diamond, especially catcher, where they not only have Ryan Lavarnway but also potential All-Star Blake Swihart, who they paid heavily for this past draft. Swihart has arguably the best bat in the system, switch-hits and is great on defense.

    Most of the other top players at given positions are all from the team's three most recent drafts, including 3B Kolbrin Vitek, 2B Garin Cecchini and OF Brandon Jacobs.

Seattle Mariners C+

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    Overall grade: C+

    Strengths: Pitching, shortstop

    Weaknesses: Outfield, catcher

    The Mariners farm system made great progress in 2011, getting huge performances from RHP Taijuan Walker, 1B Rich Poyhtress and 3B Alex Liddi.

    They also made a killing in the draft, throwing a curveball and picking up LHP Danny Hultzen with the No. 2 overall pick. Hultzen gives them a frontline starter to pair with Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez.

    At shortstop, they already had a talented player in Nick Franklin, and they added another polished hitter in the draft in Brad Miller.

    They have gaping holes at catcher and in the outfield.

Houston Astros C+

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    Overall grade: C+

    Strengths: Shortstop, second base, first base

    Weaknesses: Catcher

    The Astros had one of the worst farm systems entering the season but made several moves to shore up their defenses. They dealt Hunter Pence for two high-level prospects, 1B Jon Singleton and RHP Jarred Cosart. They also drafted OF George Springer, who offers the best combination of speed and power.

    I wouldn't go so far as to call the pitching depth a strength, but it's certainly coming along with RHP's Mike Foltynewicz, Tanner Bushue and Nick Tropeano.

    They're stocked at shortstop and second, with rangy athletes Jonathan Villar, Jio Mier and Delino DeShields Jr. all offering sensational athleticism and speed.

St. Louis Cardinals C+

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    Overall grade: C+

    Strengths: Pitching, second base

    Weaknesses: Catcher, outfield, shortstop

    The Cardinals benefit from having two potential front-of-the-rotation pitchers in RHP's Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller. Miller gets all the attention, but Martinez has been compared to Pedro Martinez on numerous occasions.

    Beyond those two they have a stable group of mid-rotation pitchers, including RHP's Jordan Swagerty and Seth Blair and LHP Sam Gaviglio.

    They have a budding superstar at second base in Kolten Wong, who should challenge for batting titles one day. Third baseman Zack Cox has underwhelmed in his first taste of pro ball but offers above-average potential at the plate.

    The team moved quickly to fill a perceived hole in the system by selecting and then paying a high price ($1.275 million) for toolsy outfielder Charlie Tilson. He gives the team a potential five-tool player to replace the departed Colby Rasmus. After Tilson, the outfield depth is poor and lacks any other true potential impact player.

San Diego Padres B-

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    Overall grade: B-

    Strengths: Pitching, outfield, third base, catcher, second base

    Weaknesses: Shortstop, first base

    Anchored by the pieces acquired from the Adrian Gonzalez trade and bolstered by one of the top draft performances from the team in at least a decade, the Padres are quietly building a solid farm system. They added 1B Anthony Rizzo, RHP Casey Kelly and OF Reymond Fuentes before the season, and the latter two still remain "prospects." Fuentes has five-tool talent, and Kelly still has mid-rotation potential.

    They picked up a solid everyday player in second baseman Cory Spangenberg with their first pick in the draft and then selected two very high-upside players in RHP Joe Ross and RHP Michael Kelly.

    They were even better drafting in the middle and late rounds, scooping up a possible franchise catcher in second-rounder Austin Hedges, who passed on a scholarship to UCLA. They also picked up a toolsy shortstop in Jace Peterson, a mid-rotation arm in RHP Mark Pope and a great hitter in OF Kyle Gaedele.

    Third base has become one of the team's deepest positions, with James Darnell and Jedd Gyorko both having career years. Gyorko has the higher upside and is one of the top offensive third basemen in the minor leagues. RHP Keyvius Sampson also had a fantastic campaign, and don't sleep on former first-rounder OF Donovan Tate, who looked sensational when he was healthy.

New York Mets B-

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    Overall grade: B-

    Strengths: Pitching, third base, outfield, second base

    Weaknesses: Catcher, first base and shortstop

    The Mets have two sensational international pitchers in RHP's Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia. Mejia was the darling of the system coming into the year but had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, he should be ready to start the 2012 season, likely at Triple-A. Familia had a breakout season, reaching Double-A. He too will start out at Triple-A.

    Joining those two are RHP Zack Wheeler, the former top prospect in San Francisco, and RHP Matt Harvey, a frontline starter who dominated at times in 2011. Together Wheeler and Harvey should lead the Mets rotation for years to come, while Mejia and Familia might end up in the bullpen.

    Adding depth to the system are RHP's Cory Mazzoni, Tyler Pill, Erik Goeddel and LHP's Steve Matz, Juan Urbina and Alex Panteliodis. They also got a steal in their supplemental first-round selection, RHP Michael Fulmer. Fulmer may have been considered the top arm from Oklahoma in any other year. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy. Still, he has excellent velocity and could have front-end potential.

    In the infield, the team is loaded at third base, with soon-to-be former SS Wilmer Flores. He has unfortunately suffered from a case of prospect fatigue but still has an above-average bat and chance for decent power. Zach Lutz and Jefry Marte offer solid depth, especially Marte, who made the Futures Game this past year.

New York Yankees B-

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    Overall grade: B-

    Strengths: Pitching, catcher, third base

    Weaknesses: First base

    Their strengths are obvious: pitching and catching. At those two premium positions they have a vast cache of talent, led by Jesus Montero. He may not be a top-notch defender, but his bat is special enough that the Yankees could stand to stomach his poor defense if he produces .300 and 25 home runs on a regular basis. Montero debuted late in the season and looked spectacular. He'll likely earn a spot on the roster for 2012, leaving the organization with only three solid everyday catching options.

    The most polished of the bunch is Austin Romine, who has easily the best all-around package of defense and offense. Beyond Romine there are Gary Sanchez, a talented hitter from the Dominican, and J.R. Murphy, the team's second-round pick back in '09.

    Now, to the pitching. The team has one of the top lefties in the minors in Manny Banuelos, who looked sharp and polished pitching as a 20-year-old in Triple-A in 2011. He has excellent stuff but will have to fight off concerns about his diminutive size (5'10", 155).

    Banuelos is joined by his polar opposite, Dellin Betances (6'8", 245), who has potential as vast as his backside. Just about everyone has given up on RHP Andrew Brackman, but luckily the organization had two guys step up in big ways. RHP Brett Marshall looked dominant at times in High-A ball and set career highs in almost every category, and RHP Adam Warren, who looked solid at Triple-A and looks more than capable of filling in if needed.

Texas Rangers B

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    Overall grade: B

    Strengths: Pitching, shortstop, outfield

    Weaknesses: Catcher

    Despite the departures of Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland, pitching remains the strength of this system, with LHP Martin Perez leading the way. Perez has tantalized scouts and fans alike with his potential and this year finally seemed to produce. He's considered one of the top lefties in the minors.

    Tanner Scheppers flashed premium stuff and almost locked down the closer's role before the 2011 season began but got dinged up and has had some control issues down in Venezuelan winter ball.

    The team held on to LHP's Miguel de los Santos and Michael Kirkman, although both struggled though rough seasons. Their first-round pick from this year's draft, LHP Kevin Matthews, reminds the front office of both Erlin and Wieland, a control pitcher with excellent poise despite less-than-imposing stature.

    The Rangers' other strength is the left side of the infield. At shortstop they have a burgeoning star in Jurickson Profar. Just 18 years old, Profar took the South Atlantic League by storm in 2011, hitting .286 with 12 homers and 23 steals. He has the potential to be a regular Gold Glove winner, and he switch-hits too. He's easily the No. 2 shortstop prospect in the minors.

    At the same position, they also have Luis Sardinas, who looked equally impressive in the rookie Arizona League in both 2010 and this past season, and 20-year-old Leury Garcia.

Atlanta Braves B

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    Overall grade: B

    Strengths: Pitching, catcher and shortstop

    Weaknesses: Outfield

    You don't have to be a rocket scientist, or a baseball expert, to know that the Braves' collection of pitching talent rivals that of any of the top teams in baseball. For starters, they have arguably the top right-hander in the game, Julio Teheran. Just 20 years old, Teheran has already shown the ability to dominate Triple-A, and he's got a handful of big-league starts under his belt.

    In RHP's Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino they have either two mid-rotation starters or two sensational relievers. It just depends on how Atlanta wants to use them.

    They also have another group of lower-ceiling pitchers that includes RHP J.J. Hoover and 2011 first-round pick LHP Sean Gilmartin, who has looked especially impressive pitching in the Arizona Fall League. All four of the above-mentioned names, as well as Teheran, will likely spend a chunk of their 2012 seasons in Atlanta.

    Aside from pitching, the Braves are also incredibly deep at shortstop. Andrelton Simmons, a Curacao native, is one of the top young shortstops in the game, although he doesn't get nearly as much attention as the others. Tyler Pastornicky is also very talented, as is Dominican prospect Edward Salcedo.

    They also added Nick Ahmed in the most recent draft. Ahmed is a solid all-around player with impressive defensive skills and a polished bat.

Cincinnati Reds B

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    Overall grade: B

    Strengths: Catcher, first base, shortstop

    Weaknesses: Pitching, outfield

    The best term to describe the Reds' farm system is stagnant, which is both good and bad. It's bad because over the past three years they've done little to build their pitching depth, relying on guys to get to the Majors quickly (Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake) instead of building a solid foundation on which to draw from over the next three to five years.

    It's good, however, because the majority of their top prospects, who have been the team's top prospects for many years now, are big-league ready. That group includes 1B/OF Yonder Alonso, C Devin Mesoraco, INF Todd Frazier and SS Zack Cozart.

    The Reds also happen to enjoy the services of one of the fastest players in the minors, SS Billy Hamilton. The 21-year-old speedster became the first player in 10 years to steal 100 or more bases. For a while it seemed that was all he was good for, but his bat heated up late in the season and he finished the year with a .278 average.

    If the Reds wish to compete long-term with the Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates, however, they're going to need more pitching. Their top pitching prospect, according to Baseball America, is RHP Daniel Corcino, who is just 20 years old and has yet to see time above Low-A. They scooped up a potential star in right-hander Robert Stephenson in the draft, but beyond those two and potential future closer Brad Boxberger, the Reds have little.

Arizona Diamondbacks B

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    Overall grade: B

    Strengths: Pitching, outfield, shortstop

    Weaknesses: Catcher, second base

    The D-Backs are stocked to the brim with pitching. They already had one frontline starter in LHP Tyler Skaggs, but they went and added two more in the first round of the 2011 draft, snatching up RHP's Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley. Bauer signed quickly and moved to Double-A and will likely spend a good amount of the 2012 season in the big-leagues. Bradley will take more time to develop but should be no worse than a No. 3 starter.

    The big three are almost enough to make D-Backs fans forget that they have several solid starters elsewhere in the system, including RHP Jarrod Parker, a former first-round pick. Parker missed the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery but bounced back with a strong season in 2011. While his command wasn't as sharp when he returned, he still figures to be a mid-rotation starter.

    Moving off the mound, the D-Backs are very deep around the infield. At shortstop, they have a potential superstar in Chris Owings. He slugged 11 homers and stole 10 bases last year at High-A Visalia.

    Raul Navarro had a rough year (.201) but showed considerable promise in rookie ball the two previous years. Zach Walters was very polished when they selected him in the ninth round back in 2010, and he's moved quickly, hitting well at every stop. He'll likely start 2012 at Double-A.

Kansas City Royals B+

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    Overall grade: B+

    Strengths: Outfield, pitching, second base

    Weaknesses: Catcher, first base

    Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer may have graduated, but OF Wil Myers remains. Once upon a time, he was considered on par with those other two, although a terrible season (.254, eight HR) at Double-A has tempered enthusiasm about his big-league-ready batting skills. At best, he'll be a .300, 20-25 home run guy in the Majors.

    Myers is joined in a stellar outfield crop by the fifth-overall pick from the 2011 draft, hometown kid Bubba Starling. Starling 's ceiling is as high as any prospect in baseball, including Bryce Harper. He has blinding speed, awe-inspiring power and is such an incredible athlete that he could have seen some snaps as the back-up QB at Nebraska this fall had the Royals not swayed him to pro ball.

    On the mound the Royals are still in pretty good shape. They still have LHP Mike Montgomery. He had arguably the best season of any of the Royals top-notch starters, although that's not really saying much since RHP Chris Dwyer was terrible and LHP John Lamb missed the majority of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Montgomery and Lamb have frontline stuff, while Dwyer is likely a back-end starter.

    One of the unsung heroes of the system was RHP Edwin Carl, who struck out an astonishing 76 batters in a mere 36 innings for the Royals' lower-level squads.

Pittsburgh Pirates A

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    Overall grade: A

    Strengths: Pitching, outfield and catcher

    Weaknesses: Middle infield

    It all starts with the pitching. RHP's Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are two of the top pitchers in the game, as well as two of the top flame-throwers. Both can touch triple-digits with their fastball. Taillon will move up to High-A after an impressive season in which he had to deal with pitch and inning counts. Cole could start as high as Double-A and should reach Pittsburgh within a year.

    Beyond those two there is still incredible depth. RHP Luis Heredia was the darling of the 2010 international signing class, and RHP Stetson Allie rivals both Taillon and Cole in terms of sheer velocity, although he is likely destined for a role in the bullpen.

    They also have a solid collection of mid-rotation guys, such has RHP's Bryan Morris, Zack Von Rosenberg and LHPs Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke.

    The Pirates' other great strength is in the outfield, where they have two of the most exciting prospects in the game, including one (Josh Bell) who hasn't even played a professional game yet. The Pirates hope he'll be worth every penny of his $5 million contract. Bell is an above-average hitter who projects to have above-average power.

    The other guy is incumbent Starling Marte. He really started to grow into his game in 2011, proving to be one of the best all-around outfielders in the game.

    The Pirates are also set at catcher, with Tony Sanchez probably a year and a half away from laying claim to the big-league job.

Washington Nationals A

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    Overall grade: A

    Strengths: Outfield, pitching, catcher, second base, first base

    Weaknesses: Shortstop

    It's easy to give the Nats a straight-out A just for the fact that they have OF Bryce Harper. Toss in soon-to-be second baseman Anthony Rendon, some top-notch pitchers (RHP's Brad Peacock, Alex Meyer, A.J. Cole and LHP's Matt Purke and Tom Milone), and they jump to the top of the National League rankings.

    As important as Rendon and Harper are going to be to the Washington revival, pitching will be equally, if not more so necessary. Luckily, they're in terrific shape. Brad Peacock was one of the top performers of the 2011 season, while lefty Tom Milone was equally brilliant.

    A.J. Cole, the team's fourth rounder in 2010, has frontline potential, as does 2011 draftee Alex Meyer. At the worst, Meyer will be the team's closer of the future.

    And don't forget Matt Purke. He was considered a top-three prospect heading into the 2011 college season but struggled to remain healthy and when he was, he looked nothing like the same pitcher who went 16-0 as a freshman. If he can regain his form, he could be an ace up the sleeve that the Nats will need to get to the top of the N.L. East.

Tampa Bay Rays A

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    Overall grade: A

    Strengths: Pitching, shortstop, outfield, first base

    Weaknesses: Catcher

    The Rays have it all. They have frontline starting pitching: see LHP Matt Moore, the top lefty pitcher in the minor leagues and RHP Taylor Guerrieri, one of the top high school pitchers from the 2011 draft.

    They have several quality arms capable of filling out the other four spots in the rotation: see RHP's Alex Colome, Jake Thompson, Nick Barnese, Joe Cruz and LHP's Enny Romero, Kyle Lobstein and Braulio Lara. They have a stable of future relievers: see RHP's Zach Quate and Lenny Linsky.

    Moving off the mound, the Rays have the top shortstop depth in the minors. Not only do they have a former No. 1 overall pick in Tim Beckham, but they also have former Cubs prospect Hak-Ju Lee, who had a breakout campaign in 2011, not to mention Jake Hager, Brandon Martin, Granden Goetzman, Johnny Eierman and Riccio Torrez, each drafted before the fifth-round. Where all of these guys will end up is beyond anyone.

    Thanks to the draft, the Rays also have an impressive cache of talented, toolsy outfielders, led by 2010 first-round pick Josh Sale and 2011 first-rounder Mikie Mahtook. While the latter has all of the skills to become a solid everyday outfielder, the former has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the system. Drew Vettleson was considered one of the most polished high-school bats drafted in 2010 and has everyday potential as well.

Toronto Blue Jays A

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    Overall grade: A

    Strengths: Catcher, pitching, outfield, first base and shortstop

    Weaknesses: Third base and second base

    Thanks to the graduations of their top pitcher (Kyle Drabek) and hitter (Brett Lawrie), the top prospect is now likely RHP Deck McGuire, a solid, polished pitcher who won't need much more seasoning in the minors. He'a a mid-rotation starter.

    Beyond McGuire they have an awesome collection of talent, including RHP's John Stilson, Kevin Comer, Asher Wojciechowski, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Chad Jenkins, Henderson Alvarez and LHP's Daniel Norris and Griffin Murphy. Stilson could be a major wild card as either a frontline starter or a shutdown closer, while Comer was considered a likely top-ten pick in 2013 had he honored his commitment to Vanderbilt. Norris was considered the top prep lefty in the 2011 draft.

    Behind the plate the Jays are also incredibly strong. Travis d'Arnaud doesn't get as much attention, but he's easily up there with the top catchers in the minors. He offers solid power and the ability to hit for average, and he's also a stellar defender. Behind d'Arnaud, they have another potential everyday player in Carlos Perez.

    Heading around the diamond, at first base the team has a sensational product, David Cooper. He ranked among the minor league leaders in RBI and average this past season and will likely see a big chunk of time with the big-league club.