Top 10 farm systems by 21-and-under talent

Detroit Tigers

This week, MLB Pipeline ranked farm systems by their position-player and pitcher groups as well as their 21-and-under talent. This provides one way of highlighting the strengths of the game’s best farm systems and also gives us a chance to point out ways that some of the more middling clubs can still stand out on their own. Rankings take into account Top 100 talent, overall depth and a variety of types of prospects, among other factors.

Previous editions tackled the top 10 sets of position players and pitchers. Now, we move on to the best groups of 21-and-under talent. (To be eligible, a prospect must be 21 years old or younger on Major League Opening Day, April 1.)

1. Tampa Bay Rays
Top 100 Prospects:
Wander Franco (No. 1), Luis Patiño (No. 19), Xavier Edwards (No. 85), Shane Baz (No. 90)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 13

The Rays have now claimed the top spot in three of the four MLB Pipeline farm system rankings. Having the consensus top overall prospect in baseball helps, and Wander Franco still comfortably clears the age bar for the purposes of this category. He turned 20 on March 1. The rest of the Top 100 contingent is solid with two hard-throwing, 21-year-old right-handers in Luis Patiño and Shane Baz and a switch-hitting infielder with lots of speed in Xavier Edwards. Moving further down the list, recent additions both in the Draft and via trades like Cole Wilcox, Nick Bitsko and Heriberto Hernandez have high ceilings and could stand to climb as they gain experience. This isn’t just a great system now. It’s built to be one for years to come, even after Franco & Co. graduate.

2. Seattle Mariners
Top-100 Prospects:
Jarred Kelenic (No. 4), Julio Rodriguez (No. 5), Emerson Hancock (No. 31)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 10

This can’t be driven home enough. The Mariners boast two legitimate superstar candidates in Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, and while they both close in on the Emerald City, it’s important to remember that they’re still so young. Kelenic doesn’t turn 22 until July, and Rodriguez will be 20 for all but three days of this calendar year. What gives extra credence to placing Seattle here is that its third-best prospect, Emerson Hancock, qualifies with a May 31, 1999, birthday. The former Georgia right-hander was relatively young for a college junior entering last year’s Draft and now brings four above-average pitches and good control to the table as the M’s best pitching prospect, just two spots above Logan Gilbert in the Top 100. Throw in 19-year-old shortstop Noelvi Marte, who could have been a Top 100 prospect if he had gotten the chance to play regularly in 2020, and there is a ton of ceiling here and lots of time to hit it.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Top-100 Prospects:
Corbin Carroll (No. 47), Kristian Robinson (No. 55), Geraldo Perdomo (No. 79), Alek Thomas (No. 81)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 13

Many had the D-backs circled as a farm system that could climb into the upper echelons of rankings in 2020. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic robbed the organization’s four Top 100 prospects from gaining valuable in-game experience at the lower levels. Shortstop Geraldo Perdomo and outfielder Alek Thomas are the only ones to get in a full Minor League season to this point. Corbin Carroll and Kristian Robinson have yet to see anything but the lowest levels. It’s possible all four could have pushed their way into the top 50 ranks had they gotten the necessary playing time to show off a full range of tools. Pitchers Blake Walston and Slade Cecconi mean that all six of the D-backs’ top prospects enter the season 21 or younger, so it’s not just the big four worth discussing. The rise of Arizona’s system may be delayed, but its arrival should still come in 2021.

4. San Francisco Giants
Top 100 Prospects:
Marco Luciano (No. 16), Heliot Ramos (No. 82)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 15

Half of the Giants’ Top 30 list consists of 21-and-under prospects, making it the largest batch thus far. (That won’t last long.) Marco Luciano gives the group star power up top, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he climbs to the top overall prospect spot by the time he graduates because of his well-rounded performance at the plate. Heliot Ramos was a first-round pick all the way back in 2017 but was only 17 at the time. The now-21-year-old outfielder is coming off a powerful spring and should be in line to help the Major League outfield this summer. The next tier gives San Francisco’s system as a whole plenty of helium. Patrick Bailey, Luis Matos, Alexander Canario and Luis Toribio are about as solid a non-Top-100 group as you’ll find and were big reasons why the Giants’ position-player collective placed second in those system rankings. They all qualify here, as does left-handed pitcher and No. 8 prospect Kyle Harrison. The Giants finished outside the top 10 in MLB Pipeline’s overall rankings on Monday, but they’re an even-money bet to fit comfortably in that status by this time in 2022.

5. Cleveland Indians
Top-100 Prospects:
Tyler Freeman (No. 98)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 19

Cleveland featured on the “Just missed list” for both position players and pitchers. This is the organization’s time to shine. The Tribe has the most 21-and-under Top 30 prospects among any of the 10 systems on this list. After Nolan Jones (22) and Triston McKenzie (23) at the top, the next 13 ranked prospects will all be 21 or younger come April 1. It’s not just the depth that gets the group here either. Bo Naylor, George Valera, Gabriel Arias, Daniel Espino, Brayan Rocchio and Aaron Bracho all have Top 100 potential with Naylor and Arias the only ones among that group who have seen full-season ball yet. A large amount of that aforementioned group came from international signings, but it’s notable that the Draft (Tyler Freeman, Naylor, Espino) and trades (Arias, Josh Wolf) have helped Cleveland build up such a strong young core. This could be one of the game’s next big systems if things break right in 2021.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Top-100 Prospects:
Nick Gonzales (No. 43), Quinn Priester (No. 52)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 18

Remember, this is before the Bucs make the first overall pick in the 2021 Draft, so there is plenty of room for a rocket-like ascent in this category. Top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes may have aged out of the qualifications here, but Nick Gonzales and Quinn Priester — Pittsburgh’s two most recent first-round picks — carry plenty of weight as Top 100 representation. Trades have also bulked up the group as a whole with Liover Peguero, Hudson Head, Brennan Malone and Eddy Yean also entering the mix before their 22nd birthdays. The balance of position players and pitchers makes for a well-rounded young base that rebuilding organizations need. The Draft — and limited graduations from the youth of the system — could help kick that rebuild into overdrive.

7. San Diego Padres
Top-100 Prospects:
CJ Abrams (No. 8), Robert Hassell III (No. 62)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 16

It can’t be stated enough. The Padres pulled off several blockbusters at and since last year’s Trade Deadline and didn’t sell off the entire system to accomplish them. Even after losing Patiño to the Rays in the Blake Snell swap, San Diego still boasts one of the best young prospects in the game in CJ Abrams and also retains 2020 eighth overall pick Robert Hassell III, who could be a five-tool stud all his own in time. Outside of the Top 100, the next group of Padres prospects all fit the bill here in 21-year-olds Ryan Weathers and Tucupita Marcano and 19-year-old Justin Lange. Overall, it’s not quite as talented as it could have been — Patiño alone would have likely jumped the group into the top five — but the youth is a big reason why no one should be giving up on the San Diego farm.

8. Detroit Tigers
Top 100 Prospects:
Spencer Torkelson (No. 3), Riley Greene (No. 21)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 10

Last year’s top overall pick, Spencer Torkelson, was young for his college class as someone who didn’t turn 21 until Aug. 26, so his qualification here is a giant boon for the Tigers. Riley Greene would be the star hitter of many other systems, and he is still entering only his age-20 season. It’s largely that pair that buoys the Tigers into the top 10, and one could make the argument that their presence alone should move them a few spots higher. But the case is tougher with only one-third of the system checking in at 21 or younger on Major League Opening Day and the next age-qualified prospect behind Greene being No. 10 Parker Meadows. Age and MLB proximity are why the Tigers should be coming around the bend on their own rebuild, but Torkelson and Greene give hope that there will be elite talent for at least another year or so.

9. Kansas City Royals
Top 100 Prospects:
Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 7), Asa Lacy (No. 30)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 10

Much of what was just written about the Tigers above can be transferred to the Royals at No. 9. It would feel a disservice to leave Bobby Witt Jr. out of any discussion of 21-and-under talent as the 2019 second overall pick has all the tools to be an elite shortstop at the next level. Asa Lacy, who qualifies with a 22nd birthday in June, is preparing to show a promising four-pitch mix from the left side in his first full professional season, and 18-year-old outfielder Erick Pena could be a Top 100 prospect in his own right when he finally sees the Minors, having signed for $3,897,500 out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019. It’s a far drop from Pena at No. 6 to the next age-qualified prospect in Ben Hernandez at No. 15, and that spread hurts Kansas City’s chances of appearing much higher, even with Witt and Lacy in the fold.

10. New York Mets
Top 100 prospects:
Francisco Alvarez (No. 48), Ronny Mauricio (No. 67), Matthew Allan (No. 75), Brett Baty (No. 94)
21-and-under among Top 30 prospects: 17

The Mets slotted in at No. 19 on the overall rankings, signaling a system that is below average entering 2021. This spot should prove that if there is a strength in the pipeline to Flushing, it’s in the youth. All four of the Mets’ Top 100 prospects and, in fact, each of their top six prospects, including 2020 picks Pete Crow-Armstrong and J.T. Ginn, qualify as part of this list. Only the Rays and D-backs can claim as many Top 100 talents at 21 or younger. So why are the Mets down here while the others feature much more highly? Depth is a much bigger issue. After Mark Vientos at No. 8, the next layer of young prospects are too inexperienced or lack the flash that you’ll find as you work your way down the other systems. That said, having Francisco Alvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Matthew Allan and Brett Baty in the same group can only be a good thing, and the Mets can afford to be patient with that foursome as they push other chips into their Major League pot this summer.

Just missed list: Half of the Yankees‘ Top 30 qualifies for this ranking, headlined by The Martian himself in Jasson Dominguez. The rest of the young core is defined by hard-throwing right-handed pitchers and recent first-rounders Austin Wells and Anthony Volpe. Until someone else makes the leap to join Dominguez in the Top 100, the club has a tougher case to make for the top 10 on this list. … The Blue Jays and Cardinals both boast two Top 100 prospects apiece that could have pushed them into the top 10. Toronto claims No. 46, Jordan Groshans, and No. 87, Simeon Woods Richardson, while St. Louis has childhood friends in No. 37, Matthew Liberatore, and No. 38, Nolan Gorman.

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