Best farm systems in baseball? MLB execs weigh in

Detroit Tigers

In the first three parts of the 2023 MLB Pipeline Poll, executives looked at individual players and what the industry as a whole thought of them. In this final part of the series, we’ll switch our focus to farm systems as a whole.

This last set of questions gives us some insight as to which systems front offices have the most respect for, which ones might be toughest to deal with and which ones do the best job in accruing and developing talent.

Which team has the best farm system in baseball?

50% — Orioles
21% — Dodgers
9% — Cardinals
6% — D-backs
Also received votes:
Cubs, Guardians, Rays, Reds, Yankees

The Orioles have ranked as the top farm system in our last three rankings, and it looks like the industry agrees. Even with Adley Rutschman graduated, the combination of high-end prospects just about ready to impact the big league team and depth in the system has them very well-regarded, with the Dodgers not too far behind.

Which team uses the Draft best?

37% — Dodgers
20% — Orioles
14% — Cardinals
6% — Braves, Reds
Also received votes:
Astros, D-backs, Guardians, Mets, Padres, Rays

The O’s may have won the vote for overall farm system, but the Dodgers got the highest tally for finding talent via the Draft among the 11 teams that received votes. This has been a long-standing strength, dating back to the Clayton Kershaw days, but their current farm system shows they can find talent in various stages of the Draft, from Bobby Miller and Michael Busch (first round) to Ryan Pepiot (third) and Gavin Stone (fifth).

Which team plays the international market better than any other?

21% — Astros, Dodgers
18% — Yankees
6% — Guardians, Nationals, Padres, Reds
Also received votes:
Cardinals, Mariners, Mets, Rays, Rockies, White Sox

The Dodgers have continued to maintain a strong farm system while winning in the big leagues because they’re so good at identifying talent here and abroad. The Astros play the international market well and are exceptional at finding bargains there. Just look at their 2022 World Series roster for proof: Jose Altuve ($15,000 signing bonus), Framber Valdez ($10,000), Luis Garcia ($20,000) and Cristian Javier ($10,000).

Which team has the most underrated farm system?

14% — Cardinals
11% — Astros, Cubs
9% — Reds
6% — Angels, Brewers, Orioles, Yankees
Also received votes:
Braves, D-backs, Dodgers, Giants, Guardians, Marlins, Nationals, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers

There were more teams that received votes than didn’t, with 19 systems being mentioned by survey-takers. The Cardinals do have a knack for churning out very productive big leaguers even if they don’t always finish that high in farm system rankings (No. 13 in our rankings last August, up from 16). The Astros have been thinned out as they’ve continued to win, but they also produce big leaguers, with as many as 15 homegrown players on their championship roster a year ago.

Which team hordes prospects the most?

32% — Guardians
15% — Rays
12% — Cardinals
9% — Rockies
6% — D-backs, Orioles, Yankees
Also received votes:
Marlins, Mets, Pirates, Rangers, Reds

This shouldn’t be seen as a slight, but rather a recognition that some teams hold onto prospects more than others. The Guardians need to rely on their farm system to compete, and they’re more likely to hold on to their prospects and get them to the big leagues in Cleveland rather than use top ones to bring in big league talent. The Rays finished second, but they’re not afraid to use young talent (e.g. Matthew Liberatore) to bring in other young talent.

Which team best develops pitchers?

46% — Guardians
11% — Dodgers
9% — Astros, Marlins, Rays
6% — Yankees
Also received votes:
Cardinals, Cubs, Mariners, Phillies

It’s worth sitting up and taking notice when the Guardians sign a pitcher these days, especially via the Draft. Eight of the arms on the team’s Wild Card roster in 2022 came via the Draft, mostly in the later rounds. And there are more coming, with first rounders like Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams along with fifth-rounder Tanner Bibee very well-regarded.

Which team best develops hitters?

43% — Dodgers
11% — Astros
6% — Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Orioles, Rays, Rockies
Also received votes:
A’s, Guardians, Padres, Yankees

Not only do the Dodgers do well in acquiring talent via the Draft and internationally, they’re good at developing them, especially the hitters. Los Angeles had four position players in our overall Top 100 at the end of 2022 and there’s some very intriguing depth behind them, a reason why they got the most votes among the 12 organizations mentioned here.

Who is the best at developing “sleeper” prospects?

23% — Dodgers
20% — Astros
17% — Cardinals
11% — Guardians
6% — Braves, Mariners, Rays, Royals, Twins

We talked about the Astros’ ability to find under-the-radar players on the international market and how the Cardinals and Guardians are sneaky good at developing talent. And while the Dodgers aren’t afraid to spend internationally or be aggressive in the Draft, they’ve also done a very good job at finding, and developing, guys who might not have been as highly valued by the industry, turning them into top prospects.

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