For two years running now, the Angels’ farm system has been classified as the worst in the game by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus in their annual organizational rankings. Some writers and fans have taken this ranking to mean that the club has no MLB talent in the pipeline, and have made a point of questioning the system’s reputation when players like C.J. Cron and Mike Morin make a positive impact in Anaheim. The standard thinking goes: “If their prospects are so bad, how come so many of them are in the Show?”
The issue with that line of thought is that it attempts to make the organizational rankings into something they are not. The purpose of those lists has never been to determine how many prospects will make a contribution to the MLB club in any given season. Rather, they are simply a measure of the volume of high-ceiling talent within an organization that has yet to reach the big leagues. It doesn’t matter if prospects are five months away or five years away, if they have an All-Star or top-of-the-rotation ceiling, they move the club up the list. A place at the bottom of the rankings, then, doesn’t preclude an organization from having productive rookies, it just means that the overall system has a dearth of potential impact players.
Let’s put this to a quick test. If the organizational rankings were really designed to determine which clubs would reap the most benefit from their farm system in a given season, there should be some correlation between a team’s ranking and the production they receive at the MLB level from their prospects.
(In this case, “prospects” will be defined as: all players in a farm system who have their rookie eligibility intact. This, not coincidentally, is the criteria for a player making any Top 10 prospects list.)
Since we’re talking about the Angels, let’s look at the correlation between “prospect” WAR and organizational ranking (from BP) for only 2013 and 2014, when the Halos came in last across the board. All 2014 data is through Monday:
As you can see, there is virtually no relationship whatsoever between an organization’s farm-system ranking and the actual production it gets from said system at the MLB level. It’s all randomness. Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, and the 2013 Cardinals (top left corner) gave it their best shot to create some sort of correlation, but nobody else felt like cooperating. For instance, the No. 21 ranked system (2013 Dodgers; 2014 White Sox) has received 8.2 WAR more (!!) from its rookies than the No. 2 ranked org (2013 Rangers; 2014 Cubs). There is no pattern here, just noise.
Given this result, pointing at the success of Kole Calhoun or Cory Rasmus and saying that the rankings are wrong is essentially a non sequitur. Square peg, meet round hole. So, then, how do we know if the Angels really have the worst prospects or not? Is there a way to determine which farm system has actually paid the biggest dividends for its parent club in 2013 and 2014?
I thought you’d never ask.
Adding up each team’s “prospect” WAR from the scatter plot above, we get a great look at the value clubs have derived from rookies the last two years:
By this very specific standard, the Angels have had the seventh-most valuable farm system in baseball over the last two seasons–tied with the heavily Tanaka-weighted Yankees. The additions of Calhoun, Morin, Navarro, et al. to the big-league roster has netted the Halos more value than the A’s, Rangers, and Astros have received from all their rookies combined. That’s pretty dang good and lends credence to the idea that the Angels’ farm system may very well be underrated, even if their high-ceiling talent is non-existent.
Now, this measure obviously isn’t the end-all, be-all of determining the value of roster depth. The A’s, who hadn’t used a rookie all year until Billy Burns pinch-hit Monday night, have received big contributions from part-time guys whose rookie eligibilities were used up years ago. However, it does seem to give some indication of how talent is distributed in certain systems. The Angels haven’t had any loud talent to speak of since Trout graduated to the big leagues, but it’s apparent that their baseline of readily available minor-league talent is higher than that of, say, the Phillies, who have had a dumpster fire of a pipeline the last two seasons.