Keith Law ranks Phils system 29th


In an article Friday (which is an insider/pay article), ESPN writer and former Blue Jays special assistant Keith Law ranked the Phillies farm system 29th out of 30 in baseball. He used the following criteria

• Players who have lost their rookie eligibility don’t count for this exercise.

• Both ability and performance count when looking at individual players, and both ceiling and depth count when looking at systems.

• I’m a strong believer in the “time value of prospects” — the idea that a prospect’s value increases significantly as he gets closer to the big leagues. So an organization like Washington, with most of its best prospects in short-season ball in 2006, scores poorly here, because those prospects are four or five years away from the majors, and the attrition rate on those kids is going to be high.

One other thing to bear in mind is how volatile these rankings are. Matt Garza finished the last season at 50 innings, so he’s a rookie in 2007 by the slimmest of margins; without him, the Twins would rank a few notches lower. By the middle of ’07, a number of these teams will have moved around as players have “graduated” from their farm systems to the big leagues.

The third point is the key point when looking at the Phillies system. We have maybe two legit prospects above High A, in James Happ and Michael Bourn. Our three best prospects, Carlos Carrasco, Kyle Drabek and Adrian Cardenas, are all at High A or lower. Also, the great strength of our system, pitching, was concentrated mainly at Low A this season, with a few guys like Bisenius and Segovia making their way to AA. I follow the minors as a whole fairly closely, but maybe not enough to know the 30 best prospects in every organization, and how they stack up to our top 30. But by Law’s criteria, it’s not surprising to see us ranked that low. He doesn’t just throw it together, he explained his criteria for analysis, and it makes sense. His capsule on the Phillies reads

29. Philadelphia: Thin system which got thinner by the sudden rise of Cole Hamels. The closest solid-average prospect to the majors here is Carlos Carrasco, who spent the year in low-A.

Again, makes sense. Carrasco, if his rise in 2006 is for real (and I think it is), should be a Top 30 in baseball prospect after 2007, and if Drabek and Cardenas perform in full season ball like many expect from top draft picks, our system will jump well up the charts next year. Also consider another year under the belt for Outman, and if he continues to improve at the rate he did in August, he’ll be considered an above average prospect, we could be looking at 4 potential Top 100 guys. Even if Bourn loses his eligibility, which he probably will, our system still looks strong.

I won’t analyze every team in the rankings, but just looking at the 9 ahead of us, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Florida, Washington, Toronto, Seattle, Texas, San Fran and St Louis, I like our depth, especially in pitching, over all of those organizations with the exception of Florida, who have five potential quality big league pitchers in the Low A/High A teams. Pittsburgh has Brad Lincoln and not much else, Oakland doesn’t have a real impact guy other than Daric Barton, and he doesn’t really have a position. Florida I mentioned, Washington has three impact guys in Willems, Marrero, and Ballester, but the former two are in the same position as Cardenas and Drabek, and Ballester has plenty of question marks. Toronto’s best prospect will be ineligible next year (Adam Lind) and they lack little else. Seattle has a few intriguing guys in Morrow, Tillman and Jones, but Jones will lose eligibility as well. Texas had three of the most talked about young pitchers, in Danks, Diamond and Volquez, but they traded Danks, Diamond looks like a bullpen arm, and Volquez was awful in his short big league stint last year. San Fran has the worst system in baseball, in my opinion, and in all likelihood, Lincecum, their best prospect, will lose eligibility this season, as well their second best prospect, Johnathon Sanchez. That leaves only St Louis, and they only really have one bona-fide star in their system, Colby Rasmus, and a few promising guys like John Jay from the 2006 draft.

So really, we could have easily been a few spots higher, and if things progress as they did in 2006, we will be higher in 2007. Our system has two main weaknesses, one being glaring, and that is the lack of position prospects. Michael Bourn would probably be in the 13-16 range in most good farm systems, but he’s a top 5 guy in our system. Outside of him, we can hope and pray Costanzo has really figured it out, and that Cardenas is on the fast track. The Phillies made a slew of good picks in Utley, Howard, Rollins and Burrell, now we need to hope the next crop is somewhere in Batavia or Lakewood. Our second weakness is a lack of an impact prospect at the higher levels. I love James Happ, but I don’t consider him an impact prospect, did Segovia or Bourn. A lot of teams ahead of us have a real good prospect waiting at AA or AAA to get his shot, and that increases their value as a system. We’ll have to evaluate ourselves in that area, and all areas, at this time next season, and I’m sure we’ll be higher in the rankings.

11 thoughts on “Keith Law ranks Phils system 29th

  1. I’m still enjoying this blog a lot, James. I was disappointed that Keith Law ranked us so low, considering how much I usually trust his opinion. I agree with you that the sheer lack of hitting prospects is what’s killing us.

    I was actually very pleased with Baseball Prospectus’ projections for Cardenas and Myers. They had Cardenas projected to have an average VORP of 19 this year, and maintain around that range for the next 5 years. Obviously that’s averaging across a lot of flameouts and breakouts, but that’s pretty good for a projection from them. They also had D’Arby Myers trending upwards and ending up around 21 mean VORP for 2011. Hopefully we’re picking better guys and just lack depth in AA and AAA.

    I actually wanted to ask you why there is such hype of Carlos Carrasco, and if he would be hyped this much in other organizations? I look over his numbers, and I really only see one good year, but it wasn’t like he blew guys away (about 9 K/9) and he had nearly 4 BB/9. Is there something I’m missing? It looks like he’s had one good year and he’s just 20 with okay power and somewhat poor control. I’m not comfortable with him as a #1 prospect.

  2. I agree that 29th seems harsh. Given the methodology, it has at least some merit. We don’t have any guys who have stood out as really primo prospects. None I can argue with a straight face should be top 30 or 40 in the minors. Also, as everyone says, our hitting talent above rookie league stinks. We have pitching, but with Hamels in majors, we don’t have anyone who stands out as likely to be a #1/2 starter in the majors who will start the 2007 season healthy enough to pitch.

    I think Mathieson was in that #1/2 category and has a better than average chance to return to that, or to be a closer of future. Carrasco looks more like a #3 starter now, but he improved so much from 2005 to 2006 that his ceiling is unclear. Still, the Phillies are not going to rush him and he is years away.

    Happ and Segovia have good shots to make Phillies staff no later than end of 2008 if they stay healthy. Neither has great velocity and they seem more like #4 starters or setup relievers. Not that this doesn’t provide value in the short term.

    I think you sell Pittsburgh short. They are ahead of us based on position players, not pitching. McCutcheon did very well in high A at age 19 last year and even put up great numbers in about 80 AA at bats, still at age 19. We simply don’t have a guy like this. We also don’t have a SS prospect to compare to Lillibridge. Who knows what to make of Neil Walker at this point, although he seems better than our catching prospects. Not great percentage throwing out runners and his HR power seems to have gone south on him.

  3. Well, here’s why I personally love Carrasco.

    1. Youth. Obviously, this is a big one. He put up a 2.26 ERA with 5.82 H/9 and 8.98 K/9 at Low A in his age 19 season….that’s kind of rare. Also, he pitched 160 innings, which is a big step, when you look at guys like Homer Bailey and Phillip Hughes, who threw less innings and will have to adjust as they climb the ladder. Clearly, he wasn’t ready for full season ball in 2005 at age 18, but how many pitchers are? He struggled and it set him back, but he answered the bell in a big way in 2006.

    2. His changeup. Maybe this is my own personal view, but I think changeup development is what separates pitching prospects. You can only live on your fastball, and even curveball, to an extent, and at some point, if you don’t have a great changeup, you just aren’t going to make it. At 19, he already has an advanced feel for his changeup, and to me, that’s huge going forward.

    3. He keeps the ball down. 191 ground balls to only 124 flyballs, and he allowed only 6 HR this year. He’s well above average in 2 of the 3 true indicators, he just needs to improve his control a bit. I posted the numbers of some of the best young pitching prospects in baseball in my Drabek post

    Carrasco put up comparable or better numbers in those categories, age considered, than a lot of the top pitching prospects in baseball. If he repeats his 2006, or gasp, improves it in 2007 at High A, his name will be buzzing all over the prospect world.

    He has a really good fastball, 91-94, with great late movement and life, and a plus changeup that could get even better. I suspect his walk rate can be attributed to him trying to strengthen his curveball. I know Chris Kline said he relied on it too much at times, but I think that’s probably because he’s trying to improve it as a pitch and wanted to throw it more to get comfortable. If his curve becomes an above average pitch, maybe even plus, he’s going to have two plus pitches and one above average pitch. At age 20, that should lead to big results.

    One more thing to note. The old baseball cliche “you gotta get them early” which they say about a lot of top quality pitchers, seemed to apply to Carrasco in 2006.

    OPS by inning

    1st: .608
    2nd: .627
    3rd: .354
    4th: .590
    5th: .483
    6th: .363
    7th: .417
    8th: 1.214 (only 2 innings)

    It seems that once he gets in a rhythm, he can just mow down hitters.

  4. Well, Lillibridge is no longer in their system, he went to Atlanta. And yeah, McCutchen does look like a future star, but Walker is fading fast. His defense was always a question, and wrist injuries are power zappers. We’ll see how he does in 2007. A lot of their pitching talent is already at the major league level.

  5. this is a slight aside, but seeing seattle in the list of teams above us suddenly made me wonder – with gillick, much of the concern has been that he traded away the youth system, leaving a team barren after he left – could it be, in phillies current state, we’re in a good position with gillick because the guys going into AA this year aren’t very projectable because they’re still down so low? If this was the case, and combined with the way the draft is going (broadly positively, with some interesting risks being taken + extra picks this year), we would be in the happy situation of leaving the minors to develop without using them for trading. That could turn around a farm system pretty fast, no?

  6. Like others of you, I was somewhat surprised to see the #29
    ranking until I read the following criterion: “I’m a strong believer in the “time value of prospects” — the idea that a prospect’s value increases significantly as he gets closer to the big leagues.” Arbuckle often talks about producing 1 1/2
    youngsters from the system for the big club each year, and we’ve
    done pretty well at that in the recent past with guys like Utley,
    Howard and Hamels. Barring some kind of miaracle, I don’t see
    that happening this year. But is it really necessary? Our two
    Rule 5 picks could provide a pleasant surprise IMO.

  7. Olgrandad makes a great point here. If Law’s criterion, simplifying it a bit, boils down to “how much help can the big club expect from their minor-league talent this season?”, it doesn’t much bother me that the Phils are at the bottom of the list. A team in win-now mode, as the Phils are, almost doesn’t want to be counting too much on contributions from the farm system. The lineup is set, and it’s pretty young; there isn’t one projected starter or key bench guy with whom I’m worried about age-related decline. The rotation is set, and while even more minor-league depth would be okay, I share the confidence of James and others that Happ could step in and do a credible job for a month or two at least. There’s also Germano; between the two of them, we probably won’t need to go dumpster-diving for the Paul Abbotts. The bullpen is in flux, but Gillick doesn’t like young relievers anyway–and there, we do have Bisenius and possibly others (Segovia, Brito, et al) in reserve.

    The strength of the organization is far down the chain, and even there it’s mostly pitching. I really think that’s fine, for now.

  8. If Cardenas and Myers turn into players like Utley and Mike Cameron, then we’ll be ok, but if they flop and we fail to land two superstar prospects in the 2007 draft, we could be in trouble. We don’t have a bona fide power prospect in the minors at any position. Costanzo showed decent raw power at Clearwater, but he’s been inconsistent. With Howard, we always knew we had that thumper waiting in the wings. Now, there is no one even close to that. We’ve been drafting fast, speedy players for years, very very few (Rollins really) have worked out. At some point, we need to draft the guys that can’t run, but can really rake and hit the ball.

  9. I wouldn’t say Law’s criteria comes down to how much help the farm can provide in 2007. He certainly weights the near years more heavily, but I think it fairer to say he weights heavily on guys who can help 2007-9. So our strength in rookie league is going to be very heavily discounted and the Lakewood strength somewhat discounted. The heaviest weight goes to guys who were at SWB, Reading, Clearwater last season. While it is fair to discount progressively more with each step down the organization, especially for pitching, I think we had enough rookie league and low A strength that we should rate in the low 20’s as an organization. We are hurt by no top 50 talent and little position talent.

    Not sure Cardenas has superstar potential. I think he approaches Utley in hitting potential, falling short on HR power. If he can’t play IF in the pros, that discounts him farther. As a 2B or 3B he projects as a very solid major league starter offensively. Not All Star, just a tad below. As a corner OF, down another grade. Really too early to project Myers. As a CF, his potential seems All Star quality, but chances of reaching that ceiling, less than for Cardenas reaching his. Drabek still highest ceiling of all.

    How many times do you get two superstar prospects in a draft? If you get one out of a draft, it is a good draft, even if that is all you get. I like our 2006 draft a lot. I think a solid chance to get a superstar plus several solid major leaguers.

    You’re not going to find a guy with Howard thumper power waiting in the wings, certainly not Costanzo. If Costanzo gives us 25 HR, good BA, and good D at 3B, that will be just fine. In this post chemical augmentation era, Howard-type power is likely to be a once in a decade affair — for baseball as a whole, not just one organization like the Phillies.

  10. Hello,

    Knowing that the 2006 Draft was not as bountiful as other drafts in the past, where does that place Adrian Cardenas? He did well in the GCL, but then again, it is just the GCL. And with Chase signed at second for a long time, where will he play?

    I think he can get through the hardships as he is an intelligent player and very competitive. For me, it’s a question of where he will play. And then how well his offense contributes to that position. Is it a pretty good chance he could be an all-star???

  11. Cardenas is a legit prospect, no doubt about it. His position is of secondary importance to me right now, I’m more interested to see how he develops power-wise. He’s always going to hit for average it seems, and I think he’s got a shot at a legit .380 OB% or higher, but the question is power. If he’s a 12-15 HR per year guy, it limits his value, but if he’s in the 20-25 range and can remain in the INF at either 2B or 3B, it greatly increases his value. Right now, they will let him play 2B at Lakewood, at age 18/19. If he continues to hit, he’ll move through the system quickly, and if he does, he has time down the road to adjust to a different position. It appears 2B is blocked long term, so I think his next option is 3B, and then possibly LF.

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