From logical and simple standpoint, the accumulation of talent usually equates to success in sports. But this is something different, more complex and psychological. Maybe it’s a product of the fantasy sports phenomenon that is part of our everyday sports lives.
Whatever the cause, there has been a shift in sports culture where an overwhelming portion of fans are obsessed more with the concept of potential and what might be – think about the popularity of college recruiting, the NFL and NBA draft and future MLB prospects – compared to the current status of their teams and the players on them. The process of building the team, the recruits battles won, the draft picks selected, the trades made become just as important, if not more, than the game success from that talent being assembled.
But for the rebuilding Mariners, who have been short on game success in the last two seasons and several beyond that, and have had no chance at postseason success since 2001, any focus from the fanbase on the ascension of the farm system and the hype surrounding the prospects is beneficial. The organization’s marketing department is noticeably pushing it.
And to be fair, this is an important development. In terms of rebuilding blueprints, the amassing of high-level prospects in the farm system through trades, drafts and international signings is the integral way to build a core foundation.
With the three recent trades last week before the MLB trade deadline and the acquisition of outfielders Taylor Trammell and Alberto Rodriguez, right-handed pitchers Andres Munoz and Matt Brash along two MLB players, the Mariners added to a farm system that is ranked among the best in baseball.
If you recall, Seattle had the worst farm system in all of baseball going into the 2018 season per Baseball America.
Now that same publication recently released its midseason organizational rankings – to take into account the 2020 MLB draft — and had the Mariners move up from a preseason ranking of No. 6 to No. 3 in all of baseball.
“After these trades, they might go up a little more,” said Kyle Glaser, an analyst for Baseball America. “We are going to have to readjust them in the offseason. They could possibly go up to No. 2. I don’t know that they would jump the Rays.”
MLB Pipeline recently released its updated organizational rankings just after the MLB trade deadline, so the players Seattle acquired were taken into account, and the Mariners had climbed from No. 9 to No. 4
Fangraphs uses a different sort of method to generate their organizational rankings. Using scouting grades on prospects based on the 20-80 scouting scale and then the monetary value is assessed based on empirical research of Craig Edwards of Fangraphs.
“I have them sixth, as we’re sitting here right now,” said Eric Longenhagen, Fangraphs lead analyst. “I do not rank the farm systems subjectively. I do not go through and say ‘okay, who do I think is the best?’ It is just generated by Craig Edwards research. So I have them six right now, they are very close with the Dodgers right in front of them, and Pittsburgh is right behind them — there’s a million dollars that separates the three of them. But they are clearly a group of farm systems that are sort of beneath Miami and Detroit, who are like a tier above both of them and then San Diego and Tampa Bay who are still pretty comfortably top two.”
Longenhagen admitted the process is flawed a little because Kyle Lewis has exhausted his rookie eligibility. But to be fair most ranking systems follow that similar guideline though Baseball America still uses Lewis in its ranking while MLB Pipleline doesn’t. That means players like first baseman Evan White, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn will also graduate after this season.
Trammell, a former first-round pick of the Reds, was the biggest acquisition of the deadline. He is considered a Top 100 prospect in all of baseball by every outlet that produces such rankings.
He gives the Mariners’ seven players in Baseball America’s Top 100, six in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 and six in Fangraphs’ Top 100.
But he’s not even a top 3 prospect in the Mariners’ system that features White, outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic and pitchers Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock and George Kirby.
Trammell is rated No. 5 by Fangraphs and No. 6 by MLB Pipeline in the Mariners organization.
“Look you want to give them credit, but this is also a product of when you sell everyone and you bring in a bunch of prospects,” Glaser said. “You bring in a bunch of prospects and then you have a bunch of top 10 overall picks and you invest internationally, you should have a much better farm system. If you did all that and you’re still No. 23 then something went really, really, really wrong. So, on the one hand, the rise is a natural progression just based on the course they decided to take, but at the same time, they’ve done a really, really nice job.”
But perhaps the biggest instructive reminder the trade deadline provided is that farm systems aren’t only used to nurture players for your own team, but also developing them as trade chips to secure proven MLB stars.
Under GM A.J. Preller, the Padres amassed one of the best farm systems in baseball. And while Fernando Tatis Jr. was the high-level star prospect, the Padres built a system so deep with talent that Preller was able to use several prospects in trades for All-Star right-hander Mike Clevinger and several other MLB pieces for a deep run in this postseason and the next two seasons.
The Astros used their once-loaded farm system to acquire Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole while the Dodgers worked a trade for Mookie Betts this season.
“There’s a lot of ways and reasons why you build depth and farm systems and the Padres are now showing you one of those outcomes,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a video call. “They’ve done as good a job as anybody in baseball over the last half a dozen years in building incredible depth in the farm system. To be able to do what they just did over the last week or so, but particularly over the last three or four days. And still have a really good upper level minor-league farm system, and a playoff quality major-league team that is loaded with young players and prime stars, they’re in a really good position.”
The Mariners could be in that position by 2022 or 2023 depending on whose timeline you want to use. Always optimistic, Dipoto was somewhat cautiously hopeful in his comparison.
“We think we’re building along those same lines,” he said. “I hope we’re in a position that when we have the opportunity to gear up to win the World Series that we have the type of prospect cachet that would allow us to go out and acquire some of the talent like San Diego just did. And whether you are developing players to be part of your everyday group, be part of your bench and depth areas, or to address other areas of need if you have a surplus, those are all reasons why you build a strong and deep farm system. Hopefully we’re moving in that direction.”