Most rankings agree: Cardinals farm system #1

The St. Louis Cardinals farm system, which ranked an average of 29th in 2010, is first in 2013.

In the past, some of those most critical of the St. Louis Cardinals player development function and of those who follow the organization's minor leaguers felt relative ranking of prospects within a system say nothing. They were concerned far less about the top individuals and much more about how the Cardinals stacked up against the other 29 systems.

It is a daunting challenge to be able to assess 30 organizations and the thousands of players within well enough to rank them credibly. I certainly respect those national entities that do so annually.

The good news, already known by all across the entire Cardinals nation, is that St. Louis has risen to the top of most national farm system lists for 2013. Following are the system-wide rankings of the Cardinals among the 30 MLB organizations, not just for this year, but also over the last five years when available.

To date, the farm system rankings of four of the five national raters have been released. They are Baseball America, ESPN's Keith Law, BaseballHQ and John Sickels of While rates players within individual systems, they do not rank the organizations.

The fifth entity, Baseball Prospectus, has not yet issued its 2013 team results. I will update this article when they go public, which is usually in early March. Colors indicate year-to-year change, where green is positive, yellow is flat and red is decline.

Cardinals rank of 30 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
Baseball America 1 12 24 29 8
Baseball Prospectus 3 21 30 9
ESPN 1 4 14 29 6
BaseballHQ 2 15 17 28 10
Minor League Ball 1 5
Average  1.25 7.8 19.0 29.0 8.3

For the third consecutive year, the Cardinals have improved in absolute rankings by all of the raters. Only BaseballHQ does not have the Cardinals on top, putting them second. This is a testament to both good drafting and strong player development by the Cardinals organization.

Of course, from the good, eventually comes the bad. In future years, the Cards will have nowhere to go but down. Perhaps that will occur once the current Miller-Rosenthal-Wacha-Martinez group on the pitching side and the Taveras-Wong-Adams position player group graduate to the majors for good.

I find it interesting that last season offered the greatest difference in opinion about the Cardinals system than in any recent year. Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and Minor League Ball seemed to anticipate what was coming as they all had St. Louis in their top five one year ago. Baseball America and BaseballHQ placed the Cards in the middle of the deck in 2012.

The trend in 2011 was also positive in every case, with ESPN being the most optimistic at 14 and the BA the most pessimistic at 24. Law moved the Cardinals up ten spots that year, while BA saw a 12-place improvement. HQ was less impressed, but still recognized progress.

As a reminder of the cyclical nature of these rankings, 2009 was the Cardinals' most consistently-recognized good year prior to 2013. Though there were no top five placements, St. Louis was a consensus top 10 system.

In fact, the Cards' top ten placement in the BA rankings in 2009 was the Cardinals' only such ranking from them between the 1999 days of Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew and 2013. In other words, a period of 13 years saw just one Cardinals top 10 placement on the BA annual list.

The pendulum swung wildly in the wrong direction in 2010 as a combination of graduations, trades and washouts killed the Cardinals in the eyes of the talent evaluators. The organization surely hopes such a rapid drop will never occur again.

A glance across the NL Central

One of the reasons I enjoy the rankings from BaseballHQ is the level of detail they provide. The HQ folks provide much more than a number. They offer a detailed explanation as to why, with individual letter scores for hitting, pitching, top-end talent and depth that go into their overall ranking of each system.

Click on the following link to review the full details of their analysis of the five National League Central clubs – in 2013 and in prior years: "BaseballHQ pegs Cardinals system #2 in MLB".

This table shows the relative rankings of the other four NL Central systems. The average placement by the four raters that have published to date can be found at the right.

NL Central BA BP ESPN BaseballHQ MiL Ball Average
Pirates 8 7 1 5 5
Cubs 13 5 12 11 10
Reds 14 12 17 15 15
Brewers 22 29 25 23 25

Though the actual scores are of course different, two of the four raters agree on the sequence of NL clubs. ESPN, however, is the only one to like the Cubs system better than the Pirates.

Sickels wins the closest to the pin award with his scores being almost identical to the averages. They are nice and neat 5-10-15-25 placements for the Pirates, Cubs, Reds and Brewers, respectively.

Pittsburgh has the greatest variance, ranging from the division's best (BaseballHQ) to just third-ranked in the NL Central (ESPN). The Bucs' top 30 score varies from a best of number one (HQ) to its worst showing at eighth (BA).

MLB's top five systems

The final table lists each rater's top five systems in 2013.

Top 5 BA BP ESPN BaseballHQ MiL Ball
1 St. Louis St. Louis Pittsburgh St. Louis 
2 Seattle Minnesota St. Louis Seattle
3 Texas Tampa Bay San Diego Tampa Bay
4 Tampa Bay Houston Seattle Texas
5 Miami Cubs Miami Pittsburgh

Interestingly, in what serves as an excellent reminder of the individuality of these rankings, no organization other than St. Louis appears among the top five on all four lists. Seattle and Tampa Bay come closest, being named on three of the four.

Needless to say, the Cardinals' lofty ranking across the board is most admirable. Just don't get too accustomed to the view from that lofty perch.

Earlier article in this series:
"2013 Cardinals prospects: What the others say".

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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