Cardinals Farm System #14, 3rd in NL Central

The St. Louis Cardinals farm system, ranked first in 2013, is 14th in 2015 and just third in the National League Central Division.

It is a daunting challenge to be able to assess 30 Major League Baseball organizations and the thousands of players within well enough to rank them credibly. I respect those national entities that do so annually and report their findings here, within the context of the St. Louis Cardinals and the National League Central Division.

Just two years ago, St. Louis was on the top of the heap, having risen from an average ranking of #29 in 2010 to number one on most national farm system lists for 2013. Given the sheer number of high-profile contributors who graduated to the majors the past two seasons, it is not surprising that the organization fell in the national rankings in 2014 and again for 2015.

The optimist could squint at an average ranking of 14 and note that the Cards are still in the top half of MLB. The pessimist will not only look at the trend, but also the competition. In the last two years, two of the other four NL Central clubs have vaulted past St. Louis.

Following are the system-wide rankings of the Cardinals among the 30 MLB organizations, not just for this year, but also over the last six years. This really helps indicate the ebbs and flows of system rankings.

This group includes the farm system rankings of the five national raters that usually appear in this space. They are Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, BaseballHQ, John Sickels’ Minor League Ball and Baseball Prospectus. While does player rankings, they do not do so with systems.

Colors indicate year-to-year change, where green is positive, yellow is flat and red is decline.

Cardinals rank of 30 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
Baseball America 16 7 1 12 24 29 8
Baseball Prospectus 13 6 1 3 21 30 9
Minor League Ball 15 6 1 5      
ESPN 13 12 1 4 14 29 6
BaseballHQ 14 6 2 15 17 28 10
Average  14 7 1 8 19 29 8
color=YTY change              

In what should not be considered a surprise, after three consecutive years of improvement, the Cardinals dropped for a second consecutive year in absolute rankings by all five of the raters.

The five were extremely consistent in placing the Cards between the 13th and 16th spot, averaging out at 14. ESPN saw smallest drop because it had already put St. Louis in the second ten, at number 12, last year.

Top prospect Marco Gonzales

As a vivid reminder of the cyclical nature of these rankings, note that 2011 was the Cardinals’ closest recent year to 2015. In 2011, the Cards were on their way back up, having hit rock bottom in 2010. There could be a further drop next year, but it should be nowhere near as bad as the decline from 2009 to 2010.

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

One key difference is that 2009 marked the end of a long, dry spell. 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.

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 2015 and in prior years: ”BaseballHQ: Cardinals System in MLB’s Middle”.

This table shows the relative rankings of the other four NL Central systems. The average placement by the five raters mentioned above can be found at the right. For reference, last year’s comparable table is included also.

2015 NL Central BA BP ESPN HQ MiLBall Avg
  Cubs 1 1 1 1 1 1
  Pirates 7 8 7 4 7 7
  Reds 17 15 17 16 14 16
  Brewers 19 26 28 27 24 25
2014 NL Central BA BP ESPN HQ MiLBall Avg
  Pirates 1 3 3 2 4 3
  Cubs 4 2 4 4 5 4
  Reds 16 16 16 22 14 17
  Brewers 29 29 30 20 29 27

Though the actual scores are of course different, there is a clear delineation of farm systems within the division. Four raters place the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals in the top three, with the Reds and Brewers below. Sickels is the only exception, putting the Reds one place ahead of the Cardinals, with St. Louis fourth in the division.

While last year, four of the five raters had the Bucs just ahead of the Cubs, now all five agree that the Baby Bears are on top, not only in the NL Central, but across all of baseball. The voter average dropped Pittsburgh from third of 30 last year to seventh in 2015.

Cincinnati’s system improved on two different lists, while the average still holds the Reds just behind the Cardinals. Four raters see the Brewers’ improving in 2015, however only BA saw considerable movement – 10 spots.

MiL Ball, the last to publish their rankings, wins the closest to the pin award this year, with its rankings of four of the five NL Central clubs most closely approximating the averages of the five raters.

MLB’s top five systems

The final table lists each rater’s top five systems in 2015.

2015 Top 5 BA BP ESPN BaseballHQ MiL Ball
  1 Cubs Cubs Cubs Cubs Cubs
  2 Boston Minnesota Minnesota Boston Boston
  3 Dodgers Dodgers Houston Houston Minnesota
  4 Minnesota Texas Mets Pittsburgh Dodgers
  5 Mets Mets Boston Texas Texas

Again, note that the Cubs are not only on the top of everyone’s list, they are the unanimous number one across MLB. No other organizations appear in every one of these top fives.

Boston and Minnesota are the clubs to make four lists, while the Mets, Dodgers and Texas each appear on three of the top fives.

In closing, it is reasonable that the Cardinals were able to hold onto a slightly above midpoint ranking almost entirely across the board for 2015. It looks like it may be a challenge to hold that ground for 2016, but six months of baseball just ahead should give us a much better idea of the trend direction.

Earlier articles in this series:
Cardinals Prospects in 2015 National Top 100s
2015 Cardinals Prospects: What the Others Say.

Link to last year’s edition of this article: 2014.

Join the discussion with other Cardinals fans here

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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