By Cliff Corcoran
Early February is an exciting time for prospect watchers as the past three weeks have seen the three major top-100 prospect lists unveiled, starting with MLB.com's list on Groundhog Day and followed by Baseball America's list last Friday and Baseball Prospectus's top 101 prospects list this Monday. Averaging the three, the top four prospects in baseball right now are all players who appeared in the Majors in 2016. In order, they are Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada and Cardinals righty Alex Reyes (who now has serious health concerns going into the season). After those four, there is a bit of a gap before you get to fifth-place Amed Rosario, the Mets shortstop prospect whose average ranking on the three lists is seventh place (Reyes' average ranking is 3.7).
Beyond the individual player rankings, however, these lists can also be used to quantify which organizations have the best collections of elite prospects. To do that, I've simply given each team one-third of a point each time one of their players appears on any of the three lists (thus a player who appears on all three will be worth one full point). Curiously, the only team not to place a single player on any of the three lists is the Kansas City Royals, whose recent World Series runs were fueled in part by the maturation of one of the strongest farm systems in recent memory. The five teams below who topped my rankings would certainly like to follow Kansas City's path to postseason success, but in doing so should be careful not to let their farm dry up in the process.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 5 points
Top prospects: CF Austin Meadows (BA: 6, BP: 6, MLB: 10), RHP Tyler Glasnow (BA: 23, BP: 14, MLB: 9), 1B Josh Bell (BA: 35, BP: 25, MLB: 27), RHP Mitch Keller (BA: 22, BP: 27, MLB: 48), SS Kevin Newman (BA: 55, BP: 65, MLB: 59)
Glasnow and Bell made their Major League debuts last year. Meadows and Newman, both of whom spent time in Double-A last year, could reach the Majors this year. All four should be full-time Major Leaguers in 2018, provided the Pirates can make room for Meadows in an outfield that already features three center fielders. Keller spent most of 2016 in the Sally League, but he could be in the Major League rotation by 2019, where he could be joining Gerrit Cole (who would be in his walk year by then), Glasnow and former top-100 prospect Jamison Taillon, who graduated to the Majors in 2016. That would give the Pirates an impressive home-grown quartet. There's a lot to dream on there, particularly with Bell, Meadows and Newman in the lineup alongside homegrown stars Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. The Pirates may not make it back to the postseason in 2017, but they should return to contention in short order thanks to this collection of talent.
4. Chicago White Sox: 5 2/3 points
Top prospects: 2B Moncada (BA: 2, BP: 5, MLB: 2), RHP Lucas Giolito (BA: 25, BP: 10; MLB: 12); RHP Michael Kopech (BA: 32, BP: 36, MLB: 16); RHP Reynaldo Lopez (BA: 31, BP: 30, MLB: 46); C Zack Collins (BA: 56, BP: 89, MLB: 81); RHP Carson Fulmer (BA: NA, BP: NA, MLB: 71); RHP Alec Hansen (BA: NA, BP: 97, MLB: NA)
Moncada and the fireballing Kopech came over from the Red Sox in December's Chris Sale trade, while right-handed starters Giolito and Lopez arrived from the Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal the following day. Moncada, Giolito, Lopez and Fulmer, the eighth overall pick in the 2015 Draft, all made their Major League debuts in 2016, but all are likely to open 2017 back in Triple-A. The White Sox are in no rush here, and despite just-graduating shortstop Tim Anderson, they needn't burn off valuable service time on players who could clearly use a bit more seasoning. The Sox drafted Collins and Hansen last June. Selected out of the University of Miami with the tenth overall pick, Collins spent most of his first professional season in Advanced Class A and could advance quickly, but there's concern that his bat could be ready before his glove, forcing a move to first base. Hansen, taken out of the University of Oklahoma in the second round, is a big (6'7", 235 pounds) fireballer who, like Fulmer and Kopech, seems as likely to wind up in the bullpen as the rotation.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 6 points
Top prospects: CF Lewis Brinson (BA: 27, BP: 12, MLB: 18), LHP Josh Hader (BA: 33, BP: 19, MLB: 38); CF Corey Ray (BA: 42, BP: 41, MLB: 30), RHP Luis Ortiz (BA: 79, BP: 68; MLB: 62); SS Isan Diaz (BA: 93, BP: 59, MLB: 65); CF Brett Phillips (BA: NA, BP: 75, MLB: NA); RHP Brandon Woodruff (BA: 82, BP: NA, MLB: NA); CF Trent Clark (BA: NA, BP: 99, MLB: NA)
If there is one prevailing trend on this list, it's the acquisition of high-end prospects via trade. The Pirates drafted their five top-100 prospects themselves, but the other four teams made this list by wheeling and dealing. For example, the Brewers landed Brinson and Ortiz from Texas in last season's Jonathan Lucroy trade, Hader and Phillips in 2015's Carlos Gomez deal and Diaz in last offseason's Jean Segura swap. Clark and Ray, meanwhile, were the organization's top picks in the last two Drafts -- Clark fifteenth overall in 2015 and Ray fifth overall in 2016. Those are all markers of a successful rebuild, bringing in high-end prospects via trade and making good use of high draft picks that result from poor on-field performance. Converting those prospects into a winning Major League team, however, is another thing entirely, and is likely to be a much longer process. None of the Brewers prospects above are likely to open 2017 in the Major Leagues nor is it a given that any will spend significant time in the Majors this season. The 20-year-old Clark is still something of a lottery ticket. The Brewers do already have Domingo Santana, Orlando Arcia and Zach Davies in the Majors, but the only team in their division that they are ahead of in terms of contending again is the Reds.
2. New York Yankees: 7 2/3 points
Top prospects: SS Gleyber Torres (BA: 5, BP: 15, MLB: 3); OF Clint Frazier (BA: 39, BP: 16, MLB: 24), CF Blake Rutherford (BA:45, BP: 49, MLB: 37), SS Jorge Mateo (BA: 85, BP: 43, MLB: 47); RF Aaron Judge (BA: 90, BP: 63, MLB: 45); RHP James Kaprielian (BA: 87, BP: 58, MLB: 58), LHP Justus Sheffield (BA: 91, BP: 52, MLB: 79); RHP Albert Abreu (BA: NA, BP: 82, MLB: NA); SS Tyler Wade (BA: NA, BP: 101, MLB: NA)
Yes, the Yankees have done an outstanding job cashing in veterans for prospects over the past six months, landing Torres for three months of Aroldis Chapman, Frazier and Sheffield for two and half years of Andrew Miller, and getting Abreu in this offseason's Brian McCann swap with the Astros. But there is a lot of quality amateur scouting in the above list, as well. Kaprielian and Rutherford were the team's top picks in the last two Drafts (16th in 2015 and 18th in 2016, respectively); Mateo was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2012; Judge was selected with the compensation pick the Yankees got when Nick Swisher signed with Cleveland after the 2012 season; and Wade was an athletic fourth-round pick out of high school in 2013. Remember, the Yanks also signed and developed Gary Sanchez themselves, and he has just 55 Major League games under his belt. It will be a few more seasons before the bulk of this crop reaches the Majors, but Judge, Sanchez, Greg Bird, Tyler Austin and Luis Severino, all home grown, already have MLB experience, and Frazier could debut this year. Like the Pirates, the Yankees seem like a longshot to contend in 2017, but their return to relevance isn't far away.
1. Atlanta Braves: 7 2/3 points
Top prospects: SS Dansby Swanson (BA: 3, BP: 2, MLB: 3); 2B Ozzie Albies (BA: 11, BP: 35, MLB: 11), LHP Kolby Allard (BA: 37, BP: 67, MLB: 53); RHP Mike Soroka (BA: 48, BP: 64, MLB: 78), LHP Sean Newcomb (BA: 78, BP: 44, MLB: 80), SS Kevin Maitan (BA: 77, BP: 100, MLB: 32); RHP Ian Anderson (BA: 66, BP: 96, MLB: 86), CF Ronald Acuna (BA: 67, BP: 31, MLB: NA)
The Braves have one fewer prospect on their list than the Yankees, but the extra man on New York's list is Wade, whose only appearance was 101st on Baseball Prospectus' list, meaning he didn't actually rate as a top-100 prospect on any of the three lists. Absent Wade, the Yankees have Abreu, who made just one list, against Acuna, who made two. The Braves also have the better top prospect in Swanson, the top overall pick in the 2015 Draft, whom Atlanta stole from Arizona in the now-infamous Shelby Miller trade, and who hit .302/.361/.442 in the Majors last year while falling just one at-bat shy of losing his rookie (and thus prospect) status.
Swanson and Albies could be the Braves' double-play combination as early as the second half of this year, though Albies' arrival might be delayed more than expected in the wake of Atlanta's acquisition of veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips from the Reds. The other players here are further away, particularly Maitan, who was signed out of his native Venezuela last year for $4.25 million and just turned 17 on Sunday. Allard, Soroka and Anderson were their top draft picks the last two years (No. 14 2015, No. 28 2015, and No. 3 2016 respectively). Newcomb, the top prospect in last offseason's Andrelton Simmons trade, is the closest to the Majors of that remaining group, but he topped out at Double-A last year and has yet to solve his significant wildness issues. The Braves should be a fascinating organization to watch over the next few seasons as they move into their new ballpark with a quick-fix roster of veterans this year, then slowly begin to integrate the young talent above to supplement the existing core of Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Ender Inciarte and Swanson.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on the MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.