Sizing up the American League East farm systems

Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

While homegrown players have been critical in the Rays' recent success, are their division rivals catching up in player development?

On Opening Day 2012, the combined payrolls of AL East teams was $616,510,752. Accounting for just 10.3% of that total at $63,627,200, the Rays will not be competing in the division with big market financial resources. As B.J. Upton stated a few years ago, they're "ballin' on a budget", and that means developing their own cheap talent with the occasional trade. Counting each team's starting nine and top five starters, the Rays lead the division with most homegrown players, defined as a player that was originally drafted or signed by a team and later made his pro debut with that team, with nine. Boston comes in second with six, the Yankees and Orioles are tied with four, and the Blue Jays bring up the rear with three.

It's obvious that the Rays excelling in player development is why they've won 90 games four out of the last five years. However, without the ability to raise payroll quite as high as their division rivals, the pressure to have successful drafts year in and year out is constant. In 2008 and 2009 though, it looks like they could have trouble producing much major league talent. While the other teams in the division can make up for a bad draft by spending money in free agency to fill holes, the Rays don't have that luxury. Combined with recent graduations of top players, the organization's system is down right now. How do they stack up against the rest of the division? I'll look at each team's top three prospects (in my opinion) and also discuss the depth beyond the top three to see how they all compare.

Tampa Bay

SS Hak-Ju Lee, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Taylor Guerrieri

The order of these three is certainly debatable, but they should all be consensus top 100 prospects from the major sources this offseason, potentially on the fringe of the top 50. Lee offers the potential of an above average shortstop with very good defensive and baserunning abilities and the chance to hit for average with gap power. While Boston's Jose Iglesias and Toronto's Adeiny Hechavarria have better gloves than Lee's, Lee is probably the best defensive shortstop in the division that has a decent probability of hitting enough to be a regular. A legitimate everyday player at shortstop is exactly what the Rays need.

Andrew Friedman acknowledges that pitching depth is perhaps the biggest key for the franchise's success, so Archer's second half surge and Guerrieri's excellent pro debut are vital. If the light truly went on for Archer, he deserves a spot in the Rays' rotation, giving them another starter under plenty of team control. While Guerrieri's success is in a limited amount of innings so far, he truly was a steal at 24th overall and has been as good as advertised. In a league filled with hitters with college experience, Guerrieri had 45 strikeouts to just five walks in 52 innings without allowing a home run. He still has a long way to go to get to Tropicana Field, but if he can keep up that kind of control, he'll be in good shape.

The Rays may have less top shelf talent in the minors than in previous years, but they have a lot of depth that could develop into that kind of talent down the road. Despite a pretty uneven season, Enny Romero was just named the #6 prospect in the Florida State League, a league that featured three pitchers that will likely rank as top 20 prospects across baseball. Richie Shaffer is another potential steal in the first round of the 2012 draft and could move quickly. Of course, they also had that huge 2011 draft class that they hope restocks the system. Aside from Guerrieri, OF Mikie Mahtook, SS Jake Hager and LHP Blake Snell are some of the top names to watch from that draft.

Baltimore

RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Kevin Gausman, INF Jonathan Schoop

Manny Machado is no longer considered a prospect due to his 201 plate appearances with the Orioles, but that pair of righties is still very formidable at the top of a list. Bundy is the league's top pitching prospect with great stuff and impressive pitchability that allowed him to reach the majors as a 19 year old. Starting pitching was Baltimore's biggest issue in their amazing 2012 season, and Bundy could be a big piece in rectifying that issue at some point next year. While Gausman isn't on Bundy's tier, the #4 overall pick in 2012 reached AA after signing and could also help in 2013. The former LSU Tiger Friday starter has the potential for three plus pitches showed why he was the first pitcher off the board in June.

After that, the talent in the system drops off dramatically. Schoop can play all around the infield, but with Machado at the hot corner and their financial obligation to J.J. Hardy, he could stick at second base in the future. He's on the outskirts of top 100 lists, but an average season at the plate after being rushed to AA as a 20 year old could have hurt his stock, although he did have good walk and strikeout rates. This is clearly a top heavy system; it's very shallow, but most teams would love Bundy and Gausman as their top two prospects.

Boston

SS Xander Bogaerts, CF Jackie Bradley Jr., RHP Matt Barnes

With a completely miserable 2012 in the books, the Red Sox will turn to an improving and intriguing farm system in upcoming years. At the top of the list is the power hitting shortsop Xander Bogaerts, coming off a 20 home run, .523 SLG season across two levels that could land him in the top 25 on some prospect lists. In July, Keith Law rated his power tool as the best in the Futures Game (ESPN sub. required), and that is incredibly valuable in the middle infield. Thanks to his improved defense in 2012, he's given himself a chance to stay at shortstop instead of sliding over to third base or moving to the outfield where his bat will still play.

Bradley and Barnes were two of the team's four first rounders in the 2011 draft, and their pro debuts this year were both impressive. Bradley rebounded nicely from a broken hamate that shortened his junior season at South Carolina and emerged as a potential leadoff man with a great plate approach, a good hit tool and quality baserunning all while playing a solid center field. Bradley could be a top 50 prospect, and Barnes could be too although it's not as likely. With improved stuff and command, he could be a #3 starter in the big leagues soon. In addition to RHP Allen Webster acquired from the Dodgers, the Red Sox have a lot of potential in the lower minors, including shortstop Deven Marrero, infielder Garin Cecchini and catcher Blake Swihart.

New York

C Gary Sanchez, CF Mason Williams, LHP Manny Banuelos

The Yankees love their big, hitting catchers, and Sanchez is the next man up in the mold. The 19 year old is a potential top 25 prospect, and he has a better chance to stay behind the plate than the departed Jesus Montero. His bat made huge strides repeating the South Atlantic League, slugging .513 with 13 home runs and 19 doubles in 68 games before earning a promotion to high-A Tampa. His plate approach may be a tad aggressive right now, but he's still young and has huge offensive upside. While Sanchez will hit his way to the bigs, Mason Williams will get there with a solid skillset across the board. He has nice range in center field and speed on the bases, and he'll hit for average with decent power. A torn labrum ended his season prematurely, and he should be back in Tampa in 2013.

Williams led a pretty big list of Yankees prospects to get injured in 2012, and perhaps none was more critical than Manny Banuelos'. The lefty needs Tommy John surgery after throwing just 24 innings this year, and he'll probably miss all of 2013 too. This puts a significant dent in his stock, but he'll still only be 23 when he's back on the mound in 2014 and could still be a top 50 prospect. Like Boston, the Yankees have some intriguing depth. Slugging outfielder Tyler Austin should be a regular on top 100 lists this offseason, and Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott gives New York a lot of future outfield options.

Toronto

C Travis' d'Arnaud, OF Jake Marisnick, RHP Aaron Sanchez

A torn knee ligament ended d'Arnaud's season in June, and that took away the great chance he had to make his big league debut in 2012. If he's not a top 10 prospect in all of baseball, he's right there just outside of it. He may not stand out in one area, but his defense behind the plate and hit and power tools are all above average. His plate approach may be a tad aggressive, but his feel for contact should make it work. Marisnick took a step backward statistically in 2012, but he's still a likely top 50 prospect. His combination of above average power and speed plus good outfield defense should play in right field which is his likely destination on the diamond. His plate approach has some room for improvement, but he's shown the ability to hit for average in the past.

Sanchez was at the top of a low-A rotation that included a pair of other potential top 100 prospects, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino. Sanchez has the highest upside out of all of them, but he's still very far from reaching Toronto. He offers a fastball with well above average velocity, a potential plus slider and adequate changeup. His command still needs to make big strides, but improvements in his delivery in 2012 indicate it's coming. The Blue Jays have invested heavily in the draft and international signings in recent years, and that's reflected in a pretty deep system that also includes pitchers Daniel Norris, Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna.

With these brief summaries of each team's organization, where do the Rays stack up?

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