Musings on the Minor Leagues

A long dinner with a friend from college and LSAT studying that took longer than expected will keep me from writing a lengthy post tonight. So I wanted to take this opportunity to present you with some musings on the Minor Leagues.

Also, I’m going to brag a bit about how much of an obsessed baseball fan I am. Feel free to add your own wacky story in the comments if that’s your thing.

For the folks over at Baseball America, the off-season is a busy time of year. As they traffic in prospect reports and the latest news from the Minors, the four months without baseball are the months during which they put together their highly-regarded prospect reports.

The prospect reports available to the magazine’s subscribers are the Top 10 lists from each league as well as the Minor’s Top 100 prospects and the lists of the top tools from every level of the game. All told, it’s an impressive bunch of work put out by such a small permanent staff. (They rely on a nationwide network of affiliated writers too.)

More impressive is the work they put into their prospect handbook, due out shortly. In this book, the gold standard for the baseball world, the folks from Baseball America write up scouting reports on every organization’s top 30 prospects for a grand total of 900 entries, many on players who will never see the light of day. It’s an incredible and often-overlooked undertaking.

As part of their prospect reporting, the BA staffer who pens the top 10 lists has a chat online the day after releasing that team’s list. The Yankees’ list debuted this week, and it was very heavy on low-level talent. In fact, none of the players had played about AA and most were still young and still toiling away at Single A or Short-Season Single A.

For the Yankees, this is a mixed blessing. Baseball America, for the first time in a few seasons, had words of praise for the Yankees farm system. A solid draft has given them a solid core of young, athletics baseball players. Led by Philip Hughes, age 19, all of the Yankees’ top ten prospects are younger than I am. In fact, one of them, outfielder Jose Tabata, was born on August 12, 1988, making him younger than my sister. (What have you done with your life recently?)

That’s all well and good for three or four years down the line, if the Yanks hold on to these guys, but for now, the Bronx Bombers won’t be getting much help from the Columbus Clippers (or Trenton Thunder either). So the Yanks will be relying on their aging Major League team and whatever spare parts they can pick up through trades or through obscene wads of cash (see Damon, Johnny).

While I would be happy to extol the virtues of a young, exciting, and finally developing farm system, I would rather just share an anecdote about the Yankees farm system. I love paying attention to the Minor Leagues. I think it’s great to see young players develop and make the team. A few days ago, I was discussing with my friend Dave, a huge Red Sox fan, about our favorite team’s respective systems. I maintained the Yanks were better; Dave stood by the Sox. Even better, he took the question to the local authority on this matter: John Manual, the author of BA’s Yankees Top 10 list. Here’s what happened:

Q: Dave from Cambridge, MA asks:
My friend and I have been having an on-going argument: Who has better lower level prospects, the Red Sox or the Yankees?

A: John Manuel: Wow, now THAT’s a good argument to have. How’d that one get started? We don’t even have those debates, and we’re paid to do so. The Sox are in much better shape in Triple-A and Double-A; I don’t know that there’s a lot of debate there. A the lower levels, both teams have very interesting players, I like the Red Sox’ 2005 draft picks, guys like Michael Bowden, Clay Buchholz, Ellsbury and Lowrie . . . I’d give a slight edge to the Yankees because of the athleticism of their position players, but it’s close. Wow, maybe it IS a good debate.

There you have it, folks. Dave and I have out-prospected the Gods of Prospects. Plus, the Yankees and the Red Sox, not content with their stranglehold atop the AL East, both have good players at the low levels in their Minor League systems. Who needs competition in the AL East? (And while we’re talking about fantasies of a Yankee farm system, I have one of my own: How about that Baseball America job…)

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