Keith Law Ranks The O’s Farm Higher Than The Nats

Hey, I’m not above using some of the tricks tactics I used as an online marketer to get you here. My apologies to O’s fans, because I am most definitely taking advantage of the the DC-Baltimore provincialism to get some more folks to read this.

As the headline says, Keith Law has released his ranking of the 30 farm systems and Washington has come in at #21, four spaces behind the Baltimore system at #17, three spaces behind Boston at #18, eleven spaces behind the Yankees at #10. If you have a particularly good memory, you may remember that Mr. Law ranked DC at #19 a year ago.

The article (which is behind the ESPN paywall) cites the following for his ranking:

This was potentially a top-10 system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, no worse than top 15. But after dealing A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Derek Norris — probably three of the Nats’ top 10 guys before the Gio swap — this system lacks depth.

I’ve asked Mr. Law via Twitter if this is because he thinks the departed, along with the 2011 “graduates,” (Espinosa and Ramos) are better than the 2011 draftees. So far, he hasn’t responded, but I don’t take that personally. Law has a habit of retweeting his responses to queries that often rubs people the wrong way. Consequently, he may be confused by a legitimate question among the folks needling him. If/when he replies, I’ll certainly update this post.

My initial reaction was to be bothered by this, but Law is no different than a lot of prospect gurus in valuing youth. And I myself have been on record about the Nats needing to diversify their portfolio by drafting more JuCo and HS players. So if Law were to respond by saying there’s a lack of 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds in the system, we’d be in agreement.

Ultimately, I think rankings like these are like the reverse Bell Curve when it comes to students campaigning for a better grade — fans of the teams in the Top 5 (A- or A’s) or Bottom 5 (D- or F) are going to make the most noise. Most of us can concede that the “#1” ranking from BA in the prospect book (printed prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade; I promise you I don’t have that as a macro in my blogging software) was inflated, so I think the converse may be true here: That maybe Law is underrating the system as much as BA may have been overrating it.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

25 thoughts on “Keith Law Ranks The O’s Farm Higher Than The Nats”

  1. Of course, Law has also been known for a general anti-Nats bias, arising apparently from his loathing of Jim Bowden (understandable and hardly unique to Law); judging from this and other writings/blogs/tweets, his.feelings about the Nats post-Bowden may not have changed as much as others’ have.

    1. I don’t think it is accurate that Law has an anti-Nats bias. His style is to be snarky and confrontational, so any time he opens his mouth, he invariably gets a rash of ‘you hate our team’ (ask STL whether they think he likes them or not – and they got a very high ranking here). Plus, he is a writer first and foremost, and it is his livelihood to get people to read him, so I think that lends itself (consciously or subconsciously) to want to stand out and be different. Plus, we haven’t had that much to get to excited about, until the last year or two.

      All that being said, his summary explanation doesn’t really make sense to me. I follow him, and know that Cole was the only one that he was really high on from the Gio trade. Norris a little bit, but he was starting to be put off by the 2 years of low BA, and he is on record as saying that Peacock is a reliever and Milone is meh. Hard to see that moving us from top 10 to 21, in his mind.

      This seems as off to me as BA’s #1.

      1. Well, you have probably seen this, but to close the loop on everyone’s favorite analyst, he put up his Top 100 prospects. Of note:
        Harper (2) and Rendon (17). No others in the Top 100. For the BAL comparison, Machado (4) and Bundy (11), so at least consistent with his overall ranking.

        As for Gio trade, Cole (33) and Norris (93). No Peacock, which confirms my hunch yesterday that even without a Gio trade, he wasn’t high on the system. Very hard to see Top 10 for him just adding back essentially Cole.

        1. Just a reminder: I was tweaking folks about the Baltimore angle. As a transplant, I’m amused at the attempts to create a rivalry between two teams that play in different leagues, one of which has only been here a few years and a significant portion of its fandom used to root for the other.

          1. Luke – I know. I had read somewhere that someone was upset that Law apparently said that ‘all of baseball’ would take BAL’s Bundy/Machado over Harper/Rendon, and I was just saying that he was at least consistent with his rankings. I don’t consider myself a huge homer for the Nats, and care nothing for a BAL/WAS rivalry, but I think that was one of Law’s crazier comments. I doubt that all of baseball agrees on anything, nevermind something as subjective as that. But I would be willing to bet a majority would vote the other way.

  2. Judging a farm system by its parts rather than as a system is very shallow analysis. The Nats, under Rizzo, have built a solid system in place and they understand that prospects are either traded for proven players or they are developed and matriculate through to the majors. But the point is, prospects have a role, a function in a healthy organization, which is what the Nats are now. I like how Rizzo has balanced future value with fielding a competitive big league team. Seems to me that’s how a major league organization ought to be run.

  3. Given Law’s ranking of the Padres as the number one system–a system that no one seems to think is filled with future superstars–and some of his other comments, I think he’s giving more weight to system depth than to top-end talent. I think the mere presence of Harper and Rendon is going to keep the Nats system highly ranked in BA. Law doesn’t seem too swayed by those two guys, even though many would see both of them as top-10 prospects.

    I personally don’t see why depth is a particularly valuable asset, if your ultimate goal is to produce high quality major leaguers. But everyone seems to have his or her own way of viewing these things. My guess is that the other major prospect people will all have the Nats as a top-15 system, and well above the Os.

    1. Depth enables a team to trade for a major leaguer: Gonzalez this year, Gorzelanny last year. It also spreads the risk around: If Prospect A doesn’t make it, then maybe Prospect B does. Not to mention the effect that Prospect B has in pushing prospect A. Plus, when you have depth, you don’t have to promote a 23-year-old from Low-A to AA in the space of three weeks.

      1. I’m not saying depth is a bad thing; it certainly helps accomplish everything that you mention. I’m just saying I’d rather have Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon than all ten of the guys on the Padres top prospect list. Maybe that’s putting too much weight on the potential for an all-star career and not enough on the risk that those two guys don’t pan out. But if I were ranking systems, I’d lean more toward those with more high-ceiling guys than those with more depth.

  4. Maybe his slant is in fact that (Norris, Peacock, Ramos, Espinosa, Cole) > (Rendon, Goodwin, Meyer, Purke & Lombo/Hood/Taylor – take your pick) in pure prospect potential. Although maybe he places more value on ‘MLB readiness’, in which case the departures would be significantly more valuable. Another possibility might be that Law believes other farm systems have simply passed up the Nats with their drafts and/or development. Personally, I would find that difficult to agree with but I must admit I have not seen any of Law’s article. I don’t frequent the sites that hide behind the pay wall!!! I will be patiently waiting for his Harvard ed-u-macated response! (not really).

  5. Someone (who lives in the DC area, i.e., not me) should put together a Nats prospects vs. O’s prospects charity game. I know the prospects are spread out a bit, but surely you could find a time when most are in the same neighborhood.

    1. Actually I would love to see a “Prospects at Nats Park” day, much like Boston’s “Futures at Fenway” day, where there is a “Triple header” of sorts where Potomac and Harrisburg could both play regular season games before the Nats play. I don’t know if it would work logistically with Syracuse, but given that Harrisburg, Potomac, and Hagerstown is so close you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to do for the Nats to “showcase” players like Rendon, Purke, Solis, Kobernus, Tyler Moore, and maybe even Harper if early enough in the year.

      1. I think that’s a great idea. Not sure why it’s not done more often; other than perhaps the bulk of the fanbase is relatively oblivious (apathetic?) towards the farm system? I also thought it would be nice to have a Prospects All-Star Tournament where teams could pick their top 25 prospects from all levels and put them on one team which would then be paired up against a similar team or two from other MLB teams. They could play at MLB parks after the minor league seasons are over….but it probably wouldn’t be a money-maker for the previously mentioned reason. Wishful thinking……

  6. I have no idea where the Nat’s prospects should be ranked. However, I am continually facinated how divergent oplnions of the ‘experts’ can be. Proof over and over again how arbitrary the rating of baseball players can be, especially at the minor league level. I suppose because I’m not an expert and actually consider this year’s version of the major league Nats one of the top three teams in the National League,
    well, that would make me stupid. And to think Cameron of fan something or other considers my team as a fourth place team in the nle alone.

  7. I think it was Sickels who ranked the Nats #14 now, a ranking I completely agree with.
    While BA gives too much weight to guys who haven’t played an out yet, Law seems to give them no value at all.
    I think the most accurate ranking for the Nats will be June 1st, when Renden, Meyer, Goodwin, and Turnbull will at least have played a little.

  8. Yes we are the number 21 system in baseball, even though we have 2 of the top prospects in all of baseball(while Rendon has room to fall, he also has some roon to rise, and some people consider him a candiate to be the next #1 prospect in baseball after Harper graduates). Not only do we have that, but we have legit prospects at every position on the field, and we have legit prospects at every level. You cant even use the argument for O’s higher than Nationals that says they have Bundy and Muchado, because we have at least as much depth as them, and Harper and Rendon. I take what Law says for just about nothing(just like most ESPN guys).

  9. In general I think Law is pretty close, I think the other “experts” are giving too much credit to the four top ’11 draft picks. Rendon & Purke’s injury history is a big red flag and the fact that none of them has played a single inning of real minor league ball is huge to me. If all or most live up to their scouting ranking then this is a top 5 system (whatever THAT means), but until I see results on a pro playing field I remain cautiously optimistic, but also highly dubious.

    1. Gotta agree here with NotRizzo, can’t really place Rendon as a top prospect til we see if his shoulder woes are behind him.

      Plus, I would agree with Law, we have a good system, but not a great one since it is SO unbalanced. You have 3 sources of talent for the Majors – College – High School – Latin America. Ours is becoming so College dominated we neglect 2 huge talent pools.

      Most teams, even some non-major-media markets, have managed to have a large presence in Latin America by spending big (and small) money there. Toronto was a HUGE spender this year. We spend little, going for a quantity approach (#18 only LAer in Sickels top 20).

      Is our reliance on College players an indication of our lack of development ability? Do we suck so much in developing young HSer or Latinos that we just skip the hard part and sign the 23 yr old seniors? That’s definitely not a sign of a top 10 system.

      1. Unfortunately, the new CBA has taken away the choices of both going over slot and overpaying for international talent. Now, it would appear, everyone will be taking the quantity approach.

        The question that’s left unanswered is: How many of the HSers that might have been lured away from college will still sign? And the follow-up: What will happen to the guys that lose (or don’t earn) their scholarships with the colleges? Brian Oliver hinted that the JuCo route may be the new untapped avenue, which I’m inclined to agree with.

        As always, a reminder that I welcome submissions on the draft: It’s not area of expertise.

        1. Well, part of our answer is since we won’t be 100 loss team, our draft budget should be significantly lower, a middle 1st rounder should top out at $2-2.5m. Perhaps not spending $11-17m on the draft ought to free up a few million for top tier international signings.

      2. Couldn’t agree more with VladiHondo that our pipeline appears to be lacking in the area of Latin American representation (or any other place outside USA for that matter). Following up on the lack of Latin American players on Sickels Top 20, there are only 8 IFA’s found on the ‘2012 Prospects Ranking’ out of 44 players total (18%). If the new CBA pushes all teams towards the quantity approach, I wonder how the Nats relative lack of focus / presence there will push them even further behind the pack.

        Over the last 3 years’ worth of Nats’ drafts (listed ’11, ’10, ’09), HS players have comprised 18%, 34% and 41% of their draftees and just 3%, 6% and 17% of their signees. In total, they inked 5, 6 and 9 HS’ers in ’11, ’10 and ’09 respectively. So even when they did try drafting some HS’ers, the final results have been pretty paltry.

        As to the reasons for this, that’s a great question. Do the Nats struggle with development or more so scouting when it comes to HS talent? Or are they just bad at recruiting at the HS level?

        Obviously the 4th source of talent extends outside of the Nats farm system — trades. The bottom line is for the farm system to feed the MLB team with better than average talent, regardless of where you find it or what the mix is. Obviously a balanced approach is most likely the best, but it does seem that for whatever reason, the Nats haven’t been as successful in pulling talent from a couple of those sources. Personally, I would like to see them step it up internationally for starters. Will be interesting to see the JUCO/CC, international and HS situations play out as the new CBA shapes organizations’ approaches.

        1. The lack of international signings used to bother me more, and I thought that Rizzo felt burned by Maya and Smiley to the point of sheer unwillingness to sign anyone. But I now think it is a philosophical decision by the organization, and I don’t expect anything from the international markets any longer.

          I think that Rizzo has crunched the numbers and come away with the view that the guys aren’t worth what it costs to sign them. The combination of an uncapped system leading to comparatively huge dollars, and signing them at such young ages which increases variability beyond even what HS see, means he doesn’t like the financial equation.

          I am disappointed by it, but without looking at it more closely, it has the feel of truth to me. How frequently does a ’16’ yr old venezuelan kid get $2m to sign, and never reach the majors? Seems like a lot, but I admit that I haven’t tried to pencil it out and compare it to drafting HS in the US draft.

  10. Hague and Rendon starting left-side in Woodbridge. Sorry Luke I don’t see them starting in Hagerstown.

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