The worst farm system in baseball?
Deep breaths, South Side.
Yes, the Chicago White Sox' minor league system was ranked dead last by The Athletic's Keith Law on Monday, 30th out of 30 major league teams. What was once one of the game's best stocked talent pools is now, in the opinion of those who evaluate such things, dried up.
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But before any outrage, know there's a reason, a good reason, and one that Law himself explained in issuing his last-place finish to the White Sox.
This is the result of Rick Hahn's rebuilding effort, just like the South Siders' one-time spot atop these lists was the result of the immense amount of young talent the general manager brought into the organization in the first place. Trades that netted Yoán Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López, Dane Dunning, Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease; the splashy international signing of Luis Robert; the drafting of Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn and Garrett Crochet. They all added up to one of the best farm systems in baseball.
But those guys aren't prospects anymore. In fact, all of them, with the exception of the two names I mentioned who have since been traded in win-now moves, are on the White Sox' major league roster. They're all part of the core of young players who have elevated the White Sox to World Series contenders and could keep the contention window open for a long time.
Hahn's own grading scale means we can't call his rebuilding project an overwhelming success quite yet — it'll take a championship to get there — but to this point, things have gone just about as well as they could have, from a team-building standpoint. Disappointing playoff results aside, the White Sox have one of the game's more enviable rosters, the fruits of what used to be one of the game's greatest farm systems.
It's hard to stay high in the farm-system rankings when all the players that caused that high rating are no longer in the system.
That's not to say that every team wants to finish last in these rankings. But if the reason it's last is because of the first back-to-back playoff appearances in club history, a division championship and one of the game's most promising immediate futures? Well, I'm guessing any team would take that over the alternative.
Sure, it'd be nice to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, not only a perennial World Series contender but the No. 1 team in Law's new rankings. Certainly, as the Dodgers have shown over the last decade, being good at the major league level and being good at the minor league level are not mutually exclusive. And that's something every team, the White Sox included, should be striving for, as well, a somewhat tangible sign of health in the short and long terms.
But despite landing no one on Law's list of the top 100 prospects in the game, it's not like the South Side cupboard is completely bare.
The White Sox have the luxury of a host of young major leaguers, entrenched at nearly every position, meaning the need for an immediate influx of talent from the minor leagues is not as pressing as it is elsewhere in the big leagues. But one of the stated goals of Hahn's rebuilding project was to set the White Sox up for long-term success. He didn't want to build a one-time contender. He wanted to build a consistent contender. And the way to do that is to keep the farm system well stocked.
The White Sox are working toward that, bringing in big names via international signings and adding some promising talent with recent draft picks. The names might not grab the attention of the prospect evaluators as much as hyped youngsters from other organizations. But there is a plan for a future beyond this current crop of budding big league stars, even if their major league careers are just beginning.
The White Sox have made splashes on the international-signing market in the last two years, bolstering their Cuban tradition with outfielders Yoelqui Céspedes and Oscar Colás and pitcher Norge Vera. The two outfielders are closer to the majors than most and could make an impact sooner than some of the other players ranked near the top of the White Sox' system. But with the South Siders showed their intentions to plan for the long term with Dominican teenager Erick Hernández during this year's international-signing period.
While 2021 saw the long awaited ascensions of Gavin Sheets and Jake Burger to the major leagues, another planned infield of the future is underway after the White Sox picked a pair of high schoolers with their first two picks in last year's draft. Colson Montgomery, a shortstop, is already ranked as the top prospect in the organization by MLB.com, while Wes Kath, a third baseman, isn't far behind. Moncada and Tim Anderson will have plenty to say about when those two can arrive at the big league level, but it's another example of the team's long-term planning.
And on the pitching front, three recently selected high school arms can paint a similar picture of what's cooking in the minor leagues, with Jared Kelley, Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist all ranked in the top seven prospects in the system.
While that group of players might not currently be worth anything more than one of the lowest ranked farm systems in baseball, in the eyes of the evaluators, time is on the White Sox' side. They can take pride in knowing that the work of that same farm system has produced a championship-contending roster at the major league level. And the lengthy window those current big leaguers provide means the farm system can focus on grooming the next generation, be it with the names just discussed or the ones still to come.
So in addition to knowing that the White Sox possess one of the lowest ranked farm systems in baseball, it's critical to know why.