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Is the Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm system the worst in baseball?

Some people think so.

In Dilga, Rural Roma Struggle For A Better Life Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In an ESPN Insider piece, a certain pundit ranked the D-backs’ farm system dead last in the majors. While it’s a subscription only piece, Arizona Sports provides us with all the chunks which are relevant to the D-backs, including this:

Arizona did not draft well under Stewart. The best player they took in those two drafts is now the starting shortstop in Atlanta, and I don’t think anyone else from either class would make my global top 150 prospects list. They blew their international signing budget in 2015 on Yoan Lopez... They traded two top 100 prospects plus a third who didn’t miss the top 100 by much in moves that made the club worse off in the long run. This system is several drafts away from getting back into the middle of the pack, and unless they’re willing to trade their superstar first baseman, I don’t think they have a shortcut available.

Although said pundit has an entire cupboard full of sharply-ground axes in Sedona Red, there’s no credible argument that the D-backs farm system is thin at best, particularly at the top. The team managed precisely zero players in the Top 100 Prospects list, and when John Sickels looked at Arizona’s prospects, he could find only half a dozen who graded out above the mediocrity of C+.

This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially when you had the second-youngest set of hitters in the majors last year, and third-youngest set of pitchers, as the Diamondbacks had. A farm system is only good if it can be used to make the major-league club better, after all, and there won’t be many gaps around the diamond needing to be filled by Arizona for a while. Outside of catcher and A.J. Pollock (who would become a free agent at the end of 2018), our likely Opening Day lineup this year are all under team control through at least the next three seasons.

However, the farm system is still of vital importance, especially to a small-payroll team such as Arizona currently appears to be. For as well as direct improvement, it can be used to trade from positions of strength, to address weaknesses. As we’ve already documented, the D-backs pitching in 2016 was historically woeful. Rather than needing the existing arms simply to Throw Moar Gud, it would be nice to be able to convert those upper-system position players we don’t need into upper-system (or MLB-ready) pitchers that we do. The problem is, we don’t have ‘em. Per Sickels, the four position players he grades at above C+, are all aged 21 or younger, and the further a prospect is from the majors, the less they generally bring in return.

That said, the worst in all baseball? It’s hard to be sure, because I have close to zero familiarity with anyone else’s prospects, but I do note that overall, the D-backs farm teams had a winning record this year, going 460-446. Obviously, minor-league wins and losses are dependent on a whole host of things, and are not a direct indicator of system strength. But I don’t think they’re completely independent, either. The Visalia Rawhide, for example, went 81-59 this year, which would seem to suggest the team’s talent at the High-A level stands up well, against the other franchises operating in the California League.

I think the most credible alternative candidate for last spot would be the Angels’s system. At least two recent rankings have them in 30th spot, and their combined system record last year was an ugly 352-412, with no affiliate above rookie ball posting a winning mark. But before you get too excited, I should mention that both of these rankings elevate the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system all the way to the giddy heights of... 29th. At that level, it seems like we’re close to splitting hairs. Whether our farm system is the absolute worst doesn’t matter much. It’s another area where new GM Mike Hazen and his team have work to do, and it’s likely something which will only be fixable over the course of years, rather than months.