We've all played the "would you rather" game with baseball players. If you're starting a franchise, who would you rather have? Or for one at-bat with the game on the line?
What could make that hypothetical more fun? Asking actual talent evaluators who they would rather have. This season, we'll take some of the best players (or groups of players) in baseball and ask scouts and executives who they'd take in a head-to-head situation. With the season just about to hit the midway point, now is as good of a time as any to talk about prospect rankings.
Ask most front-office folks, media members who write about it, and everyone in between, and the general consensus is that the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees have the two best farm systems in baseball. The order of those two, however, is somewhat divisive.
The Yankees have Gleyber Torres, a consensus top-three prospect who can do a little bit—or actually a lot—of everything on the field. There's also hard-hitting outfielder Clint Frazier, promising young outfielder Blake Rutherford, and promising left-hander Justus Sheffield, with Chance Adams, one of the more pleasant surprises of 2017, rounding out the top five.
Atlanta is better known for its pitching, but speedy infielder Ozzie Albies and bonus baby Kevin Maitan lead the system. They're followed by teenage hurlers Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, and the top five rounds out with Ronald Acuna, another teenager. All three are performing well in Double-A.
I decided to settle this once and for all—in my mind, anyway—and ask three people in the know which system they prefer, the Yankees or the Braves.
Note: After these interviews took place, the Yankees announced Gleyber Torres would need Tommy John surgery. We followed up with those who preferred the Yankees system about how much—if at all—the injury changed their mind.
National League Team Scouting Director
"Well, I think we have a better farm system than both [Note: no, they don't], but if you're asking me which system is better, I think I'd go with New York. I like the talent they've picked up a lot, and I like how they've done it—it's equal parts draft, [international] free agents, and trades. Atlanta's system is certainly good, but I don't think they have an offensive star. New York might have three in Gleyber, Blake Rutherford, and Clint Frazier. It's a really good group. Atlanta's is, as well, but New York's is a little better.
Does the Torres injury change anything? "No. You'll have to see how the missed plate time will hurt him, but he's such a sharp kid that I doubt it hurts him. He's still the best prospect of either team, too."
NL West Scout
"Here's why I say Atlanta. So yes, New York has a lot of stuff to like. Torres is a stud, I think Sheffield has a chance to be a lot better than people anticipate, and there's a bunch of outfielders that are pretty good. But Atlanta's got the better pitching, and I think Ronald Acuna is going to be a superstar. He's the best prospect I've seen this year, and by a wide margin [Note: he hasn't seen Torres this year]. New York is the best system in the American League by a country mile, but Atlanta just has a little more star power."
AL Front Office Member
"Pretty close. Both are elite systems. Might argue San Diego is getting pretty close to that group as well. I'd say the Yankees are the best. I just think there's more quality and quantity in their group than what Atlanta has accumulated. I also think it's worth noting that they started with a worse system than what the Braves did, although I guess that doesn't matter. As much as I love [Atlanta's] pitching, I'd roll with New York's group."
Does the Torres injury change anything? "No, just the timetable on which he returns. He should be fine. Best prospect in baseball, in my opinion."
You didn't ask, but this is an area that I can't stay away from. Even with the Torres injury, I think New York's system is the best in baseball. As good as Atlanta's pitching is, New York's not that far behind; guys like Sheffield, Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, and a few other arms all have a chance to be third starters or better. And then you get all of those bats, and even with the injury, you have the best prospect in baseball in Gleyber Torres. Atlanta's system is great, New York's system is just greater.