MESA, Ariz. — According to every national outlet that attempts to measure such things, the Cubs have the top-ranked farm system in baseball, including two of the top five prospects in third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.
But what does it mean?
MVPs for Bryant and Russell? Maybe. Bryant is ranked No. 1 on two lists, and Russell is ranked ahead of Bryant on another.
A long, sustained run of playoff appearances and multiple World Series titles? Probably not without a lot of help from free agents and veterans acquired in trade.
In 2011, for instance, the Kansas City Royals had nine prospects among Baseball America’s top 100, two more than the Cubs this year. And while the Royals reached the World Series last year, most of those players had small roles or were non-factors. The top performer, Wil Myers, was traded for James Shields and Wade Davis before his Rookie of the Year season in 2013.
In 1992, on the other hand, the Braves landed future MVP Chipper Jones and future All-Stars Ryan Klesko, Mark Wohlers and Javy Lopez on Baseball America’s list. The team went to three World Series with that group, winning in 1995.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a top prospect or not,” said Cubs third baseman Mike Olt, who was a top-50 prospect on every list in 2012 and 2013 before a series of physical setbacks and a tough rookie year in 2014.
“There are a lot of intangibles that make a good big-leaguer. You may have all the talent, but if you don’t work hard and do the little things, it’s really not going to play in the big leagues. It’s a good thing to be on a list, but it’s also a good thing to know you’ve still got to work hard to get where you need to be.”
The lists are subjective and seemingly everywhere in an information age that makes it easy for fans to follow minor-leaguers and start bandwagons in A-ball.
They’re also not necessarily accurate after the top 10 or 15, which consist mostly of high draft picks who have had at least some mid-minors success.
Even as he expresses optimism with the job his staff has done in three-plus years, team president Theo Epstein repeatedly cautions against assuming that every prospect will live up to the hype, even most of the big names.
“We’re all kind of at the same level,” Bryant said. “We’re all just prospects.”
Bryant is in the top five on every prospect list. Baseball America and ESPN rank him No. 1.
“I really don’t even pay attention to it anymore,” said the former college player of the year and Baseball America minor-league player of the year. “I know I have a lot to prove on the field, and those are just opinions that I really can’t control.”
How the Cubs evaluate their own players — and the decisions on whom to keep and whom to trade — means a lot more than any No. 1 or No. 30 ranking by somebody else.
“The Braves almost created a dynasty out of evaluating their own players the right way,” Epstein said. “But we’re invested in the guys we have. There’s not a player here we feel like we want to sell short on.”
Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to care either way.
“All the rankings, all the media hype and all that kind of stuff, I’m not really into that,” he said. “It’s about getting the guy on the field and having him earn his stripes and earn his way on a major-league level.”