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Examining the NL West farm system needs as the draft approaches

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at San Francisco Giants Photo by Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The NL West is in a curious place right now — though the Giants won three World Series during the first half of the decade, the Dodgers have actually dominated the division for most of the 2010s, winning six straight NL West titles and two straight NL pennants. The rest of the division has struggled to keep up, especially in recent years, and now Los Angeles’ NL West foes are trying to build up as much young depth as possible in an effort to eventually dethrone the Dodgers. The Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres are all in various stages of rebuilding/retooling processes, with San Diego likely the closest to competing with LA. Meanwhile, the Rockies spent a large chunk of this decade rebuilding and trying to build up enough young depth to contend for the division title, but it’s been a rocky road as they’ve tried to complete that final step in sneaking past the Dodgers.

With such an emphasis on youth right now in the NL West, it’ll be important for all these teams — particularly the three that are trying to climb back up the ladder to relevance — to ace the draft next week. Here’s a look at the state of each organization (with all prospect rankings based off MLB Pipeline’s lists):

Diamondbacks (No. 16, 26, 33, and 34 picks)

Two Top 100 prospects: Jazz Chisholm (SS, 54), Jon Duplantier (RHP, 65)

The D-Backs are in an interesting position — their farm system hasn’t really been good in quite a few years, but with the magic touch of GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo, they’re staying relevant for a third straight year. Though they’ve managed to get good performances out of veteran free agents and undervalued prospects to this point, it would certainly help if they could add some elite young talent to the system and make the jobs of Hazen and Lovullo a little bit easier. In particular, they could stand to add some high-end pitching depth, both because guys like Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray probably won’t be around that much longer, and because the majority of the organization’s highly-regarded prospects are position players (seven of their top 10 and 14 of their top 20 according to MLB Pipeline).

Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they’ll have the opportunity to load up on talented young players during the early part of this year’s draft, as they’ll have four of the first 34 picks in the draft — they’ll be the first team with such a bounty of first-day picks since the Giants had four of the first 32 in 2007. While this draft doesn’t feature the greatest class of pitchers, it still might be interesting to see them load up on college pitchers early on — much like the Royals did last year — and increase their odds of hitting on a front-of-the-rotation starter. With that said, since they lost Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock over the offseason and David Peralta is now 31 years old, so it’d be difficult to fault them if they mixed in a position player among those four picks, particularly at No. 16 overall.

Dodgers (No. 25 and 31 picks)

Three Top 100 prospects: Keibert Ruiz (C, 32), Gavin Lux (SS/2B, 43), Dustin May (RHP, 61)

The Dodgers’ farm system isn’t the best it’s ever been — it’s understandable that it took a hit as they traded prospects such as Grant Holmes, Willie Calhoun, Yordan Álvarez, Yusniel Díaz, and Devin Smeltzer, among others, in order to keep beefing up the team for playoff runs over the past few years. But for the Dodgers to still have three top-100 prospects after winning the division for six straight years, going to two straight World Series, and not having a top-15 pick in the draft since 2008 — and have homegrown players in their early-to-mid 20s like Walker Buehler, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Alex Verdugo making huge impacts for a 2019 team that looks like to win the division once again — is really impressive and a testament to their outstanding player development and evaluation skills. Their main goal in this draft will be continuing to take advantage of those skills in order to backfill the system and make sure the steady stream of young talent keeps flowing.

While the Dodgers’ system doesn’t have the same level of elite talent that it did a few years ago, it is still rather evenly balanced, and with youth positively impacting every area of their major-league roster (except maybe the bullpen, which isn’t an area they’re going to intentionally address in the first round anyway), they can’t really go wrong with whichever position group they choose to strengthen. The only thing that may have changed a bit — despite the fact that they have so many extremely young players on their big-league roster — is that they may be more inclined to select more high-floor college players who can move more quickly through the system now, thus enabling them to more quickly replace the upper-minors prospects they’ve traded over the past few years. That’s generally been the strategy since their current front office took over anyway, but it is somewhat of a change in approach from what the previous regime did during the early part of the decade, selecting a bevy of high schoolers that included Seager, Bellinger, Verdugo, and Holmes.

Giants (No. 10 overall pick)

Two Top 100 prospects: Joey Bart (C, 23), Heliot Ramos (OF, 75)

Though the Giants will probably avoid catchers in the early rounds since Bart is their future behind the plate, Aramis Garcia is a capable backup for the long term, and Buster Posey still has a few good years left in him, there’s not much else their farm system couldn’t use — as you may have noticed above, they only have two top-100 prospects despite losing 187 games over the last two seasons. In particular, the team is in need of upper-echelon position player talent, as their World Series core got stale quickly, and there were no capable hitting prospects waiting around as reinforcments when that happened. They still haven’t really remedied that problem — if anything, they created further problems by trading outfielder Bryan Reynolds to the Pirates last year for five months of Andrew McCutchen — though Bart, Ramos, and Dominican shortstop prospect Marco Luciano, all added to the system over the last two years, could contribute to that next core of position players.

Though they loaded up on college arms in last year’s draft, it’s likely that the Giants will make pitching a priority again in this year’s draft — particularly in the first round, after taking Bart and Ramos in the first rounds of the last two drafts. While guys like Tyler Beede, Shaun Anderson, and Dereck Rodriguez are intriguing young starters, they probably profile as back-of-the-rotation arms, and part of the path back to success for the Giants likely involves getting some really good front-of-the-rotation starters who can be as imposing as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner were during the first half of this decade.

Padres (No. 6 overall pick)

Eight Top 100 prospects: Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, 1), MacKenzie Gore (LHP, 8), Luis Urias (SS/2B, 24), Luis Patino (RHP, 45), Adrian Morejon (LHP, 46), Logan Allen (LHP, 66), Michel Baez (RHP, 76), Ryan Weathers (LHP, 77)

The list above should get the point across — the Padres’ farm system is absolutely loaded, and that list doesn’t even include guys like Chris Paddack, Francisco Mejia, Franmil Reyes, and Franchy Cordero who have graduated from being “prospects” but still have unbelievably high upside. With this in mind, you have to imagine that the Padres will be taking a best-player-available approach next week.

It’s almost impossible to be picky with San Diego’s system right now, but if anything they may be well-served to add more internal depth at the corner infield positions. Of course, they’re pretty well-set at those positions for the long haul, with Eric Hosmer under contract through 2025 and Manny Machado through 2028, but if one of those players regresses sooner than expected or gets hurt, San Diego might want to have some quality depth behind them (and obviously, targeting those positions would only be a luxury due to the fact that they’re so unbelievably loaded with young players across the board). Of course, it’s always good to have more pitching depth, and though the Padres’ farm system is stacked with highly-thought-of arms right now, their staff is still the weakness of their big-league club, and if they can keep increasing their odds of eventually putting together a really good pitching staff, it’d be prudent to do so. With both the upper and lower levels of their system containing multiple talented pitching prospects, they can afford to just go with the most intriguing arm available rather than focusing on whether it’s a high school or college pitcher.

Rockies (No. 23 overall pick)

Three Top 100 prospects: Brendan Rodgers (INF, 10), Colton Welker (3B, 80), Ryan Rolison (LHP, 98)

Colorado’s another organization that’s in an interesting spot — but for all the wrong reasons. The Rockies spent the early-to-middle part of this decade rebuilding and trying to collect as much young talent as possible, picking within the top 10 for five straight years from 2012-16. Unfortunately, that process hasn’t beared much fruit yet, with their best player by far still being 2009 second-rounder Nolan Arenado, 2014 first-rounder Kyle Freeland struggling mightily this year after looking to have developed into a legit ace in 2018, and the team being just one game over .500 as we head into June after making the playoffs last year. 2013 No. 3 overall pick Jon Gray has had an up-and-down career (with more downs than ups at this point), 2015 No. 3 overall pick Brendan Rodgers just reached the majors and hasn’t looked like a transformative player to this point, and 2016 No. 4 overall pick Riley Pint has a 9.45 ERA in A-ball this year and has been moved to the bullpen, so it’s safe to say the rebuilding process hasn’t totally worked out as planned.

The Rockies’ system is richer with position players than it is with pitchers right now, and with as much as the Rockies have struggled to develop starting pitchers who can remain consistent from year to year, it’d probably make sense for them to focus on pitching during the early part of the draft and then try to turn position players selected beyond the first round into impactful pieces, much like they have with Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Ryan McMahon. That sounds much easier than it actually is, but with the Rockies traditionally being pretty good at turning out solid hitters — and nearly always struggling to turn out even league-average pitchers — it’d be logical for them to take the pitchers who have the least chance to fail, going for polished college arms in the first round, and then filling their position player needs by taking advantage of their strong player development skills and turning somewhat-overlooked prospects into guys who can handle the bat well enough to succeed in the hitter-friendly environment that is Coors Field.