As the calendar is about to flip to 2016, a bit of retrospection is in order. In the past year, some teams have improved their farm systems more than others. The following list of the five most improved farm systems in 2015 was compiled considering all methods of player acquisition: trade, Draft, international signing, even the Rule 5 Draft.
This isn't a ranking of the top farm systems; that's something that will come in the New Year after the new prospects rankings come out.
Atlanta Braves: When John Hart was hired by the Braves as the president of baseball operations, after he served the team as a consultant for the 2014 season, one of his first orders of business was to rebuild a once-proud farm system. Atlanta used to thrive annually because of homegrown players, and it was seen as essential to get back to the "Braves way" of doing things. John Coppolella, now the team's general manager, worked in step with Hart to do just that, and no team has done more to restock the prospect shelves.
Starting with the trade that brought Manny Baneulos from the Yankees on Jan. 1 and ending with the blockbuster Shelby Miller deal that netted them Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, the Braves added no fewer than 12 players to their current Top 30 list via the trade market. And that doesn't include the Jason Heyward or Justin Upton trades completed last December, nor does it include graduated prospect Mike Foltynewicz from the January Evan Gattis trade. And Hector Olivera doesn't count as a prospect according to MLBPipeline.com guidelines (we use the same rules that govern the international spending pool).
The big deals from this offseason brought in three sure-fire Top 100 caliber players in Swanson and Blair from the Miller deal and lefty Sean Newcomb in the Andrelton Simmons trade.
Had that been it, the Braves would still make this list. But then their 2015 Draft haul has to be considered. Not only did the Braves go bold by taking Kolby Allard, an injured high school lefty who had top of the round potential, in the first round, they also added young high school talent (the old Braves way again) with Mike Soroka, Austin Riley and Lucas Herbert.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies made most of their noise at the Trade Deadline and during this offseason, breathing some much needed life into a weak system. Two trades -- the Cole Hamels deal in July and the Ken Giles one this winter -- brought in six players in their current Top 30, including four of the top five.
When Hamels was sent to the Texas Rangers, the Phillies were able to add Jake Thompson, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro, all in the current Top 100 list, along with Alec Asher, who made his big league debut in 2015. The bounty for Giles was Mark Appel (Top 100) and Thomas Eshelman (2015 draftee), both in the current Phillies' Top 30. Vincent Velasquez graduated off prospect lists late this past season, so he technically doesn't count, but he was a top 100 prospect prior to his big league time with Houston.
Other trades brought in more talent: Ben Revere netted Alberto Tirado and Jimmy Cordero; Chase Utley's return was Darnell Sweeney and John Richy; Jonathan Papelbon brought in Nick Pavetta. That's 10 Top 30 players (Cordero isn't in the Top 30) via trades. Throw in Cornelius Randolph and Scott Kingery from the Draft, Tyler Goeddel from the Rule 5 Draft and Jhailyn Ortiz, MLBPipeline.com's No. 8 international prospect whom the Phillies signed for north of $4 million, and the Phillies aren't far behind the Braves in terms of restocking success.
Milwaukee Brewers: The best deal for the Brewers may have been the one they didn't make at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. When the reported trade sending Carlos Gomez to the Mets fell through, they ended up making an even better deal, at least in terms of rebuilding their farm system, with the Astros. It brought in four prospects that landed in their Top 30, including Top 100 prospects Domingo Santana (since graduated) and Brett Phillips. Josh Hader should join them after a strong season and even stronger Arizona Fall League campaign. Adrian Houser threw well following the trade, too.
Zach Davies came in a Deadline deal as well, from Baltimore in return for Gerardo Parra, and he made six starts in the big leagues at the end of the year. That gave the Brewers immediate return in both deals, with Davies and Santana both looking like members of the 2016 Opening Day roster, along with some future star-caliber prospects.
Smaller deals at the start of the year (Yovani Gallardo) and at the very end (Jason Rogers) also netted Top 30-caliber prospects, but aside from the Gomez deal, it was the 2015 Draft that has helped restock the prospect shelves the most. The successful haul brought in four Top 30 players, with the Brewers getting high-ceiling talent like Trent Clark and Demi Orimoloye as well as intriguing college arms like Nathan Kirby (a first-round talent who had injury issues) and Cody Ponce. Add in the advancement of homegrown players like Orlando Arcia and Jorge Lopez and the Brewers have turned around their pipeline as quickly as any team.
Cincinnati Reds: The trading of Aroldis Chapman was the icing on the Reds' rebuilding cake. From the Trade Deadline through the Chapman deal, Cincinnati dealt four players to bring in a dozen new young players. Some have already seen time on the Reds' Major League roster (Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb from the Johnny Cueto deal; Adam Duvall from the Mike Leake trade). Some should help out at the start of the 2016 season (Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler from the Todd Frazier deal). Coming soon might be the best player netted in any of the Reds' trades, lefty Cody Reed, who was in the Cueto deal and is coming off a breakout 2015 campaign. The Chapman trade gave the Reds a potential replacement for Frazier at third eventually in Eric Jagielo and an intriguing arm in Rookie Davis among the quartet of young players received.
In addition to all of the trades, the Reds had a very strong Draft haul in June, adding five players to their current Top 30 list, headlined by high school catcher Tyler Stephenson. Cincy even used the Rule 5 Draft to bring in an intriguing player, outfielder Jake Cave, and the club is also considered the favorites to land Cuban infielder Alfredo Rodriguez. Considering the success the organization has had in that market (See Chapman, Aroldis and Iglesias, Raisel), that should be seen as a major addition if and when it occurs.
Colorado Rockies: Any time you trade a cornerstone player like Troy Tulowitzki, the hope is to bring in an infusion of young talent to help rebuild. The Rockies did just that in bringing in three arms with big-league futures. Jeff Hoffman is the best of the trio and the one who has the chance to be a true frontline starter. Miguel Castro has Major League time, and as a closer at that. Jesus Tinoco is the farthest away, but he had a very impressive full-season debut.
Besides the Tulo trade, the 2015 Draft helped the Rockies turn the farm system in the right direction. Five members of the team's current Top 30 came from last year's Draft after Colorado used its bonus pool -- the second-highest of any team -- aggressively. It started, of course, with getting Brendan Rodgers, who was No. 1 on the Draft Top 200 at the time of the Draft. The other four -- Mike Nikorak, Tyler Nevin, Peter Lambert and David Hill -- all were in the Top 100.
That wasn't the only way the organization brought in high-end amateur talent. The Rockies gave Daniel Montano, who was ranked No. 14 on the International Top 30, $2 million in July, and they handed out several other six-figure bonuses to Latin American talent.