It is the ultimate in subjective exercises, perhaps more so than the previous times Jim and I have gone toe-to-toe. There's no metric, rubric or formula that will spit out a "Best Farm System" winner. Even so, there are only a few teams that belong in the conversation.
Jim went with the Astros, making the argument that, at the very least, they have the most-improved system over the past few years. Houston is a worthy choice, but I've gone in another direction.
When trying to decide which organization has the best farm system, I try to look for a combination of impact talent -- elite prospects who could become highly productive big leaguers -- as well as depth. Taking those variables into account, I have to go with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It's taken a while, and perhaps a bit longer than Neal Huntington and his staff hoped for or anticipated, but Pittsburgh's farm system is coming close to being exactly what they drew up when they took over six years ago. Nearly everyone, in Pittsburgh and out, has enjoyed the Pirates' resurgence at the big league level. While the 2013 postseason roster wasn't overwhelmingly homegrown -- consisting of eight such players -- the farm system did make strong contributions. Key players such as Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Starling Marte, were pre-Huntington. But much of the rest, from Pedro Alvarez to Gerrit Cole, came courtesy of the current front office's Draft efforts.
But that's now. We are forward thinking, looking to the future. The good news is that the Pirates have plenty of impact talent and depth to keep things moving in the right direction.
It started, obviously, with Cole, who graduated off the prospect list this season. Anyone who saw him pitch down the stretch this year knows that he has the goods to live up to all of his hype. And anyone who says, "Well, he was the No. 1 overall pick, he should be that good," needs to take a look at the history of the top selections in the Draft.
Since Cole was drafted, Pirates fans have been waiting for the day when he and Jameson Taillon would pitch together in Pittsburgh. It's not that far from happening. Taillon, the No. 1 prospect in the organization, reached Triple-A Indianapolis this year. Those who believe it's taken him too long to develop need to realize he hasn't yet turned 22. He'll be in the big leagues soon enough.
That tandem alone would be something to look forward to, but there's impact talent up and down the system. Outfielder Gregory Polanco and shortstop Alen Hanson, products of the Pirates' renewed efforts in Latin America, both spent time at Double-A Altoona, and Polanco actually got a taste of Triple-A, too. Both are very exciting, high-ceiling players who may be a year or sooner away from helping.
But wait, that's not all. First-round outfielder Austin Meadows, Mexican righty Luis Heredia and right-hander Tyler Glasnow are all highly touted prospects, giving the Pirates six players in the Top 100. And not to throw this in his face, but Jim himself recently wrote about how outfielder Josh Bell was the most likely prospect to join the Top 100 list in 2014. Catcher Reese McGuire, the second first-rounder drafted by the organization this past June, might not be far behind. That would give the Pirates eight Top 100 prospects spread throughout their system.
That speaks to both the talent and the depth in the organization. And it's not like the talent falls off a cliff after those top eight names. There's something to like about Nos. 11-20, even if they don't scream guaranteed big leaguer.
Trust me, that's a huge step forward. I've been the guy who's made the prospects lists here at MLB.com for some time now, and organizational lists since 2011. It wasn't always so easy to fill the Pirates list, even when we did only a Top 10. A few years back, trying to come up with 20 names worthy of being labeled top prospects was a daunting task indeed.
Now? One can easily go past 20. Outfielder Andrew Lambo and right-hander Brandon Cumpton, both of whom made their big league debuts in 2013, didn't make the cut. That certainly wouldn't have happened a couple of years ago, and that pair would almost certainly be on nearly any other organization's Top 20.
All of that bodes well for the Pirates, beyond simply ranking among the game's top farm systems. The Pirates had a winning season for the first time in two decades, and the energy during the postseason was palpable. The strength of their farm system should allow them to make sure that becomes more of a rule than an exception.