Update 11/3/2016: There are actually conflicting signals about whether the Phillies won the fan vote or the staff vote. While the “table of contents”-style infographic in the announcement indicates “fan”, other sources indicate “staff.” Knowing that, take some of what’s below with an additional grain of salt.
Yesterday, MiLB.com announced the winners of the 2016 MiLBY award for the Best Farm System in baseball, and the Philadelphia Phillies received top honors – in the fan vote. The prospect staff of the site instead opted to pick the New York Yankees for their variation of the award. This offers a good opportunity to discuss the merits of such an award, and the Phillies’ system’s place in Minor League baseball. These awards occur every year, from a variety of sources, and can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, a person who is purely a fan of Minor League baseball might select the winning-est farm system, because winning is the end goal to that individual. However, a Major League farm director might vote for the team who ended the season with the most Top-100 prospects in their farm system.
What can winning this award tell us about the Phillies farm system? We can start by asking what an award like this supposed to measure. Per the award’s description in 2014, the year of its inception, the Best Farm System award is meant to “honor the organization whose system made the most strides [during the season]”. That description is a little ambiguous, but at minimum the phrase “made the most strides” can reasonably be interpreted to mean “most improved.” “Improved” is, itself, a loaded term. Does “most improved” entail seeing already top prospects move to higher levels? Does it mean the team that added the most noteworthy prospects throughout the year? Is it tied to winning at the Minor League level? It is referencing the team with the most significant number of breakout prospects and draftees (prospects who initially emerge in the system) during the year?