First off, I would like to say Eric Sogard should be the Face of the MLB; that vote was rigged in David Wright’s favor.  Baseball needs more nerdy-looking, glasses-touting, Bernie-leanin’, jive-walking players.  But without further ado, here is the AL West Spring Training Showdown. (You can check out the AL Central Spring Training Preview here and NL East Spring Training Preview here.)

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Organizational Talent Rankings via Baseball America
2013 (9) | 2012 (17) | 2011 (26) | 2010 (30) | 2009 (30)

2013 Affiliate Records
MLB: [51-111] AL West
AAA: [82-62] Pacific Coast League – Oklahoma City
AA: [83-57] Texas League — Corpus Christi
A+: [82-58] California League – Lancaster
A: [81-57] Midwest League – Quad Cities
A(ss): [44-32] New York-Penn League — Tri-City

Graduated Prospects
Jonathan Villar (SS); Robbie Grossman (OF); Brandon Barnes (OF); L.J. Hoes (OF); Marc Krauss (OF); Jake Elmore (MI/OF); Brad Peacock (RHP); Paul Clemens (RHP); Brett Oberholtzer (LHP); Jarred Cosart (RHP); Jose Cisnero (RHP)

The Run Down
Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros, is the best executive in the game with regard to player procurement and development.   He’s the man responsible for the seemingly never-ending stream of talent flowing up from the St. Louis farm system, and you can sure as shizz expect to see similar output from this Houston org over the next several seasons.  The fantasy-relevant arrivals actually began last summer, with prospects like Jonathan Villar (be sure to read Sky’s outlook on him) and Jarred Cosart.  Look for the impact to only increase in 2014 as George Springer, Mark Appel, and Jonathan Signleton are set for big league debut.

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To begin, I should make it clear that this is not a list of my top overall prospects.  No, this is a 2014-specific list, and it exists only to serve those of us in fantasyland.  The names that follow are, at this moment, the prospects who have the best chance at offering positive fantasy contributions during the 2014 season.  Those of you who follow my Prospect Power Rankings series during the season, understand that time-specific prospect rankings are fluid — it’s a tricky game, weighing potential impact against current opportunity, and outlooks can change drastically overnight.  There are too many variables at work to peg these ETA’s accurately, and that is precisely why we revisit these rankings often throughout the year with the aforementioned power rankings.  Consider this a starting point.  Numbers 26-50 will run next week, but for now, let’s dig into the top-25.

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For the past few seasons, Jose Abreu has been regarded as Cuba’s best offensive talent. The 26-year-old slugger has spent the past decade playing pro ball in Cuba where he routinely was at the top of the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, RBI, and HR. Well, it now seems he’s played his last game in Cuba, as reports earlier this week explain that he has left his homeland and has begun the process of becoming a MLB free agent. At 6-3, 250, Abreu is a large man with next to zero defensive appeal. He’s a 1B/DH type, so he’d fit best with an AL club, but scouting reports suggest he has enough glove to get by at first, so don’t rule out the NL entirely. Wherever he signs, it’s gonna be for big money and an immediate big league opportunity. Abreu is an MLB-ready masher, and at age 26, there’ll be no reason to start him in the minors. If all goes as planned, he should be occupying a regular MLB role by Opening Day 2014. There’s upside here in the neighborhood of .300 AVG and 30+ HR. It’ll be interesting to see how early he’s off the board in mixed league drafts next spring.

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Quite a bit has changed since the 2013 MiLB season began in April, and folks have been clamoring for a mid-season prospect list. Well, here it is, 50-deep. But before we get into it, a quick primer on the criteria for this top 50: There was no specific timetable considered, so the rankings below can be considered a dynasty league list. You’ll notice that the ETA’s here range from this season all the way to 2016. To prevent any overlap with lists that Grey and JayWrong put together last week, I’ve included only prospects who are currently in the minor leagues. That means I had to remove Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick from the board after news of their call-ups — Yelich was #7, Marisnick #40. It also means I couldn’t list Carlos Martinez, who’s currently working in relief for the Cardinals — he would’ve been ranked right around #20.

Anyway, I’ll be writing notes on all of these fellas during the off-season, once the dust has settled on the 2013 season and I’ve had a chance to take a more thorough look at depth charts, injuries, etc. For now, I’ve included only a few pertinent details: age, current level, fantasy impact categories, and ETA. Each player is linked to his player card on Baseball-Reference.com, or his Razzball player card where possible. My hope is that this list will help dynasty leaguers sort out their rosters as keeper deadlines approach. Enjoy.

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There are several questionable farm systems in baseball, but the Chicago White Sox are certainly one that stands out. For years now, the Sox have maintained a firm MLB-first approach to player personnel. They’re a principled franchise that would rather allocate its baseball operations budget toward free agent signings and MLB extensions than toward draft spending. And when they do stumble upon a real-deal prospect, they usually like to trade him for a veteran dude, someone to help that playoff push. It’s a model that occasionally works — they won a World Series by it in 2005 — but it’s not one that’s built to sustain success. And now, in 2013, the White Sox are awful. They’re in total rebuild mode — everything is for sale. This is finally their opportunity to change direction, to try to build a system that cultivates and utilizes impact talent. They’ve already dealt Matt Thornton to Boston for Brandon Jacobs, an upside outfielder with a skill set that might be very useful in the fantasy game. Don’t stop there, Chicago. Tear it all down.

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Note: As I explained yesterday, I’m in Mexico. Turns out, the internet blows here. Being so, I haven’t included the usual Baseball-Reference links. Apologies. (*They have been added – Ed.)

July 2nd marked the opening of the international signing period, which is a facet of player procurement that probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We spend a lot of time mouthing off on the June draft, but when you look at the names near the top of prospect lists – Oscar Taveras, Miguel Sano, Jurickson Profar – it’s difficult to discount the significance of the 2nd of July. It’s important to note that this signing window is not limited to just one day – contracts for various Dominican ballplayers, Venezuelan ballplayers, etc., will keep trickling in over the next weeks. But, for the most part, the action is concentrated to the 2nd. This year featured a nice crop of young international prospects, but the prized piece, Eloy Jimenez, signed with the Cubs. Jimenez, from the Dominican, profiles as a corner outfielder with the potential to become a monster in the fantasy game. At 16 years old, though, clearly there’s a long way to go.

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I explained yesterday that I’m out of town and extremely drunk, possibly scoring in the 80s (likely not) on a lush golf course in the trashy state of Ohio. Therefore, I’m going to be saving week 10′s Minor Accomplishments post for this coming Wednesday. Instead, today I’ll grace you with the final installment of our feature on draft prospects. We’ll get back to our usual schedule next weekend. Same as yesterday, J.B. Gilpin will be filling in for me in the comments, but I should be back at some point this evening to address questions.

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Here’s the deal. We all love guys with exciting upside, but every now and then we forget that there may still be upside remaining in certain players. Starlin Castro is currently sporting an uninspiring .650 OPS, by far a career low. When I was at the Cubs game this past Sunday, it was mentioned that it was Castro’s 500th big league game. Pretty impressive, especially considering that he’s only 23. So, let’s think about it – Are we going to put more weight in his struggles this season or the chance for a rebound, based on his past numbers and youth? I’m going with the latter. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb, let’s call it an arm and a leg, and say that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him produce a .290/.340/.450 line for the rest of 2013. That would be elite for a shortstop, especially a healthy one. Typically shortstops hurt your OPS, but Castro can be one who actually helps it. I’d be seeing if his current owner is worried about him, especially in a keeper league. He could continue to be a top shortstop for the next decade.

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With the First-Year Players Draft a little more than a week away, we’re continuing our discussion of some of the more advanced amateur prospects — guys who’ll be popping up on your fantasy radars within the next year or two. Last week we went over Braden Shipley, Kris Bryant, and Jonathan Gray. You can read that post here. Today, three more draft prospects:

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