Did Dave Dombrowski leave Red Sox' farm system in better shape than we thought?

Tomase: Did Dombrowski really decimate the Red Sox' farm system? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Dave Dombrowski is finally willing to acknowledge the hurt he felt when John Henry fired him less than a year after winning the 2018 World Series. What he won't do is accept the idea that he strip-mined the farm system.

Is he right?

Speaking to The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy recently from the World Series, the Phillies president pushed back on the notion that he left the organization's young talent base in shambles.

"I don't think that's accurate at all," he said.

A glance at the organization's current top 20 prospects, as determined by MLB Pipeline, suggests he has a case.

Half of them were acquired by Dombrowski, and that doesn't include right-hander Brayan Bello, who graduated to the big leagues this summer and is no longer ranked. Four of the organization's top seven prospects were Dombrowski finds, including slugging first baseman Triston Casas, whom he selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, and high-flying super utilityman Ceddanne Rafaela, who arrived as a bargain $10,000 international signee in 2017.

Henry replaced Dombrowski with Chaim Bloom largely because he wanted to build a more sustainable pipeline. One way to do that is to retain prospects, including those acquired by your predecessor. Bloom's reluctance to trade youngsters is part of the reason so many Dombrowski holdovers remain, it should be noted.

Three years into his own Red Sox tenure, for instance, Dombrowski owned 15 of the top 20 prospects in the system not because he had necessarily made better signings than Ben Cherington, but because he had swapped the latter's best farmhands for the core of the 2018 World Series champions.

Still, a look at the Red Sox farm today suggests that Dombrowski left behind more talent than we realized the system contained in 2019, when non-prospects like right-hander Mike Shawaryn and infielder Antoni Flores cracked the top 10, and Michael Chavis checked in at No. 1 overall.

For instance, much of the club's current starting depth -- whether it's Bello, Kutter Crawford, Bryan Mata, Brandon Walter, Chris Murphy, or Thaddeus Ward -- all arrived on Dombrowski's watch. He put a premium on drafting experienced college arms, and many who haven't yet arrived in the big leagues should make their debuts this year.

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On the position player side, the top-ranked prospect is shortstop Marcelo Mayer, whom Bloom selected No. 4 overall in 2020. The next two, however, are Dombrowski guys in Casas and Rafaela.

The former is expected to claim the starting first base job after hitting five homers in 27 games, with his patience (19 walks) suggesting a solid modern slugger. Rafaela, meanwhile, is a potential Gold Glove center fielder who can also play an above-average shortstop. Rafaela's exciting brand of play conjures memories of former MVP Mookie Betts, though Rafaela will need to become far more selective at the plate to justify those comparisons.

Also worth noting is that of the six international signees in the top 20, five were acquired by Dombrowski. This isn't completely surprising, since those players typically sign in their mid-teens and need more time to develop. Still, from Bello to Rafaela to Mata, we can also say that the Red Sox under Dombrowski had a knack for identifying quality targets. We still don't know much about Bloom in this regard, though it's certainly encouraging that one of the system's fastest climbers is Dominican outfielder Miguel Bleis, who signed only two years ago and currently ranks fifth in the organization.

Regardless, there's no question Dombrowski added more talent to the farm system than we realized in the fall of 2019. Whether he would've already traded many of those players by now in pursuit of another ring is a fair question, but it turns out he may have left behind more than just the 2018 World Series trophy.