As the Cardinals reorganized the direction — and leadership — of their amateur scouting and minor-league system several years ago, executives pointed at times to rankings from media outlets such as Baseball America, including one that labeled them last in talent as recently as 2005.

"It was a wake-up call to get better," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said.

If rankings continued to be an indication, getting better was only the beginning.

When Baseball America's 2013 Prospect Handbook reaches shelves early next month, the Cardinals will be unveiled as the annual publication's No. 1 minor-league system in a ranking of all 30 clubs' minor-league talent through mid-December, editors at the magazine confirmed. It is expected that the Cardinals also will hold that position in March when the trade magazine publishes its updated rankings for the 2013 season.

If so, it will be the first time since Baseball America began ranking organizations in 1984 that the Cardinals will have earned the No. 1 spot. It is a significant turnaround for a club that was ranked 30th in minor-league talent in 2002 and 2005.

"People don't remember how they had some tough drafts and a non-existent international program," said Jim Callis, an executive at Baseball America. "It was a bad trend. I don't think people realized how bad it was because of the success at the major-league level. That kind of masked it. It hid how bad the underpinnings were."

Baseball America's annual organization rankings are based on the conversations and individual rankings from four of the magazine's editors. All four had the Cardinals ranked No. 1 this year, Callis said. The rankings in the handbook are current as of mid-December. The rankings the magazine considers official are released in March after offseason deals can be considered. Callis said it would it take trades with significant exchanges of prospects to unseat the Cardinals.