One of the shibboleths of contemporary baseball analysis is that teams, especially “small market” teams, must grow from within. No team can completely ignore the free agent market, or the waiver wire, or trades, but the most affordable impact talent comes through the cost-controlled players brought up through the team’s own system. Especially these days, when even teams with bigger payrolls are more loathe than ever to give up prospects, the importance of drafting future stars (not to mention international free agents) seems obvious to all. Everyone acknowledges the importance of the farm system, especially in the aftermath of hey another over-hyped MLB draft (really eager to find out which of these guys is going to pan out in three years, ya’ll!).
That is not to say that having a well-regarded farm system is itself a guarantee of future major-league success. Scott McKinney’s important historical study of top prospects established that fact in the wake of a certain team’s farm system being declared the Best in the History of Whatever, and this year a certain team confirmed the implications of McKinney’s work, as even more optimistic analysts acknowledge.
I am not here to refute the notion that, generally speaking, a good farm system built through amateur talent is essential to any team on any budget — even the Yankees, whose two best position players thus far in 2013, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner, were both drafted and developed internally and are yet to reach free agency. However, there is one team that has put together a good group of position players while on a small budget without drafting almost anyone in the current group: Cleveland.