What started out as a joke in the 1930s, soon became a household word. In reference to teams in small town America, professional baseball players would say they were “growing players down on the farm like corn,” hence the word “Farm System”. It goes by many names: farm system, farm club and farm team(s).
Call it what you will, the “system” itself is made up of a network of minor league teams which operate under the umbrella of Major League Baseball. Its purpose – to train MLB prospects, helping them hone their strengths to a professional level. MLB is quite unique from other leagues in many ways, especially when it comes to the draft. Many players are drafted straight out of high school, which challenges the very importance of playing college ball in the first place.
Unlike football and basketball, baseball became a professional sport very early in its time. Both football and basketball weren’t taken very seriously in their formative years, and were mainly viewed as college or amateur sports only. From college, both sports grew in popularity, finally becoming professional sports themselves. Still, their popularity was dwarfed by that of the college leagues for a long period of time. Major league baseball was quite the opposite. College baseball was never more popular than its professional equivalent.
For the most part, both football and basketball use college as their unofficial farming system. Granted, both the NFL and NBA can draft “high school” players, but both leagues face a year buffer. In order for the NBA to draft a high school student, which is called prep-to-pro, they must be at least 19 years old with one solid year between high school and the pros. During that time, they can play in other professional leagues, as well as with teams overseas. When it comes to the NFL draft, players must be at least 3 years removed from high school, and have used up all of their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season.
When it comes to drafting players straight out of high school, no sport does it bigger or better than professional baseball. Every year in June, the first-year player draft is held. The draft goes in reverse order, with the team with the worst record of the season getting first pick. Even though, college players are in the pool as well, many are coming out of high school. A monetary cap is set in place which limits the amount teams can spend on their picks. Once a contract is offered to a draftee, that money cannot be reallocated to another player if the draftee declines. It can be a risky bet for MLB teams. Not only can they lose out on both money and draftees, they can also suffer in the long run by making an unfruitful pick. Injuries in a player’s high school career are harder to keep track of than that of college players. A high school athlete who chooses to forego college can run the risk of suffering a career-ending injury in the minors, barring them from any chance of making it to the majors. So why are high school players so desirable to MLB teams?
Many schools of thought exist on this topic, leaving much to be debated. Although, what cannot be denied is the enthusiasm MLB teams have for fresh players from high school. Both college and high school players have their pros and cons, in respect to the draft. For the most part, a college player is the safest bet. They generally have more experience playing quality competition, which facilitates a stronger and more consistent early career in the major league. Case in point, players drafted out of college have won the Rookie of the Year award more times than players drafted out of high school. For the most part, a player drafted out of high school has more raw talent, and is malleable, making him a strong choice to put through the farm system. In this way, teams can help a high school player hone his strengths, as well as providing him with a professional environment in which to become acclimated. A good majority of elite awards such as the MVP, All-Star and Hall of Fame have gone to players drafted out of high school. Alex Rodriguez is a great example.
What we can take from this is that the world of professional baseball can be a very big and confusing place. Every type of amateur player, college or not, have their strengths and weaknesses. Be that as it may, they all have the dream of making baseball history. The jury is still out on whether or not it is a good idea for a high school athlete to jump straight to the MLB system. Still, they make up a staggering number in the MLB population, with many greats and legends among their ranks.