An Overview of Minor League Baseball’s New Landscape
Major League Baseball’s takeover of the minor leagues was put into action on Dec. 9, when MLB sent out invites to 120 affiliates to be a part of the new minor league structure. Teams had up until Feb. 10 to review and accept the Professional Development Licenses to officially become a part of Minor League Baseball moving forward. It was announced today that all 120 teams have accepted, meaning leagues could finally be aligned and 2021 schedules will shortly follow.
Here is an overview on each team’s affiliations, followed by how each league will be assembled.
Now here’s a look at how each league is aligned, followed by my thoughts for each level.
(Note: each league has been given a generic temporary name while MLB negotiates branding rights for each league, so gone are the Pacific Coast and International League, etc.)
I love making what used to be the Pacific Coast League a 10-team league. The teams were too spread out when it was a 14-team league and it never made any sense why Nashville played in the same league as Tacoma.
I like what they did with the East League. An East/Central league makes a lot more sense than a West/Central league. I was thinking two, 10-team divisions or four smaller divisions, but three mid-sized divisions works as well. (I’m hopeful for an Omaha trip to Scranton.)
Not a whole lot changes here, which I’m fine with (except for two Northeast teams, but I’ll get to that later). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The idea to promote the Northwest League to High-A was a good one, but three teams (thanks to Toronto) are still out of place. (Would’ve been two anyway, but that’s better than three.)
I’m excited Kansas City is finally in the Midwest where they belong. The Central League gets a thumbs up from me.
I don’t like what’s going on in the East League. In terms of league alignments, this one easily bugs me the most. You have five northern teams and seven southern teams (with Bowling Green an awkward fit, in my eyes), meaning one southern team will always be playing one northern team, which goes against limiting travel. I’d have put Bowling Green in the Central League with Lake County in a six team Northeast League and have a separate, six team Southeast League. But, as Baseball America’s JJ Cooper (who has been far and away the top person covering this story for over a year) pointed out, the distance from Bowling Green to the southern teams is a better fit than Lake County to the northern teams, making for one big, awkward East League. In the end, MLB appears to have done the best with the cards they were dealt.
Eight western teams and all eight are in the West League, just like it should be.
You would think Tampa would be in the old Florida State League, but so be it. Not much changes here.
I love the new East League. Twelve teams and not a trip over 600 miles. This is what this was supposed to do. And I like the low-key Not Carolinas, North Carolina, South Carolina divisions.
Winners and Losers
Winners: Nationals, Marlins, Twins, Royals
The Nationals are obvious winners here as they move their Triple-A team from Fresno (CA) to Rochester (NY) and also add Wilmington (DE), which is about a two-hour drive from DC, while dropping a sub-par facility in Hagerstown (MD). The Marlins benefit in promoting Jacksonville to Triple-A and replacing them at Double-A with Pensacola, giving the Florida-based franchise three affiliates in the Sunshine State. Their High-A affiliate is now in Beloit (WI), but the Snappers are opening a brand-new stadium in 2021. The Twins hand Rochester over to Washington and add St. Paul (MN) as their Triple-A team, which is a robust 13 miles from Target Field. You really can’t do better than that. And they add Wichita (KS), which built a new stadium planning to be a Triple-A club, as their new Double-A affiliate. The Royals add one of the more picturesque views in the minors (granted the Mississippi River doesn’t flood) in Quad Cities (IA) and Columbia (SC). Quad Cities is much more convenient geographically as opposed to Wilmington and while Columbia is farther to Kansas City than Lexington, the Fireflies have one of the newer stadiums in all of Minor League Baseball.
Losers: Giants, Rockies, Blue Jays, Athletics
It’s hard for me to pick losers in something like this, largely because I view this as an overall positive for baseball (more on that later). So how did I go about this? I went with what I would have wanted to see because teams got their preferred choices which were, in most cases, prior affiliates. But why do the Giants have an affiliate in Richmond (VA)? And why are the Rockies in Hartford (CT)? It just makes no sense to me. But the teams are happy there, so they stay put (and certainly don’t view themselves as “losers”). I just feel like there should be no western teams having their Double-A affiliate in the Northeast League. You have five of those eight in the Central League and one (Angels) in the South League. I think they should all be in those two leagues. But it is what it is.
As for the Blue Jays and Athletics, Toronto was faced with a decision: keep Vancouver (BC) or Lansing (MI) as its High-A affiliate and the other would go to Oakland. As Baseball America reported, they chose to keep the only Canadian team in the minors, despite it being over 2,700 miles away, rather than sticking with Lansing, which is just over 300 miles away. I get wanting to keep the only team in your country. But the entire point of promoting the Northwest League was to give six of those eight western teams easier access to their affiliates because of a lack of teams out there. But Toronto was adamant in keeping Vancouver, forcing Oakland to send its High-A players across the country.
As I alluded to earlier, I think this is an overall positive for baseball. Yes, the players are going to be paid more because there are less of them. But also, players are going to have better facilities. While there are some really nice minor league stadiums out there, most of them are not completely up to the new standards MLB presented, so there will be a lot of renovations, and in some cases, new stadiums in the coming years. Another big benefit is cutting down on travel. Most of the leagues are generally closer together, which means less lengthy, overnight bus rides. And the two Triple-A leagues are essentially flight leagues now with the number of teams in the East League/how spread out the West League is.
Time will tell how this ultimately plays out, but the positives outweigh the negatives for me on paper. After no minor league season last year, I’m extremely excited to have it back and better than ever.
(Cover Photo: MiLB)