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A (reluctant) welcome for Low-A Fresno

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Saturday, December 12, 2020

Since team inception in 1998, the Fresno Grizzlies have been a Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Fresno’s new affiliation is with the Colorado Rockies, but after the Grizzlies’ biggest demotion ever, it will take far more than a smile for them to feel welcome.

On Thursday, the Rockies announced minor league invitations to four affiliate clubs:

  • Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (Pacific Coast League)
  • Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (Eastern League)
  • High-A: Spokane Indians (Northwest League)
  • Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (California League)

The existing Isotopes and Yard Goats are set to remain in Colorado’s top slots, while Spokane is in line to fill where the Lancaster JetHawks used to be. Fresno is set to replace the Asheville Tourists, and the restructured minor league format does not include short-season or rookie-level designations.

Fresno’s transition to Low-A came with sizable pushback. Negotiations between the team, city officials and MLB “went into extra innings,” and it appeared an ultimatum was placed on Fresno to either accept the demotion or lose an affiliate status entirely.

“‘We had two choices—bad and worse,’ said [Fresno] Mayor [Lee] Brand.”

(Fresno reaches deal with Grizzlies, MLB to keep minor-league baseball | The Fresno Bee)

The relationship between the Grizzlies and Rockies thereby takes the form of an awkward first date, or perhaps a blind date in which both parties were pieced together. Fresno just got out of a 22-year relationship in Triple-A, while the Rockies are left to make small talk out of the little optimism that remains. How are we to show our support as Rockies fans? Should we hold off for a little while before wearing one of their hats inside Coors Field?

A new agreement between the Fresno City Council and the Grizzlies features a “sizable reduction in rent” for the city-owned, 10,650-seat ballpark. (In comparison: Salt River Fields seats 11,000.) Fresno now faces a fallout similar to Colorado Springs after the Sky Sox lost their Triple-A label in 2019. A former Triple-A ballpark at a lower level is a sweet deal for the Rockies, but it can come with reprehensible feeling with all that has taken place.

Fresno’s Chukchansi Park takes the place of Asheville’s McCormick Field in the Colorado system. The Tourists are the only Low-A affiliate the Rockies have ever had, and the minor league reconstruction has severed those ties. The Houston Astros have extended an invitation to Asheville, while Lancaster has not received an invite from a big league club. Under the restructured 120-affiliate minor leagues, it reportedly came down to Fresno and Lancaster for a final spot in Low-A.

Across the minor league landscape, several MLB teams have appeared to rank proximity to the big league city above existing partnerships. The Minnesota Twins broke a long-standing affiliation with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings this offseason, teaming with the formerly-independent St. Paul Saints instead. This allows the Twins to keep their highest level of prospects within the same city transportation network in Minneapolis/St. Paul. (Imagine getting called up to the big leagues and immediately hopping on the RTD light rail.)

Colorado sees their affiliates in geographic extremes instead—and they haven’t seemed to get much closer to Denver over time. Albuquerque is a simple 6 12 hour drive from Coors Field along Interstate 25, but old Triple-A Colorado Springs was far more favorable for immediate roster changes. Double-A in Hartford, Connecticut is far more distant than the old grounds in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and while Asheville, North Carolina was a hike from Colorado, so is Spokane, Washington.

Assuming that Albuquerque, Hartford, Spokane and Fresno are finalized, the Rockies will not have a minor league affiliate within a 325-mile radius of Coors Field.

Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals are looking at all of their minor league teams within 300 miles of Nationals Park. The population in the Mountain Time Zone is sparse compared to the East Coast, and it fuels a lack of convenience when it comes to moving prospects.

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