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Farewell to Asheville, Boise, Lancaster, and the Minor Leagues as we know it

Colorado Rockies news and analysis for Sunday, December 13, 2020

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As a corollary to Justin’s Rockpile yesterday in which we welcomed the Fresno Grizzlies to the Rockies system, today we need to pay a reluctant goodbye to the Asheville Tourists. (By the way, absolutely buy a Fresno hat: this one)

Like just about anyone who has ever visited, Asheville holds a special place in my heart. I got the opportunity to see a Tourists game when I went back in 2015 and it remains one of my favorite pro baseball viewing experiences (and one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever published). To not be associated with such a vibrant small baseball community is really disappointing, but there is solace in the fact that the Tourists will remain in affiliated baseball, albeit with the Astros.

That’s not the only change for the Rockies. The Boise Hawks did not make the cut for the new six-team High-A Northwest League and are currently without affiliation. With Fresno joining, the Lancaster JetHawks are also on the outside looking in on affiliated ball.

Suffice it to say the minor leagues are going to look very different next year. Three teams from independent leagues are moving to affiliated baseball and 43 teams moving to indy status. Some of those independent teams will still have a partnership with MLB. The eight-team Pioneer League, for example, is transitioning to “Partner League” status and the Orem (UT) Owlz will relocate to Windsor, Colorado starting in 2021. That gives Colorado an independent league team in three corners of the state: Grand Junction, Windsor, and Colorado Springs. In addition, six teams from West Virginia to New York will form the new Draft League for players eligible to be drafted in the now July draft, mostly top high school senior prospects. There will also be an Appalachian League for collegiate prospects with ten teams.

MLB Invites 120 Teams To Join Minor Leagues In 2021 | Baseball America ($)

Baseball America was the first to report on all the details last week, though most of them are still in flux. For example, the new leagues are going to be aligned very differently. Some teams will be changing levels, like the Fresno Grizzlies going from Triple-A to Low-A, or the San Antonio Missions jumping back down to Double-A.

Also, goodbye Pacific Coast League and International League, hello (TBD). Triple-A is getting a massive shakeup, with 10 teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones (plus the Texas teams) and the other 20 teams in another, possibly in two 10-team divisions. Such could be the case for a lot of the leagues. Full realignment is summarized below the jump.

Most teams stuck with their most recent affiliations, though the Twins adopted the popular St. Paul Saints as their new Triple-A team and the Astros brought up the Sugar Land Skeeters from independent baseball (these moves are what left Fresno without a seat at the Triple-A table).

There were some other shuffles, too. The California League drops from High-A to Low-A and the teams across the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues are shuffling across High-A and Low-A with a new league name to be determined. Some teams dropped from higher affiliations and the Northwest League jumped from short-season to High-A. But that leaves 19 teams without a league for 2021, spread from Lowell, Massachusetts, to Lexington, Kentucky, to Salem-Keizer, Oregon.

Why did some teams get to stick around and other teams were left in the dust? According to Baseball America ($), it facilities and geography played big factors, but it ultimately came down to which minor league teams had major league teams that wanted them.

As an aside, that article revealed that MiLB has adopted some new standards, like minimizing bus travel between cities (which is likely what doomed the Pioneer League down to “Partner League status”).

What’s lost when minor league baseball leaves | Washington Post Opinion

I’ve had conversations with former minor leaguers who insisted that the MiLB ladder was too crowded, that many teams had facilities that were not fit for affiliated baseball. By that standard, parring down the leagues makes sense. Heck, it will make it easier to give minor leaguers more decent pay (or at least it should). And in a world where less than 10% of make an appearance in the majors, it might be better for more players to move on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs sooner.

But that doesn’t take away the ache of losing affiliated baseball, as this piece demonstrates so well. Asheville, Grand Junction, Windsor, Colorado Springs: these are the fortunate cities. What will happen to Lancaster, Lowell, and Lexington? It remains to be seen.

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Triple-A Realignment

East/Midwest Affiliation West Affiliation
East/Midwest Affiliation West Affiliation
Buffalo TOR Albuquerque COL
Charlotte CHW El Paso SDP
Columbus CLE Las Vegas OAK
Durham TB Oklahoma City LAD
Gwinnett ATL Reno ARI
Indianapolis PIT Round Rock TEX
Iowa CHC Sacramento SFG
Jacksonville MIA Salt Lake LAA
Lehigh Valley PHI Sugar Land* HOU
Louisville CIN Tacoma SEA
Memphis STL
Nashville MIL
Norfolk BAL
Omaha KC
Rochester WAS
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre NYY
St. Paul* MIN
Syracuse NYM
Toledo DET
Worcester BOS
*=Formerly independent league team

Double-A Realignment

Eastern League Affiliation Southern League Affiliation Texas League Affiliation
Eastern League Affiliation Southern League Affiliation Texas League Affiliation
Akron CLE Biloxi MIL Amarillo ARI
Altoona PIT Birmingham CHW Arkansas SEA
Binghamton NYM Chattanooga CIN Corpus Christi HOU
Bowie BAL Mississippi ATL Frisco TEX
Erie DET Montgomery TB Midland OAK
Harrisburg WAS Pensacola MIA Northwest Arkansas KC
Hartford COL Rocket City LAA San Antonio SDP
New Hampshire TOR Tennessee CHC Springfield STL
Portland BOS Tulsa LAD
Reading PHI Wichita MIN
Richmond SFG
Somerset* NYY

High-A Realignment

Mid-Atlantic Affiliation Midwest Affiliation Northwest Affiliation
Mid-Atlantic Affiliation Midwest Affiliation Northwest Affiliation
Aberdeen BAL Beloit MIA Eugene SFG
Ashville HOU Cedar Rapids MIN Everett SEA
Bowling Green TB Dayton CIN Hillsboro ARI
Brooklyn NYM Fort Wayne SDP Spokane COL
Greensboro PIT Great Lakes LAD Tri-City (WA) LAA
Greenville BOS Lake County CLE Vancouver TOR
Hickory TEX Lansing OAK
Hudson Valley NYY Peoria STL
Jersey Shore* PHI Quad Cities KC
Rome ATL South Bend CHC
Wilmington WAS West Michigan DET
Winston-Salem CHC Wisconsin MIL
*=Formerly Independent

Low-A Realignment

California Affiliation Florida State Affiliation South Atlantic Affiliation
California Affiliation Florida State Affiliation South Atlantic Affiliation
Fresno COL Bradenton PIT Augusta ATL
Inland Empire LAA Clearwater PHI Carolina MIL
Lake Elsinore SD Daytona CIN Charleston (SC) TB
Modesto SEA Dunedin TOR Columbia KC
Rancho Cucamonga LAD Fort Myers MIN Delmarva BAL
San Jose SF Jupiter MIA Down East TEX
Stockton OAK Lakeland DET Fayetteville HOU
Visalia ARI Palm Beach STL Fredericksburg WAS
St. Lucie NYM Kannapolis CHW
Tampa NYY Lynchburg CLE
Myrtle Beach CHC
Salem BOS

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