Minor League Baseball is going to look much different in 2021 than it did in 2019 (the last time we had Minor League Baseball). We tracked some of those reported changes in December but now that the league affiliations and schedules have been made official, we can take a look at what these changes will mean for the Rockies.
Minor Leagues, Major Changes
In case you didn’t click the link above, here’s what you need to know. Major League Baseball’s contract with Minor League Baseball came to an end in 2020, prompting a reshuffle. In all, 43 teams lost affiliated status and three formerly independent league teams joined the MiLB ladder. Of those 43 teams, 26 have found their way into some sort of affiliated Partner League, such as the Appalachian League (which will showcase MLB Draft-eligible college players) or the Pioneer League (full independent). The affiliated leagues are currently unnamed, since MLB doesn’t own the right to “Pacific Coast League,” “Independent League,” “California League,” and so on.
MLB announces new minor league structure pic.twitter.com/8uwpQbgBmx— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) February 12, 2021
This leave 17 teams with an unknown status (including four in New York, two in Iowa, two in Florida, and two in California). While it’s a shame those towns are losing affiliated teams, most fans in those areas weren’t attending those games very much anyway (teams with low attendance made up most of the ones on the cut lists) and/or have nearby access to some level of affiliated ball.
Pay Raises and Travel Reductions
There are a few benefits to this restructuring. Leagues and divisions have been reorganized regionally, designed to minimize the amount of time players spend on the road. The savings from travel seem to be passed on to the players themselves. From the ESPN story,
Salaries for players with minor league contracts are rising 38% to 72%. The weekly minimum rises from $290 to $400 at rookie level, $290 to $500 at Class A, $350 to $600 at Double-A and $502 to $700 at Triple-A.
Overall, teams will be closer to their affiliates, but despite the distance the Rockies and the Hartford Yard Goats will maintain their Double-A partnership. With the pandemic still a factor, travel has been reduced even further, with some teams not even playing others in their division if they’re too far away. MiLB also announced teams will play six-game series to further reduce travel. That means Triple-A will not play on Wednesdays and all other levels will not play on Mondays. Those days off will be spent on travel or, in the event of back-to-back home series, rest days.
One of the major impacts of the six-game series schedule is that teams will get very familiar with one another. Baseball is a game of adjustments and adjusting to adjustments, so six games against the same opponent will kick that into high gear. This gives players at Triple-A the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to adapt and those that do could find themselves getting promoted sooner, where those adjustments can make the difference between washing out and staying put.
Rockies Affiliates Schedules
What does this mean for the Rockies? A lot depends on the Isotopes. GM John Traub has said that the team cannot afford to host games unless they have some level of attendance allowed. Albuquerque’s home opener is currently scheduled for Thursday, April 8 against the Sacramento River Cats (SF), but if New Mexico doesn’t allow at least 25% capacity in April, the ‘Topes may be forced to emulate the original Hartford Yard Goats and play their entire 142-game schedule on the road. But at least they’ll always have Wednesdays off!
WE HAVE A SCHEDULE!— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) February 18, 2021
The Isotopes’ 142-game season is slated to begin at home on April 8 against Sacramento. Our game times and information about ticket availability will be announced in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more information as it develops. pic.twitter.com/jrDmJPzN1i
The rest of the leagues run from May 4 to September 19 for a 120-game season with no games played on Monday. They will will spend April at their affiliate’s spring training facility. The governor of Connecticut is optimistic the Yard Goats will be able to welcome fans by their May 11 home opener, since a lower-tier professional soccer team was able to have fans in the fall. The Goats will play the other five teams in their “Double-A Northeast, Northeast Division” but only three from the “Double-A Northeast, Southwest Division” (yeah, they need to work on the league names), meaning they’ll never have a bus ride longer than six hours.
The new Spokane Indians will begin their first full-season at home against the Eugene Emeralds. They will play everyone in their eight-team “High-A West” at least home and home for a six-game series, like the Hillsboro Hops. They’ll play other teams, like the Tri-City Dust Devils (a former Rockies affiliate) five times. More on the Indians on our links section!
Finally, the bottom of the ladder (much to Fresno’s chagrin), Growlifornia! The new
California League Low-A West features eight teams, just like in 2019, with the Grizzlies taking the place of the Lancaster JetHawks. They’ll play their three divisional opponents (“Low-A West, North Division”) in four six-game series, but the furthest south teams (Rancho Cucamonga, Inland Empire, and Lake Elsinore) they’ll play once each.
All of these teams are hoping they’ll be able to welcome fans after not having any games (or ticket sales) for over a year and a half. That’s going to be the biggest hurdle for these teams, especially Albuquerque. But if nothing else, all indications are that there will be MiLB baseball in 2021, and the prospect hounds among us will finally have some real baseball to follow. We’ll see how things go starting April 8.
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Learn more about the new Rockies affiliate from this interview with Indians VP Otto Klein. Spokane boasts the 34th best average attendance across minor league baseball, so new Rockies prospects will be well supported. Klein also digs into the special relationship the team enjoys with local tribes.
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