Even though no new deal is in place yet, several changes in the minor leagues slowly become clear. Not only will some clubs move to different levels, even complete leagues will switch to different levels.
Especially at the various A ball levels, there will be quite some changes. The California League and Florida State League will move from A-advanced level to Low A level. The South Atlantic League will move to the same level from A Full Season. The California League will keep the eight teams as was the case in 2019 but it is rather sure that one team will be disbanded and the Fresno Grizzlies will take its place. The Florida State League will be downsized to ten teams.
Other leagues will move to the A-Advanced level: the Midwest League and the Northwest League (!). The Carolina League will stay at the A-Advanced level and there will be a new league, the Mid-Atlantic League.
The reason behind these changes are not quite clear.
There will also be some changes at AA and AAA level. Three AAA teams are scheduled to be “demoted” to AA. One of them is the San Antonio Missions that moved up from the Texas League (AA) to the Pacific Coast League (AAA). This must be quite a disappointment for Elmore Sports Group, that made the team move to AAA. The Wichita Wind Surge will also move to AA, even before it has played a game at AAA level. The aforementioned Fresno Grizzlies will tumble down from AAA to Low A. According to Ballpark Digest, these three clubs will be replaced by the St. Paul Saints, the Sugarland Skeeters and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Naming the St. Paul Saints as one of the replacements is rather odd as the team made clear it was not interested in becoming an affiliated ball club, not so long ago. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are a logical candidate as their ballpark, the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, is suitable for AAA baseball.
IF the St. Paul Saints will become an affiliated club, they will become the Twins AAA team. The Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles have made clear they do not want to change affiliations. The Miami Marlins on the other hand will have their top two minor league clubs in the state of Florida: AAA Jacksonville and AA Pensacola.
The New York-Penn League may have a similar role as the Appalachian League, but no deal has been hammered out yet.
According to information that Ballpark Digest has, the number of remaining minor league teams may not be 120 but more likely closer to 90. Ballpark Digest states the following: “One thing that’s hindered talks: MLB still declines to release a list of the chosen 120 teams. Realistically, there aren’t open slots for 120 teams: by the time you remove the MiLB teams either owned by MLB teams or operating with significant, publicized or unpublicized investments by MLB teams, the number is far closer to 90 open slots, even though some of those teams with MLB ties are likely to go away as well. And that’s not even counting the several MiLB teams whose ownership groups include individual investors who are also investors in MLB teams—the sort of relationships that have affected affiliate agreements in the past. Add in the two or three independent markets that will become affiliated markets. Right now there are 130 owners who think their teams will survive the upcoming contraction; we expect plenty of shock and surprise when that’s not the case.”
The lack of a deal bothers the planning for next season. How can you create a promotional schedule when there is no game schedule yet? As a result, the sales season that usually begins before the end of the prior season won’t realistically begin until January as the game schedule is not expected before the end of the year. One of the entertainment vendors doesn’t have a booking yet for 2021 and normally he’d have several bookings already at this time of the year.
It is becoming clear that with the information we have now, it is clear that with the new MiLB landscape and with the new Summer Collegiate Leagues, MLB will stay in control of player development without spending the money for a full farm system. And that’s what it is all about for them.