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Minor League Realignment

For more than a century, fans have enjoyed watching their hometown teams compete for titles in legendary minor circuits like the Texas League, Pacific Coast League, and South Atlantic League.  As of 2021, these minor leagues are no more with a new minor league realignment.  In their place, those fans lucky enough to see their teams survive will witness play in the unimaginatively named Double-A Central, Triple-A West, and Low-A East Leagues.

Minor League Realignment: Background

For the last few years, Major League Baseball has engaged in a concerted effort to break the current minor league realignment structure in favor of fewer teams that are more geographically condensed and tend to be owned by MLB clubs. For the most part, MLB has been successful in this effort, eliminating 40 teams from affiliated baseball.

However, despite fears that these 40 teams and towns would be immediately abandoned, the majority have found homes in either newly-established MLB partner leagues or independent baseball.  As of February 12, approximately a dozen teams have shut their doors or are still seeking new associations.

Minor League Changes

MLB leaders apparently refused to consider this author’s unsolicited recommendations.  Instead, the 120 surviving affiliated teams will be organized into 11 geographically-concentrated circuits. Symmetry has been all but abandoned in terms of league and division sizes, with the smallest league featuring only six teams and the largest 20.  Divisions tell a similar story, as the smallest division comprises four clubs and the largest seven.

It is unclear at this point if the Triple-A Championship Game will continue.  In the now-defunct alignment, the contest pitted the pennant winners from the 14-team International League against the 16-team Pacific Coast League.  If continued, organizers could decide that the victor of the 20-team Triple-A East take on the 10-team Triple-A West champion.

Organizers may elect for a different style, inviting the five division winners to a round-robin tournament or some other variation.  Of course, the game itself could be canceled entirely.  With the removal of much of the authority from Minor League Baseball, the executives in charge may simply lack interest in any endeavor that does not seemingly bring immediate benefit to the big league ball clubs.

Unfortunately, MLB chose to rename all the professional minor leagues during this minor league realignment  This decision may have been made simply to make it easier for organizations and players to track their affiliates.  A contributing factor may have been, and the result certainly is, an end to the storied histories of these ancient minor leagues. Baseball, more than any other sport, is enjoyable because of its history. Fans can follow teams for decades and continue their parents’ traditions into the future.

League histories will stop with the 2019 season. The Texas League has entered the baseball lexicon but perhaps may become as antiquated to the modern tongue as the Baltimore chop.  The Pacific Coast League nearly achieved major league status in its own right, and players today could rightfully boast of having played in such a historic circuit. Even the charm of scenes from Bull Durham is partly borne out of the history of the Sally League.

The nerdish joy found in analyzing statistics and accomplishments across generations in the same league helps keep ballparks full and merchandise purchased. An Arkansas Travelers fan, for instance, can look to see how his team stacks up against others in the Texas League and how Travelers players rank in all-time Texas League stats (hypothetically speaking, of course).

The decision to abandon these leagues will end this particular aspect of fandom. Perhaps, with enough time, fans in the future will enjoy bragging about their club’s success in the High-A Central League.  Names matter, however, and the generic nature of these circuit’s monikers are unlikely to generate fans of the leagues themselves.

Ironically, two of the minor leagues eliminated from the affiliated ball, the Appalachian and Pioneer, will continue to exist with their current nomenclature.

Fans of the current MLB alignment should take note. Many owners desire a radical realignment that would do away with the National and American Leagues in favor of eastern and western conferences, much like the NBA and NHL. This minor league realignment may set the table for a similar break with history and tradition at the big league level. If MLB pursues this agenda, it will be forced to rely more heavily on the entertainment product on the field to generate revenue, as fans who enjoy the historical aspect may find themselves drawn to other endeavors.

Radical Minor League Realignment

Each major league team will have an affiliate at each of the four levels of play: AAA, AA, High A, Low A. The current Minor League realignment is as follows, with big-league partners in parentheses:

Triple-A Minor Leagues

Triple-A East

Midwest Division

Columbus Clippers (Indians)

Indianapolis Indians (Pirates)

Iowa Cubs (Cubs)

Louisville Bats (Reds)

Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals)

St. Paul Saints (Twins)

Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers)

Northeast Division

Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays)

Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies)

Rochester Red Wings (Nationals)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees)

Syracuse Mets (Mets)

Worchester Red Sox (Red Sox)

Southeast Division

Charlotte Knights (White Sox)

Durham Bulls (Rays)

Gwinnett Stripers (Braves)

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)

Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals)

Nashville Sounds (Brewers)

Norfolk Tides (Orioles)

Triple-A West

East Division

Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies)

El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres)

Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers)

Round Rock Express (Rangers)

Sugar Land Skeeters (Astros)

West Division

Las Vegas Aviators (A’s)

Reno Aces (D-backs)

Sacramento River (Giants)

Salt Lake Bees (Angels)

Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)

Double-A Minor Leagues

Double-A Central

North Division

Arkansas Travelers (Mariners)

Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)

Springfield Cardinals (Cardinals)

Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers)

Wichita Wind Surge (Twins)

South Division

Amarillo Sod Poodles (D-backs)

Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros)

Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers)

Midland RockHounds (A’s)

San Antonio Missions (Padres)

Double-A Northeast

Northeast Division

Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets)

Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies)

New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays)

Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox)

Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies)

Somerset Patriots (Yankees)

Southwest Division

Akron RubberDucks (Indians)

Altoona Curve (Pirates)

Bowie Baysox (Orioles)

Erie SeaWolves (Tigers)

Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)

Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants)

Double-A South

North Division

Birmingham Barons (White Sox)

Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds)

Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels)

Tennessee Smokies (Cubs)

South Division

Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers)

Mississippi Braves (Braves)

Montgomery Biscuits (Rays)

Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Marlins)

High-A Minor Leagues

High-A Central

East Division

Dayton Dragons (Reds)

Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres)

Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers)

Lake Country Captains (Indians)

Lansing Lugnuts (A’s)

West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers)

West Division

Beloit Snappers (Marlins)

Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins)

Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)

Quad Cities River Bandits (Royals)

South Bend Cubs (Cubs)

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers)

High-A East

North Division

Aberdeen IronBirds (Orioles)

Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)

Hudson Valley Renegades (Yankees)

Jersey Shore BlueClaws (Phillies)

Wilmington Blue Rocks (Nats)

South Division

Asheville Tourists (Astros)

Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays)

Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pirates)

Greenville Drive (Red Sox)

Hickory Crawdads (Rangers)

Rome Braves (Braves)

Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox)

High-A West

Eugene Emeralds (Giants)

Everett AquaSox (Mariners)

Hillsboro Hops (D-backs)

Spokane Indians (Rockies)

Tri-City Dust Devils (Angels)

Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays)

Low-A Minor Leagues

Low-A East

Central Division

Carolina Mudcats (Brewers)

Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers)

Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Astros)

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (White Sox)

North Division

Delmarva Shorebirds (Orioles)

Fredericksburg Nationals (Nationals)

Lynchburg Hillcats (Indians)

Salem Red Sox (Red Sox)

South Division

Augusta GreenJackets (Braves)

Charleston RiverDogs (Rays)

Columbia Fireflies (Royals)

Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs)

Low-A Southeast

East Division

Daytona Tortugas (Reds)

Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins)

Palm Beach Cardinals (Cardinals)

St. Lucie Mets (Mets)

West Division

Bradenton Marauders (Pirates)

Clearwater Threshers (Phillies)

Dunedin Blue Jays (Blue Jays)

Fort Myers Mighty Mussels (Twins)

Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers)

Tampa Tarpons (Yankees)

Low-A West

North Division

Fresno Grizzlies (Rockies)

Modesto Nuts (Mariners)

San Jose Giants (Giants)

Stockton Ports (A"s)

South Division

Inland Empire 66ers (Angels)

Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers)

Visalia Rawhide (D-backs)

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main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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