A junior circuit that will shadow the Arizona Fall League became closer to reality late Tuesday when Hawaii Winter Baseball announced that its contract with Major League Baseball would not be extended.
The junior circuit, not yet given an official name, would in essence shift the format of Hawaii Winter Baseball to the Phoenix area and coincide with the AFL, which next season will be in its 18th year.
HWB owner Duane Kurisu said general managers of major league teams voted for the move at the winter meetings in Las Vegas. The AFL has become thought of as a finishing school and is comprised of Triple-A and Double-A players, with each of its six teams allotted only one player from the Class A level. The HWB allowed less experienced players to get winter league experience as well, and it became a popular first stop for several first-round picks with Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Matt Wieters making their professional debuts in Hawaii.
Now with the demise of the Hawaii league, that role will be moved to Arizona, allowing teams to cut down on travel costs to scout and evaluate the league. One baseball official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the new league had yet to be formally announced, indicated last week that the junior circuit would be played in the spring training homes within the Cactus League framework.
The length of the season, the number of teams and other rules regarding the junior circuit will be ironed out in the weeks ahead.
Baseball America had made repeated attempts in recent weeks seeking officials that would acknowledge a move was in the planning stages. But it wasn’t until late Tuesday, when Hawaii Winter Baseball issued a press release, that demonstrated that the idea clearly had moved well beyond the discussion phase.
HWB, whose announcement came a day after BA contacted its office about a potential move, lasted three years in its second swing as a winter league. It had previously run from 1993 to 1997. Sixteen of 23 MLB teams sent players to fill rosters of its four teams and the league has also gotten players from the Japanese and Korean professional leagues.