Culminating a busy week for Major League Baseball, MLB announced on Friday that the Appalachian League will operate as a summer wood-bat league for rising freshmen and sophomores.
The news will officially be announced at a Sept. 29 press conference. Players are expected to be selected with the assistance of USA Baseball and will be tied in with the Collegiate National Team development program. Conveniently, many of the Appalachian League’s teams are not far from USA Baseball’s National Training Center in Cary, N.C.
The timing of the announcement is also notable. The press conference will come one day before the current Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between Minor League Baseball and MLB expires. It also comes just after MLB announced partnerships with the previously independent Atlantic, American Association and Frontier leagues.
If the agreements with the indy leagues can be interpreted both as standard business deals but also a message that MLB has options other than affiliated ball (as it has been perceived by some in the minor leagues), then the Appy League deal gives MLB an illustration that it is ensuring baseball remains in some of the cities left out of its plans for the affiliated minors.
The 10-team Appalachian League has occupied a weird middle ground throughout the MLB-MiLB negotiations. Unlike the other 160 teams covered by the PBA, the Appalachian League clubs are all MLB-owned, with local “owners” contracted to run the daily operations.
The PBA has long allowed MLB to shut down the league at any time as long as it gives notice, which is why it hasn’t been a big part of the negotiations between the sides.
This agreement should ensure that baseball is played in Appy League cities for years to come. The majority of Appy League teams do not produce enough revenue to sustain professional baseball of any sort in a system where the teams would be responsible for paying players’ salaries or, nearly as importantly, the workers’ compensation payments that come with those salaries. Because college players do not receive a salary, a summer wood-bat league is more viable.