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Explaining The New High-A Structure Entering The 2021 Minor League Season



HIGH-A EAST

The 12-team High-A East League has the most complicated travel arrangement and underscores that there is no absolutely perfect scenario in the minors. High-A East will be a hodgepodge of teams from four former leagues, covering what were three different classifications.

Some teams are separated by great distances. At the most extreme it is 900 miles from Hudson Valley in southern New York state to Rome in northwest Georgia.

Six of the 12 teams making up High-A East were formerly Low-A South Atlantic League franchises. Three more clubs were short-season New York-Penn League affiliates, two were High-A Carolina League operations and Bowling Green played in the Low-A Midwest League.

The scheduling challenge in High-A East is a product of the league having seven southern teams and five northern ones, meaning that strict intradivision play is impossible.

AffiliateOrg
2020 League (Lvl)
AberdeenBAL
New York-Penn (SS)
AshevilleHOU
South Atlantic (LoA)
Bowling GreenTBMidwest (LoA)
BrooklynNYM
New York-Penn (SS)
GreensboroPIT
South Atlantic (LoA)
GreenvilleBOS
South Atlantic (LoA)
Hudson ValleyNYY
New York-Penn (SS)
HickoryTEX
South Atlantic (LoA)
Jersey Shore*PHI
South Atlantic (LoA)
RomeATL
South Atlantic (LoA)
WilmingtonWSHCarolina (HiA)
Winston-SalemCWSCarolina (HiA)

*Formerly operated as Lakewood

WHAT’S NEW?

Three former short-season New York-Penn League franchises remain affiliated clubs—Aberdeen (Orioles), Brooklyn (Mets) and Hudson Valley (Yankees)—because of their desirable geography and facilities. The Yankees preferred to partner with Hudson Valley rather than Charleston, with whom they had affiliated since 2005.

A couple of long affiliation ties were severed. Asheville had been with the Rockies since 1994 but is now an Astros affiliate. Wilmington had been with the Royals since 2007 but shifts to the Nationals.

Hagerstown, Lexington and West Virginia are former South Atlantic League clubs that were eliminated.

HIGH-A CENTRAL

The 12-team High-A Central League is a pared-down version of what was the 16-team Low-A Midwest League. Three former MWL franchises were dropped from affiliated baseball—Burlington and Clinton in Iowa, plus Kane County, outside Chicago—while Bowling Green joins the High-A East League.

The most jarring change to the High-A Central League is that it will no longer operate at the Low-A classification, as the Midwest League did. Major League Baseball flipped many Class A designations in order to help young players, especially those from warm-weather states or Latin America, acclimate to full-season professional baseball.

All Low-A affiliates are now in locations with warm April weather. This eliminates the jarring spring cold of the Midwest League and the northern affiliates of the old South Atlantic League for teenagers embarking on their first full-season assignments.

AffiliateOrg
2020 League (Lvl)
BeloitMIAMidwest (LoA)
Cedar RapidsMINMidwest (LoA)
DaytonCINMidwest (LoA)
Fort WayneSDMidwest (LoA)
Great LakesLADMidwest (LoA)
Lake CountyCLEMidwest (LoA)
LansingOAKMidwest (LoA)
PeoriaSTLMidwest (LoA)
Quad CitiesKCMidwest (LoA)
South BendCHCMidwest (LoA)
West MichiganDETMidwest (LoA)
WisconsinMILMidwest (LoA)

WHAT’S NEW?

The old 16-team Midwest League typically saw lots of turnover during the biennial affiliation shuffle, both because of its sheer size and also because some of the clubs were effectively hot potatoes with facilities that many major league organizations tried to avoid. Teams with new affiliations for 2021 are Beloit (Athletics to Marlins), Lansing (Blue Jays to Athletics) and Quad Cities (Astros to Royals).

The Burlington, Clinton and Kane County franchises of the old Midwest League were dropped, effectively displaced by the former short-season Northwest League becoming a full-season league.

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HIGH-A WEST

The tiny six-team High-A West League preserves most of what was formerly the short-season Northwest League and provides previously unavailable full-season affiliates in the Pacific Time Zone for West Division major league clubs.

The Blue Jays are one obvious exception to the West Division rule. Toronto valued its Canadian connection with Vancouver and prioritized that over geographical friendliness.

As a result, Blue Jays prospects will trek from Low-A Dunedin in Florida to High-A Vancouver in British Columbia to Double-A New Hampshire as they advance in Toronto’s farm system.

Boise and Salem-Keizer previously operated in the Northwest League but were dropped from MLB’s player development system.

AffiliateOrg
2020 League (Lvl)
EugeneSFNorthwest (SS)
EverettSEANorthwest (SS)
HillsboroARINorthwest (SS)
SpokaneCOLNorthwest (SS)
Tri-CityLAANorthwest (SS)
VancouverTORNorthwest (SS)


WHAT’S NEW?

Major League Baseball created six full-season affiliates in the western United States to meet the needs of major league clubs. Teams playing in the West Divisions previously had to make due with Midwest League affiliates but now can situate clubs in the Pacific Time Zone. The Angels, D-backs, Giants, Mariners and Rockies were eager to take advantage, while the Blue Jays kept Vancouver to stay in Canada. Because of the continued closure of the Canadian border due pandemic restrictions, Vancouver will begin the season playing its home games at Hillsboro’s home park.

Eugene shifts affiliations from Cubs to Giants, its original partner when the franchise was founded in 1959. Spokane shifts from the Rangers to Rockies. Tri-City shifts from Padres to Angels. Tri-City is based in Pasco, Wash., and previously was affiliated with the Rockies and Padres.

The Blue Jays (Vancouver), D-backs (Hillsboro) and Mariners (Everett) keep what were short-season Northwest League affiliates but shift them to High-A.

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