BA Newsletter: Get Analysis, Rankings Delivered To Your Inbox!

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


The 12-team Low-A East League marries franchises that formerly competed in the High-A Carolina and Low-A South Atlantic leagues. Its teams are concentrated in North Carolina (four), South Carolina (four), Virginia (three) and Maryland (one).

For the five former South Atlantic League franchises, not much has changed. They still are competing at Low-A, and against many of the same opponents. The seven former Carolina League clubs also will have a sense of familiarity, even as they move down from High-A.

That’s because seven of the former Carolina League’s 10 clubs were transferred to Low-A East. The only exceptions are Wilmington and Winston-Salem, which move to the High-A East League, and Frederick, which was dropped from affiliated baseball when the Orioles preferred Aberdeen as their High-A affiliate.

Three former South Atlantic League franchises also were dropped in MLB’s revamped player development system: Hagerstown, Md.; Lexington, Ky.; and Charleston, W.Va.

2020 League (Lvl)
South Atlantic (LoA)
CarolinaMILCarolina (HiA)
South Atlantic (LoA)
South Atlantic (LoA)
South Atlantic (LoA)
Down EastTEXCarolina (HiA)
FayettevilleHOUCarolina (HiA)
Fredericksburg*WSHCarolina (HiA)
South Atlantic (LoA)
LynchburgCLECarolina (HiA)
Myrtle BeachCHCCarolina (HiA)
SalemBOSCarolina (HiA)

*Relocated from Potomac


Many of the 12 affiliations remain static from last year. Exceptions are Augusta, which moves from the Giants to Braves; Charleston, which shifts from the Yankees to Rays; and Columbia, which moves from the Mets to Royals.

Fredericksburg, ticketed to begin in 2020, will make its debut in 2021. The team relocated from Woodbridge, Va., about 30 miles down Interstate 95 to its new ballpark in Fredericksburg. The franchise moves from High-A down a level to Low-A.


The former High-A Florida State League mostly lives on with the 10-team Low-A Southeast League, with the exception of Charlotte and Florida, which were casualties of the revamped minor leagues.

The Rays preferred to align with Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green rather than return to Port Charlotte, Fla., where they base their minor league operations.

The Braves preferred Georgia-based affiliates Low-A Augusta and High-A Rome to Florida and its unsettled ballpark situation in Kissimmee.

Otherwise, these are the same clubs and affiliations as before. Low-level minor leaguers for the 10 organizations with Low-A Southeast League affiliates will have it made. Players reporting for Low-A assignments, including recently signed draft picks and international players, will not have to relocate from the spring complex when the calendar flips from April to May. When minor league camp ends, those headed to Low-A will report to full-season ball in the same location.

The only exceptions to that rule are Reds prospects, who will have to trek from their team’s spring complex in Goodyear, Ariz., to Daytona Beach, Fla.

2020 League (Lvl)
Florida State (HiA)
Florida State (HiA)
Florida State (HiA)
Florida State (HiA)
Fort MyersMIN
Florida State (HiA)
Florida State (HiA)
Florida State (HiA)
Palm BeachSTL
Florida State (HiA)
St. LucieNYM
Florida State (HiA)
Florida State (HiA)


The only difference between the old Florida State League and the new Low-A Southeast League is that the Charlotte and Florida franchises no longer exist. The other 10 Low-A Southeast clubs keep their locations and affiliations static from the old FSL.

Dalton Rushing (Mika Salazar Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)

Q&A With Dodgers Prospect Dalton Rushing: His Hot Start, Succeeding The No. 1 Pick And More

Rushing sat down with Baseball America earlier this month to discuss his early success, his relationship with Will Smith and what it was like succeeding the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.


The teams that once formed the High-A California League now become the eight-team Low-A West League, with only one exception. Lancaster and its hitter-happy run environment was dropped from affiliated baseball in favor of Fresno, which moves down from the former Pacific Coast League, where it had operated as a Triple-A club since 1998.

Seven of the eight remaining California League franchises return, and with the same affiliations intact from the Cal League. The biggest difference between the Low-A West League and the old Cal League is its classification. The league moves from High-A down to Low-A, in part to give young players embarking on their first full-season assignments more favorable spring weather.

2020 League (Lvl)
Pacific Coast (AAA)
Inland EmpireLAACalifornia (HiA)
Lake ElsinoreSDCalifornia (HiA)
ModestoSEACalifornia (HiA)
Rancho CucamongaLADCalifornia (HiA)
San JoseSFCalifornia (HiA)
StocktonOAKCalifornia (HiA)
VisaliaARICalifornia (HiA)


The former California League has undergone a lot of change in recent years as the least desirable affiliates have been weeded out. Bakersfield and High Desert lost their affiliations in 2017, just as Lancaster has for 2021. Major league clubs went to great lengths to avoid getting stuck in Bakersfield, High Desert or Lancaster, going so far as to overpay for franchises in the old Carolina League.

Fresno was the odd team out when the former Pacific Coast League scaled back from 16 to 10 teams to become the Triple-A West League. So while Fresno was the only affiliated club to be demoted more than one classification, it remained in the affiliated picture because the Rockies sought a Low-A affiliate to replace Asheville. Fresno had affiliated with the Nationals previously, which created an awkward fit for Washington, which assigned some proximity prospects to Double-A Harrisburg so that they could be recalled more quickly than they could if they had to fly in from California or the West Coast.

of Free Stories Remaining