Hartford Tops Our Rankings Of The Best MiLB.tv Broadcasts
If you are a fan of the minor leagues and prospects, the arrival of MiLB.tv has been a wonderful development. Streaming video has given parents, grandparents and friends around the country (and around the world) a chance to watch their favorite minor leaguer each and every night. It gives prospect watchers around the country a chance to flip from a Luis Robert at-bat in Charlotte to a Nate Pearson pitch in New Hampshire.
Like many of my co-workers, I watch a lot of MiLB.tv at Baseball America. And if you watch a lot of MiLB.tv, you quickly discover that there are team broadcasts that you want to watch and others you’re better off skipping.
Understandably, there is a much higher variance between the best MiLB broadcasts and the worst. Flip from a Tampa Bay Rays game to a Boston Red Sox broadcast and you might notice some subtle differences. Flip from a top-notch MiLB broadcast to the subpar one and you’ll go from an MLB quality production to one that lacks graphics and has one solo camera behind home plate.
Eventually I decided to create a chart to log what were the best and worst attributes of the 99 different team feeds from the 2019 MiLB season. That led to grading the feeds on a 20-to-80 scouting scale.
And eventually it led to honoring what we see as the top MiLB broadcast of 2019. The first time you click on a Hartford Yard Goats broadcast, you get the feel that you’re watching an MLB game.
The camera angles, especially the center field camera, are better than the ones some MLB teams use. The graphics are top notch and the production quality and direction–the secret sauce that takes a broadcast from clunky to exceptional–are all well done.
There’s a reason that the Yard Goats have an MLB quality production. Director Walter McEntire, an instructor at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, worked on Kansas City Royals broadcasts in the 1980s. A few of Hartford’s camera operators do other professional work. And the team works hard every year to make the broadcast better than the year before.
One of the key steps forward for Hartford in 2019 was something that from the outside may seem like a step back. In 2018 the Yard Goats had a five camera setup with four manned cameras plus a robotic camera beyond the outfield wall. For 2019, they decided to move one of the other four cameras to the center field position. While it took the broadcast from five cameras to four, the improved picture quality and flexibility of the camera that is used the most during the broadcast made the switch pay off handsomely.
“What that gained outweighed losing a camera,” Hartford’s Game Production Manager Mike Delgado said. “It really improved our broadcast . . . Having that fifth camera was nice, but it was a luxury. Having all four cameras be top-notch quality really outweighed any options for a fifth camera . . . We also improved our broadcast audio as well with new headsets and new mixers. We were really happy with the quality.”
With an excellent 2019 season in the books, Delgado and the rest of the Yard Goats staff are working to figure out what can be improved for the upcoming season.
“I think our broadcast is really good, but there are definitely things we can do to improve ourselves even further. I’m excited for 2020,” Delgado said.
The Yard Goats broadcast staff includes:
Mike Delgado: Game Production Manager
Walter McEntire: Director
Rob Pendell: Replay
Karishma Pinto: Graphics
Jeff Dooley: Play-by-Play Announcer
Dan Lovallo: Color Analyst
Kevin Norton: 3rd Base Camera
Joe Tarantino: High Home Camera
Tom Brady: High Home Camera
Scott Allo: 1st Base Camera
Jack Petrucci: 1st Base Camera
Jim Dunnells: Multiple Cameras
John Supowitz: CF Camera
Steve Bishop: Camera, replay, and scoring console (feeds the score bug)
While the Yard Goats had the best broadcast in the minors in 2019 in our opinion, we graded three different broadcasts as being at the absolute top of the scale–an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
We do grade on a sliding scale. The expectation for a Triple-A club is higher than the expectations for a short-season club. Also, clubs in the Florida State League and California League get a little bump because simply having broadcasts in those leagues helps a team stand out – Bradenton is the only FSL club that had broadcasts in 2019.
No one on this list gets a bottom of the scale 20 grade. Simply having a single camera and a piped-in radio broadcast puts a club far above those that don’t have TV broadcasts.
The Other 80s
Mahoning Valley (short-season New York-Penn)
While we grade on a sliding scale, Mahoning Valley’s broadcasts would be impressive even if they were in Double-A or Triple-A. Most short-season broadcasts have bare-boned graphics (if they have them). The Scrappers have top-notch graphics and were one of only two teams who had velocity readings for pitchers. The camera angles are also excellent.
Bradenton (high Class A Florida State)
No other Florida State League team even attempts to broadcast its games. The FSL and the California League (which has improved in its coverage) are the deserts of minor league baseball broadcasts. So if Bradenton stuck a fixed camera behind home plate and piped in the radio broadcast, it would be far beyond the efforts of the rest of the FSL.
The Marauders have gone far beyond a minimal effort. The camera angles are excellent, the shots are sharp (although the center field camera does not match the picture quality of some of the other cameras) and the graphics are top notch. These games are a joy to watch, especially when you consider they are the only chance to watch FSL players in action.
Also deserving of note (70)
Altoona (Eastern), Charlotte (Triple-A International), Binghamton (Eastern), Iowa (Pacific Coast), Lehigh Valley (International), Indianapolis (International), Durham (International), Great Lakes (Midwest), Wisconsin (Midwest).
These broadcasts provide excellent production quality, graphics and sharp cameras. For most of the teams here, the only complaint is their center field camera angles are less than ideal. In most cases, the camera angles are still solid, but they don’t provide the same ability to view pitches the way a true center field camera can.
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Before we list every team’s grades, an explanation of the criteria by which we graded each feed.
More cameras is better than fewer, but we’re most focused on what is used for the camera angle for the batter-pitcher matchup–which is what you are watching for the majority of a game. The best minor league TV broadcasts have camera angles that rival MLB team’s feeds. The worst seem like a bad recreation of the first tentative TV broadcasts in the 1950s. Ideally, we’re looking for a center field camera directly lined up with home plate and high enough to get a clear view of the pitch from release to home plate.
There are camera angles from center (or left center) that are simply too low. San Antonio’s broadcasts are fine, but whenever a baserunner reaches second, all of a sudden you’re blocked from seeing the pitch because of the low camera angle.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were 13 teams in 2019 that (at least in our viewings of multiple games per team) relied on cameras behind home plate (or in one case between home and first base) to show the batter-pitcher battle.
At their best, some teams produce on-screen graphics nearly on par with MLB broadcasts. There are some that provide an excellent score bug that shows almost everything a fan watching the game could want to know--including pitch velocities taken from a Trackman source.
And there were 12 teams that didn't have any graphics.
The most creative use of graphics we saw in 2019 was the work of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. The TinCaps did not have high definition cameras. But instead of simply broadcasting a low-res version of their games, they used the extra screen space to post additional graphics such as lineups and stats for both the pitcher and hitter.
Until late in the 2018 season no MiLB.tv broadcasts were in high definition (720p or 1080p). Even if the original source broadcast was in HD, the MiLB.tv broadcast would be downscaled to 480p (DVD quality) or even 240p (VCR quality).
That problem was largely alleviated in 2019, but not all teams have made the upgrade to HD yet. By our count 20 of the 99 teams producing MiLB.tv broadcasts were still providing standard definition quality. A few others had a HD broadcast, but with either only a HD camera in center field or high def cameras elsewhere and not in center field.
Now not even all high-definition feeds are equal. Grand Junction was one of the ones worthy of praise for the sharpness of its camera feeds and colors.
Others look like they need some maintenance work like this feed:
Or this one:
A good director
This is the toughest aspect to grade and one that we used the least was the quality of the TV production. The reason we use this the least in lining up these rankings is because the quality relies heavily on who is doing the directing. Much more so than MLB teams, the quality of MiLB broadcasts varies dramatically from day to day depending on the staffing–a Monday broadcast may be very different than a Friday broadcast. Because no one can watch 20 games of every team to get a full picture of what is “average” for a team’s broadcast, this is a very minor factor in grading the feeds.
That said, there are several issues that are seen regularly on MiLB.tv feeds. Most notably, there are directors who seem worried that showing the center field camera for every pitch gets repetitive. They will cut to another camera at times as the pitcher goes into his stretch, meaning that instead of seeing the pitch and the batter’s reaction from the view that viewers have long been trained to expect, you get a side view (or a wide view) that is best used for a replay.
With all of that in mind, here are our rankings of 2019 MiLB.tv broadcasts.
|SS||Mahoning Valley||Center Field. Mid.||Excellent||Yes||Yes||80|
|LoA||Great Lakes||Left of CF, Low||Excellent||Yes||Yes||70|
|LoA||Wisconsin||Left of CF, Low||Excellent||Yes||Yes||70|
|AAA||Durham||Left of CF. High||Excellent||Yes||Yes||70|
|AAA||Iowa||Left of CF. Mid||Excellent||Yes||Yes||70|
|AAA||Lehigh Valley||Left of CF. Mid||Excellent||Yes||Yes||70|
|HiA||Myrtle Beach||CF, Mid||Good||No||Yes||60|
|AAA||Nashville||Left of 2B. High||Good||No||Yes||60|
|AAA||Las Vegas||Left of CF Mid||Good||No||Yes||60|
|LoA||Dayton||Left of CF, Low||Good||Yes||Yes||60|
|AAA||Sacramento||Left of CF. High||Good||No||Yes||60|
|AA||Springfield||Left of CF. Mid||Good||No||Yes||60|
|AAA||Toledo||Left of CF. Mid||Excellent||No||Yes||60|
|R||Grand Junction||Left of CF. Mid||Excellent||No||Yes||60|
|SS||West Virginia||Left of CF. Mid||Excellent||No||Yes||60|
|AAA||Oklahoma City||SS. Low||Excellent||No||Yes||60|
|AAA||El Paso||SS. Mid||Excellent||Yes||Yes||60|
|LoA||Lansing||Slightly left CF||Good||Yes||Yes||55|
|AA||Portland||Left Field. High||Good.||No||Yes||55|
|LoA||Columbia||Left of CF, Mid||Excellent||No||Yes||55|
|AA||Richmond||Left of CF. High||Good.||No||Yes||55|
|AAA||Louisville||Left of CF. Low||Good||No||Yes||55|
|AAA||Scranton/Wilkes-Barre||Left of CF. Mid||Good.||No||Yes||55|
|AAA||Tacoma||Left of CF. Mid||Fine.||No||Yes||55|
|LoA||Bowling Green||Low LCF||Fine||Yes||Yes||55|
|LoA||Fort Wayne||LCF, Low||Excellent||Yes||No||50|
|AA||Corpus Christi||LCF. Mid.||Good||No||No||50|
|AA||Tennessee||Left Field. Mid||Fine.||No||Yes||50|
|AA||Midland||Left of CF. High||Fine||No||Yes||50|
|SS||Hillsboro||Left of CF. High||Excellent||No||Yes||50|
|AAA||Norfolk||Left of CF. Low||Good||No||Yes||50|
|AAA||Rochester||Left of CF. Low||Good||No||Yes||50|
|AAA||Columbus||Left of CF. Mid||Fine||No||Yes||50|
|SS||Hudson Valley||Home Plate||Good||Yes||Yes||45|
|AA||NW Arkansas||Left Field, Low||Fine||No||Yes||45|
|HiA||San Jose||Left of CF, Mid||Good||No||Yes||45|
|LoA||South Bend||Left of CF, Mid||Mediocre||No||Yes||45|
|AA||New Hampshire||Left of CF. High||Fine.||No||Yes||45|
|AA||Birmingham||Left of CF. High||Good||No||Yes||45|
|AAA||New Orleans||Left of CF. Mid||Good||No||Yes||45|
|SS||Staten Island||Home Plate||Good||No||Yes||40|
|R||Idaho Falls||Home plate.||None||No||Yes||40|
|HiA||Inland Empire||LCF, High||Fine||No||Yes||40|
|LoA||West Michigan||LCF, Low.||Mediocre||No||No||40|
|AA||Reading||Left of CF, low||None||No||Yes||40|
|LoA||Cedar Rapids||Left of CF, Low||Below-average||No||No||40|
|R||Rocky Mountain||Left of CF. High||None||No||No||40|
|SS||State College||Right of home plate||Good||No||No||40|
|AAA||Salt Lake||SS. Low||Fine.||No||No||40|
|AAA||San Antonio||SS. Very Low||None||No||Yes||40|
|LoA||Quad Cities||Between home and 1B||None||No||No||30|
|LoA||Kane County||Home Plate||None||No||No||30|
|LoA||Rome||Left of CF, Mid||Mediocre||No||No||30|
|AA||Bowie||Right of home plate||Mediocre||No||No||30|