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Numbers Game: Infrequent Flyers

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Chance Sisco (Photo by Cliff Welch)

Three of the Orioles’ four full-season minor league affiliates are located in the state of Maryland. The fourth is in Virginia, less than 200 miles from Baltimore.

All told, if one were to visit the Orioles’ circuit of farm clubs in ascending order, from low Class A Delmarva to high Class A Frederick to Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk and, finally, to Baltimore, the total straight-line distance between ballparks is roughly 487 miles. That’s the shortest cumulative distance in baseball by 181 miles.

The Nationals rank No. 2 on the list with 668 total miles between full-season ballparks. Like the Orioles, Washington clusters its full-season affiliates in the mid-Atlantic region, with the exception of Triple-A Syracuse in central New York. Like Baltimore, the Nationals’ largest distance between affiliates occurs with the jump from Triple-A to the major leagues.

With three Ohio-based affiliates, the Indians place third on this ranking. However, with cold April weather more common in the upper Midwest, Cleveland minor leaguers don’t typically have the advantage of classic baseball weather to the same extent as Orioles players.

Even in an age of air travel, proximity of minor league affiliates is beneficial to a major league organization.

“There are definite operational benefits of proximity—namely efficiency,” said one assistant general manager. “We’re able to provide resources and support for our affiliates more readily than other clubs.”

That efficiency manifests in the form of lower travel costs to transfer players between affiliates (for promotions or injury replacements) and for maximizing views for minor league coordinators, farm directors and front office executives who travel to see the system’s affiliates.

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“Not many of our coordinators live in (our major league city), so I’m not sure there’s a huge difference in their travel, other than getting more quickly from point A to point B,” the assistant GM said. “And we’re certainly able to shuttle players between affiliates without (many) travel difficulties—which is mostly a consideration around roster depth and protection than true developmental advantage.”

With the exception of the Rangers, who rank No. 8, major league organizations in the Western Divisions fare poorly in terms of affiliate configuration. The nine Western, non-Rangers organizations all occupy spots in the bottom 10 of this ranking.

For instance, to see the No. 30 Giants’ affiliates in succession, one would have to traverse nearly 6,700 miles. The names of the minor leagues involved—South Atlantic to California to Eastern to Pacific Coast—do nothing to mask the chasm between affiliates. The No. 29 Rockies occupy the same leagues as the Giants and face the same challenges.

The lone non-Western organization in the bottom third is the Mets, who beginning in 2019 will trade their Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate for Syracuse. That one substitution will lop 4,077 miles off the Mets’ total distance between affiliates and would push them to No. 10 on this ranking—and possibly higher depending on where the Nationals settle at Triple-A.

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