After Covid-19 wiped out the 2020 season, Minor League Baseball makes its return this week and that means even more baseball news and games to follow.
Most of the teams get their season going on Tuesday, with others starting on Wednesday or Thursday. Here are the key things to know from an A’s fan point of view.
If there’s one thing that the corporate body of MLB is good at, it’s taking things over. After years of a largely productive partnership, MLB decided that they wanted to take over the running of Minor League baseball and – as per usual – what MLB wants it ultimately gets.
An increasing amount of attention has been given in recent years to the exploitative nature of the Minor Leagues, with MLB’s powerful lobbying allowing them to ride rough-shod over labo(u)r laws in the States. The shamefully low salaries many in the Minor Leagues have to accept in a $10bn business were becoming too much of a public relations issue for MLB, so their solution has been to take over the Minor Leagues and then reduce the number of teams from 160 to 120.
This ultimately will bring better salaries and improved facilities, but we should all be cynical as to why this couldn’t have been achieved without significantly reducing the number of jobs (playing, coaching etc), nor in taking affiliated baseball away from 40 local communities.
Where it leaves us is that each of the 30 MLB teams now have four affiliate teams covering four levels of competition: Low A, High A, Double A and Triple A.
Impact on the A’s
The reorganisation has resulted in two main changes for the Oakland A’s.
The first is that the A’s have a new affiliate team in the Lansing Lugnuts. They were previously a Blue Jays affiliate and will take the place of the Beloit Snappers who are now the High-A affiliate of the Marlins.
The second change is that the Stockton Ports will now be playing at Low-A rather than High-A (well, Class A Advanced as it was formally called). This is part of a reclassification of what used to be known as the California League that now becomes Low-A West.
Triple-A: Las Vegas Aviators
League name: Triple-A West
Ballpark name: Las Vegas Ballpark (capacity, 10,000)
Triple-A is the level just below the Majors and the A’s affiliate team at that level has been the Las Vegas Aviators since the start of 2019. Vegas is a big market, of course, and their wonderful new ballpark (opened in 2019 at a cost of $150m) makes them one of the most impressive outfits in Triple-A.
Las Vegas had previously been the New York Mets’ affiliate team; however they decided to switch their Triple-A team to Syracuse at the end of 2018 so that it was much closer to home and the A’s were more than happy to fill the gap that this created.
The Aviators’ projected Opening Night roster includes a number of pitchers who have already worn the Green and Gold in Tanner Anderson, Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian. Prospects Grant Holmes and Parker Dunshee should be on the team too, as well as Daulton Jefferies when he comes off the Injured List. Austin Allen will be the main catcher and the Spring Training Star Buddy Reed will be in the outfield.
Double-A: Midland RockHounds
League name: Double-A Central
Ballpark: Momentum Bank Ballpark (capacity 6,669), Midland, Texas.
The RockHounds are part of what used to be known as the Texas League. They have been an A’s affiliate team since 1999, which means pretty much every A’s-developed player of the last 20 years has been a RockHound at some point.
That includes Bobby Crosby, who won Rookie of the Year honours in 2004 and will be the team’s manager in 2021, with former Oakland third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff serving as the hitting coach.
Roster details are still to be announced.
High-A: Lansing Lugnuts
League name: High-A Central
Ballpark: Jackson Field (capacity 7,527 + 2,000 standing), Lansing, Michigan.
The newcomers to the A’s Minor League set-up, Lansing have a reputation for being one of the best-run, and best supported, teams in their area. They’ve published an excellent article on their website about the Opening Day roster, that you can find here.
Low-A: Stockton Ports
League name: Low-A West
Ballpark: Banner Island Ballpark (capacity 5,200 people with 4,200 fixed seats), Stockton, California.
The Ports have been an A’s affiliate since 2005 and, at just over 70 miles away, are the closest geographically to Oakland (Google Maps suggests approximately a 1hr 15 minute drive).
The Ports Opening Day roster will include our first round draft pick of 2020, Tyler Soderstrom, plus a bunch of other exciting young prospects including shortstop Robert Puason. Further details can be found on their website.
We’re already fully-paid-up members of the Ports fanclub after we were welcomed onto Alex Jensen’s Portside Pod last year. You can also watch our Ports Mystery Box video on our YouTube channel:
Understandably the priority in 2021 is to get Minor League baseball up and running again as safely as possible and this has resulted in an unusual, but straight forward, schedule format.
Quite simply, each team plays a block of six games in six days against another team. There is then a day off before you start another block of six games in six days against another team. Whilst this makes contest a bit ‘samey’, and means you can go two weeks without a home-game, the idea obviously is to pretty much half the amount of travel that teams need to do. This will reduce costs after a year or essentially no revenue and will reduce the Covid risks that travelling inevitably creates.
In Triple-A the day-off every week will be Wednesday, whereas in the other three levels the day off will be Monday.
Following the season
There is a Minor League version of MLB.TV, cleverly named Milb.tv. It’s $40 for the season, so when you convert that to pounds and add 20 per cent on top (for VAT that will get added when you pay in the UK) it works out at approximately £35.
That’s fairly cheap considering the potential scale of games you can watch/listen to; however it’s important to note that typically Minor League games are played in the evening local time, except for games on Sundays. That means from a British perspective you may not get to watch many games live, although if your main interest is in watching prospects rather than worrying about the result then that might not be so much of an issue to you.
It’s also worth knowing that not all Minor League teams have TV broadcasts available. The Stockton Ports are one of those teams, so you won’t get to catch games from Banner Island Ballpark. Four of their West rivals are covered (Modesto, San Jose, Fresno, and Inland Empire 66ers) so you can watch the Ports when they play road games against those teams.
Full details can be found on the Minor League Baseball website here.