Bowman Field

THE CHANGING FACE OF MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

The game of Minor League Baseball as fans know it now could undergo a major reconstruction in the not too distant future. A proposal by Major League Baseball, which was leaked to Baseball America, calls for the contraction of 42 minor league teams. One of the teams proposed to be eliminated are the Williamsport Crosscutters, an affiliate of the Phillies.

The inclusion of the Crosscutters on the list is interesting, because at the heart of the contraction issue is a concern for all minor league ballparks to meet growing standards to house minor league teams. Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport has undergone major renovations in recent seasons, which have been overseen by none other than Major League Baseball itself. The upgrades were to prepare ballpark to host one MLB game per season during the Little League World Series, which is hosted nearby. The game has become a popular highlight of the schedule and with the money and time invested in the upgrades, you have to think that baseball would want the field to be undergoing constant upkeep.

RELATED: See the statement from the Williamsport Crosscutters below…

With contraction being the biggest headline of the proposal, fewer players would be needed to fill minor league rosters. With that in mind, the MLB Draft would be pushed back to late June or early July from its current early June time frame and would also be reduced from 40 rounds to 20 rounds. Towns who lose minor league affiliates could conceivably become part of what is being termed a “Dream League” for players who either went undrafted or were cut off of affiliated minor league team rosters. You would have to figure that such a league would also become a playground for Major League Baseball to try out new ideas like robotic home plate umpires, which were experimented with in the independent Atlantic League this past summer and the recent Arizona Fall League.

There would also be somewhat of a realignment among leagues throughout minor league baseball. A third Triple-A league would be inaugurated, allowing teams to cut down on travel expenses, especially in the Pacific Coast League, which has a sprawling footprint across much of the United States. Reportedly, even with teams being contracted, two new teams would be awarded to St. Paul, Minnesota and Sugarland, Texas. Those two towns are home to two of the more popular independent teams in minor league baseball. St. Paul would reportedly become a Triple-A franchise as part of the PCL, while the Fresno Grizzlies would be downgraded to a California League team.

Another part of the proposal that bodes well for Williamsport surviving is the stated goal of keeping affiliates as close as possible to the home of their major league parent club. Williamsport – and most other Phillies minor league teams – are all within a reasonable distance of each other, with Clearwater being the outlier. The facility in Clearwater, which also houses the Phillies Gulf Coast League teams in addition to the High-A Threshers, serves as the Phillies spring training home, accounting for the distance from Philadelphia.

The current agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball is in effect through the 2020 season, so the contraction/realignment wouldn’t take place until the 2021 season at the earliest. Several people on both sides of the issue have also pointed out that this is a very early proposal and is likely to undergo a number of changes. It’s also likely that such a massive proposal would lead to massive lawsuits from minor league team owners, towns and others, which could lend another obstacle to the proposal going through.

WILLIAMSPORT CROSSCUTTERS OFFICIAL STATEMENT

Over the past several weeks, multiple media outlets have written stories about the reduction of Minor League baseball teams for the 2021 season, which would include the Williamsport Crosscutters and 41 other clubs throughout the United States.

Though we cannot officially comment given the fact that the negotiations between MLB and MiLB are still at the earliest stages and ongoing, we do want to make it clear that nothing has or will be decided in this process for a very long time. Further to that, as MLB has stated publicly, their main concerns are around facility standards and significant distance of some clubs from their affiliates (neither of which apply to the Crosscutters) so this is just a natural process of negotiation on behalf of all 160 Minor League baseball teams. All Minor League clubs are currently in compliance with MLB’s current facility standards. MiLB and it’s clubs recognize that those facility standards may need to be increased to meet modern day baseball, and are open to reasonable facility improvements.

Therefore, though we recognize the press surrounding this is hard to ignore, we want to stress that it will be business as usual for the 2020 season for the Phillies affiliate in Williamsport. MLB and Minor League Baseball have further meetings planned between now and the end of the year to discuss a new agreement. We look forward to the Williamsport Crosscutters being part of this community for many more years to come.

2 thoughts on “THE CHANGING FACE OF MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

  1. To think about dropping teams is ridiculous. Almost every team in MLB has gone to two teams in the DSL and two in either the GCL or AZL. Seems like the clubs want more minor league teams, not less.

    1. I can see where some cuts might make sense, but not to the extent that they’re talking about. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Williamsport will be one of the teams contracted. MLB has spent a lot of money on upgrades to the ballpark and the Little League Classic is a fan favorite and it doesn’t hurt that ESPN loves having the game. The good news is that if they’re not cut, they would be a Low-A classification and not short-season. The bad news is that they probably wouldn’t remain as a Phillies affiliate.

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