A proposal for Affiliated Minor League Expansion, 20 New Teams Would be Created
Almost every baseball season if you follow the shuffle that is minor league franchises, teams are bought and sold by various ownership groups and moved from city to city. Sometimes a team leaves town for a new home in a nicer stadium, sometimes the ownership simply wants to put the team in a new city despite a nice existing ballpark, see the transfer from Casper, Wyoming to Grand Junction Colorado.
A solution could be at hand though if a group of civic leaders, baseball fans and business owners decided to step up to the plate and it involves the choice of joining existing leagues or creating a new league.
Each team in Major League Baseball has one minor league affiliate at each of the top four rungs or classifications in the current structure of the minors. At the top Triple A level, 16 teams in MLB have working agreements with 16 franchises in the Pacific Coast League, which spans from the west coast to Tennessee. The remaining 14 teams are affiliated with 14 franchises in the International League, which has franchises across the northeastern US and as far west as Ohio and south to Georgia.
At the double A level, 8 teams are affiliated with the same number of franchises in the Texas League, which operates in four Texas cities, with teams in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Another 10 teams are in the Southern League, which operates teams from Tennessee and North Carolina south to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The remaining 12 affiliations are with a dozen teams in the Eastern League, which covers the northeastern US.
The next rung down is the Advanced A Ball or High A leagues, again each MLB club has one minor league team that it is affiliated with. The Florida State League is home to 12 of these affiliations with all teams in the Sunshine State. Another 10 teams are in the California League and again all teams are in a single state that is the league’s namesake. The remaining 8 teams are in the Carolina League, which has teams in both North and South Carolina, as well as in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
The lowest level of A leagues which are full season leagues consist of the Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues. The Midwest League has 16 teams with 16 different MLB affiliates, the remaining 14 are with the SAL. The teams in the Midwest League are in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. The South Atlantic League also features a Kentucky franchise, with teams extending from there to include the states of Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.
Where things change is at the short season level. Two leagues are at the A level and two are a step below that at advanced Rookie level. The two short season A leagues are the New York-Penn League which features 14 teams around the northeastern US, while another 8 are in the Pacific Northwest with teams in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and one in Vancouver, BC. Each of the 22 teams in these two leagues have 22 different MLB affiliates. The 8 MLB teams that do not have an affiliate at this level are the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Reds, Royals, Twins and White Sox.
Below this are the advanced Rookie Leagues which are also short season leagues. Here 18 minor league teams make up two leagues, 8 in the Pioneer League which is in cities around Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, while the 10-team Appalachian League features teams around that region of the eastern US. The 8 teams that do not have a team at the short season A level do have teams in these leagues, the Royals in fact have two, one in each league. Thus there are 13 teams that do not feature a team at this level, the Athletics, Cubs, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees. Because Kansas City has two teams at the lowest of the two short season levels, the 13 teams that don’t feature an advanced rookie team and the 7 outside Kansas City with no short season A level team are all home to one less minor league affiliation. Thus, expansion would be the logical step to provide teams for these 20 slots that are available in theory.
At the Short Season A level, 8 slots are available to be filled, likely through the creation of a third league. The Royals would move one of their Rookie level affiliations to this league where they and 7 others lacked a team. The opened slot from the Royals in Rookie ball would go to one of the 13 teams that has no affiliate at that level. Two new teams would be added to the Pioneer League, Casper and Cheyenne, Wyoming would be obvious fits and Casper had a team at one of the best rated ballparks in the minors until it was moved to Grand Junction, Colorrado. The remaining 10 would come from the creation of a second new league that would be home to 10 franchises.
The new 10-team league that would be on par with the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues could play in areas that were previously home to minor league baseball. The circuit could consist for instance of Lubbock, Abilene, San Angelo, Wichita Falls, Waco, Tyler, College Station, Beaumont, Victoria and San Marcos, all within the state of Texas and The league would be known naturally as the Lone Star League. San Marcos, College Station, Beaumont, Waco, Lubbock, Abilene and San Angelo all have modern existing stadiums that are operated for college baseball and these could easily accommodate a minor league team from June to September. With three 10-team circuits at the rookie level, the 10 teams in the western divisions could make use of the Rookie league, though the Rangers and Astros would likely go with Texas based clubs, leaving two teams in central divisions to use the Pioneer League. This would not be an issue as the Royals and Brewers already do this. The remaining teams in the central divisions of MLB could have affiliations with the new Lone Star League and this would leave the 10 teams in eastern divisions to affiliate with the Appalachian League.
Moving up one level to the Short Season A leagues, an 8-team league would be created to join the previously mentioned Northwest League with 8 teams and the new York-Penn League with 14 or the NYP could expand by a pair of teams and grow to a total of 16 teams and the Northwest League would expand by adding six teams and growing to a total of 14.
So if you live in a city that wants to have minor league baseball affiliated with the big leagues, you have a way to make it happen. Create it, and the fans might very well come.