Reacting to Twins Minor League Realignment
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyTriple A: St. Paul Saints
Here’s where I’m going to be a wet blanket. As exciting it is to be able to have a minor league affiliate so close, this is probably bad for baseball as a whole.
Minor league baseball helps get some of the best players in the world in front of a lot of fans who otherwise don’t have access to that level of the game. Let’s be honest, the Twin Cities doesn’t need both a major league team and a Triple-A club (in addition to all the great other baseball options we’re spoiled with).
Like I imagine a lot of other people, I was first exposed to the Saints in the wake of MLB’s strike in 1994. Beyond all the extra fun, it was nice to have the option of watching a high-level of baseball played aside from MLB. Let’s revisit this topic after next season, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
The Saints are the crown jewel of independent baseball. I have concerns about the American Association being able to survive without them. The fewer indy league teams, the less likely it is guys like Caleb Thielbar, Randy Dobnak and even Rich Hill (Long Island Ducks, 2015) keep their careers alive.
Having the Triple-A team basically at arm’s length will obviously benefit the Twins, so that’s great, but something to keep in mind is the best prospects don’t actually spend a lot of time at the top level of the minors. Miguel Sanó, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco all played for the Twins before they appeared in Triple A.
It’s going to be cool to have a Twins affiliate so close, I’m still excited about it, but there are some things that feel problematic about the whole thing.
Double A: Wichita Wind Surge
I was very happy with the relationship between the Twins and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, but getting an affiliate here that was gearing up to host a Triple-A club is likely going to work out nicely. They were supposed to be the Miami Marlins’ top minor league affiliate before all of this realignment started.
This moves the Twins Double-A affiliate from the Southern League to the Texas League, which typically has the higher run-scoring environment. We’re not sure how Wichita’s Riverfront Stadium will play yet because 2020 was supposed to be its inaugural season. It appears to be a beautiful ballpark, and you’d have to imagine the amenities for the players are state-of-the-art.
It's difficult to imagine an upgrade from Pensacola, but that may turn out to be exactly what this is.
High A: Cedar Rapids Kernels
Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers swap places here, and the big win is for any hitters moving up the chain. Previously, they had to both adjust to tougher pitchers and a challenging scoring environment when making the leap from Low-A to High-A.
A lot of things were up in the air during the time all these changes were just rumors, and there seemed to be some uncertainty surrounding the Midwest League, and potentially this franchise. I’m happy to see that not only will they remain a Twins affiliate, but they’re getting an upgrade in terms of level. Among these changes, I think this is the biggest “feel-good” story.
Low A: Fort Myers Mighty Mussels
Yes, that is really their name now. This year was supposed to be the first season of the change from Miracle to Mighty Muscles.
Here’s where I believe flipping these affiliates will greatly benefit development. Possibly the biggest jump the average player makes in his journey through the minors is from short-season to full-season ball. Being in a familiar setting should help lower the degree of difficulty in that jump.
Players spend a lot of time early in their careers at the team’s complex in Fort Myers. The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins play their games here, instructs are conducted here and, of course, Spring Training.
It makes a lot more sense for players to break into full-season ball here, then “go out into the world” than it does to have them go to Cedar Rapids and then come back.
Elizabethton: Left out in the cold
MLB is contracting more than 40 affiliated minor league teams, one of which is the E-Twins. This was announced a couple months ago, but the Appalachian League will operate as a college summer league.
E-Town had been a Twins affiliate since 1974. That’s a lot of Twins players whose careers went through Elizabethton, Tenn. over the years.
Just two years ago, the Elizabethton City Council approved a ballpark renovation project aimed at keeping the Twins there that came in somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million. This is a town with a population of around 14,000, mind you. Here’s hoping the new college summer league works out for them.
For Seth's thoughts on the minor league realignment, check out his Nine Innings article today.
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