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Prediction: The Twins are Heading to Wichita (and maybe St. Paul too)


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Minor League Baseball is going to see massive changes in 2021, and the Twins have already signaled that they will be among the teams seeing the biggest shakeups. There has been plenty of speculation that St. Paul will become their new AAA home, but it's my belief that whether or not that happens, the Twins will end up with a Minor League Team in Wichita, Kansas one way or another.

 

As a quick recap, Minor League Baseball is expected to undergo a massive reorganization starting next season as it is taken over by Major League Baseball. At least 40 teams will be contracted, the short season and rookie leagues are being eliminated, and other levels are expected to see significant changes and realignment. New deals between Major Leagues and affiliates are also expected to go from 2-4 year deals, like they had been previously and saw the Twins shift from New Britain to Chattanooga to Pensacola for AA just within the past decade, to 10 year deals, to create more stability between MLB and MILB teams.

 

For the Twins, that means the Elizabethton Twins are no longer a Twins farm team, Fort Myers and the Florida State League will shift to Low-A, while Cedar Rapids and the Midwest League will move up to High-A. The Twins have also already announced that they are cutting ties with Rochester (NY) and will be looking for a new AAA home.

 

For many Twins fans, the AAA changes have been getting the most attention, as the St. Paul Saints are one of two 2 independent teams being invited to join AAA, the other being the Sugarland Skeeters in suburban Houston. The possibility of having Twins Prospects playing just 12 miles away from Target Field is certainly an exciting development for Twins fans, especially those who closely follow the Twins Minor League Prospects. The sticking point appears to be around money, specifically if the Saints ownership is willing to pay the $20M franchise fee to join affiliated minor league ball.

 

But while St. Paul seems clear as plan A, there have been several reports listing Wichita as plan B, and that could be an excellent option as well. The Wichita Wind Surge is a brand new team with a brand new ballpark. They were supposed to make their debut last season as the AAA team of the Miami Marlins, until COVID cancelled the Minor League Season. In addition to having brand new facilities, Wichita would also be a very good geographic fit as well. Wichita is a little over 600 miles away from the Twin Cities, and while that can't compete with the Saints in terms of distance, it's still significantly shorter than the trip to Rochester and is actually one of the closest existing AAA cities to Minnesota. Only Des Moines and Omaha, whose longtime ties to the Cubs and Royals aren't likely to change, are significantly closer. Additionally, as part of the reorganization, the Pacific Coast League is likely to be adjusted so it is only West Coast Teams, instead of the previous setup which had teams stretching from Tacoma to Nashville. The extreme travel of the PCL is one of the main reason the Twins worked to stay in Rochester and the IL, but that seems to be unlikely an issue moving forward if the Twins end up in Wichita for AAA.

 

Even if St. Paul does become a reality and becomes the Twins new AAA team, there's still a very good chance that the Twins end up in Wichita anyway! Mixed into other reports about this year's Minor League affiliation dance is that the Marlins will be moving their AAA team to Jacksonville - which had been the home of their AA team - and then their AA team will shift to Pensacola. Pensacola, of course, has been the Twins AA home for the past 2 years, and if those reports are accurate, the Twins will need a new AA location. There are 3 AA leagues, the Eastern, Southern, and Texas Leagues, none of which have teams that are particularly close to Minnesota, so there's no natural fit, and because of travel, there's no chance of any city in or near Minnesota becoming a AA city.

 

Wichita, on the other hand, could be available as a AA location. If both the Saints and the Sugarland (TX) Skeeters - the other independent team under consideration for AAA affiliation - decide to join up, then there are reports that Wichita and San Antonio (Brewers current AAA) would both be moved down to the AA Texas League. In that case, Wichita would still be one of the closest available AA option for the Twins, and with brand new facilities would be a very appealing location.

 

As a side note - if San Antonio does get moved to AA, that creates a really interesting situation for the Brewers. Presumably, Houston would take Sugarland as it's new AAA home, and the Rangers would move their AAA team from Nashville back to Round Rock. Nashville would be an excellent fit for Milwaukee, except a few years ago, Nashville effectively kicked out the Brewers right as they opened a new ballpark - and the Brewers were quite public about how unhappy they were with how that situation unfolded.

 

Obviously, there are still a lot of moving parts in regards to Minor League Baseball's major overhaul, and we won't have any true answers until MLB makes its long awaited official reorganization announcement, likely sometime soon. But since whatever changes are decided this month are likely to be in place for at least the next 10 years, it's important that the Twins settle in a good situation. With a brand new park, that's relatively close to Minnesota, Wichita looks like it could be a very nice place for Twins prospects to settle in, no matter if it's Double or Triple A.

 

Update 11/30/20: According to a sports reporter in Wichita, the Twins/Wichita partnership will be made official this week.

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The one wrinkle I didn't think about is the Royals - If Wichita gets demoted to AA, I could see Kansas City trying to take the spot, and certainly Wichita would gladly welcome them. KC even was in Wichita for AA years ago, until the Franchise itself moved to Northwest Arkansas and the Royals followed where they remain still today. 

 

NW Arkansas could then be an option for the Twins, and the geography would fit, but that would be a pretty disappointing outcome that would be a significant step down from the facilities in Pensacola. 

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Would be a big improvement for Twins. GCL and low A in Florida, high A Cedar Rapids, AA at Wichita, and AAA St Paul. Are there a direct flights from Wichita to Minneapolis? 

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Nashville is staying AAA. It could be an option if the Saints fall through, but there hasn't been really any rumors of that happening.

 

Not that it matter much, but NW Arkansas (Springdale/Fayetteville/Bentonville) is actually about 100 miles closer than Nashville. 

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Sugarland had reached a deal to become the AAA team of the Astros (Sugarland Cheaters has already been suggested as their updated nickname). Houston will have part ownership, so that might be a blueprint for what could happen with the Saints, and it's more likely that Wichita is heading to AA.

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From a purely selfish standpoint, would prefer to see the AA affilitate be in St. Paul and the AAA in Wichita. The really hot prospects are not infrequently called up from AA while AAA is where the veterans/emergency callups are stationed. MIght not make sense geographically though...

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