Mike McCann / Minor Leagues
CHANGES FOR 2011
By Mike McCann
In case you haven't been following the offseason minor league baseball news, I'll provide a synopsis of what's new for the 2011 season.
At the AAA level, the biggest story is probably the move of the Portland Beavers to Tucson, Arizona. The Beavers were losing their stadium after the 2010 season because it was being converted to soccer only stadium, and when no other options came together in Portland, the team had no choice but to move. The team was purchased by the owners of the San Diego Padres with the eventual plan to move the team to southern California to play closer to San Diego. As there was no stadium to play in and discussion to share the stadium with their High A California League affiliate in Lake Elsinore falling through, the team made plans to play in Tucson. There is currently discussion underway to move the team to Escondido, California for the 2013 season provided a new stadium is built there, but given the fiscal situation in the state of California, even that's not a sure thing right now. So the temporary home in Tucson may end up being longer than the original two years.
The other AAA news is that the Oklahoma Redhawks and Round Rock Express have switched affiliations with Oklahoma as an Astros affiliate and Round Rock as a Rangers affiliate. When Nolan Ryan became part of the Rangers ownership group, it was widely speculated that Round Rock would become a Rangers affiliate. They just had to wait for the player development contract with the Astros to expire for this to happen. The other item of note is that Omaha is opening its new stadium, Werner Park, this season and the team will now be known as the Storm Chasers. By the way, that will be a great place to see a game this season, not only because there is a new stadium, but you can see some of the Royals top prospects including Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
In AA there were no affiliation changes. A little bit of a surprise to me at first because I thought that Richmond would likely become a Nationals affiliate and Huntsville would get a new partner, but when it became clear that neither of those would happen, there really wasn't any other catalyst for change. The only newsworthy item is that the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx is grabbing a name from its historical archive and becoming the Jackson Generals which was the name of the Jackson, Tennessee team in the Kitty League which played in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's.
The biggest affiliation shuffle was at the High A level. The Lynchburg Hillcats became a Braves affiliate making them their third in three years (they were with the Reds (2010) and Pirates (2009) previously). The Myrtle Beach Pelicans became a Rangers affiliate because of the team's connection with Rangers CEO Chuck Greenburg, although now that Greenburg was relieved of his duties with the Rangers, it will make that four year player development contract look like it wasn't such a great idea. To complete the shuffle, the Reds signed with the Bakersfield Blaze. I'd expect the Reds to look elsewhere once their player development contract expires after the 2012 season. The other change was the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes becoming a Dodgers affiliate and the Inland Empire 66ers going with the Angels.
At the Low A level, the Royals had to claim a second KC and agree to a deal with the Kane County Cougars. As a result of that, the Burlington Bees are now with the A's.
Changes for Short Season A include the Blue Jays grabbing the only Canadian minor league team by agreeing to a deal with the Vancouver Canadians. The Auburn Doubledays became a Nationals affiliate and the Vermont Lake Monsters are now an affiliate of the Oakland A's. The last part of that sentence is still odd to me since the A's haven't had a NY-Penn League team since 1959 when the A's still played in Kansas City. So I think that's another union that will break after two years.
And finally, with the Short Season Rookie teams, is the saddest news in that the longest affiliation has come to an end. The Appalachian League team in Bluefield, West Virginia had been an Orioles affiliate since 1958, but the Orioles decided that they wanted to leave the league. The Blue Jays stepped in and the Bluefield Blue Jays will be playing this season.
So as you can see, there were a lot of changes during the offseason. And I didn't even mention that there will be a Southern League team in Pensacola, Florida in 2012. The Carolina Mudcats will be moving to the Florida panhandle, and to take their spot in Five County Stadium, the Kinston Indians will coming in to become the Carolina Mudcats of the Carolina League.
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