MiLB and Player Development are Undergoing Quite a Change

The Pittsburgh Pirates are losing two MiLB affiliates as of this post, the Morgantown, West Virginia Black Bears and the Bristol Pirates. Tell people you’re taking something they love away and sit back an wonder why they take it badly.

This entire thing has been PR malpractice if I’m being honest, because at the end of the day, this actually isn’t a bad plan. But the inference from talking about ‘cutting’ teams isn’t something that will easily slip off into the ether.

The Pirates lose two affiliates, yes, that’s true. Many clubs are losing affiliates. Small towns rely on these teams and they also provide the early on training that newly minted professional ballplayers need.

Most of the teams who were chopped have been offered inclusion in various new instructional leagues. I’ve written about it previously when I went in depth on what is happening to the Appy league and recently news broke that the same type of thing would be set up with the artists formerly known as the Pioneer league.

Great news for towns like Missoula (I’m still gonna get there one day).

So why are these leagues kinda a cool idea? Well for one thing they’ve been around for quite some time. The Arizona Fall League, the Cape Cod League, now one is geared toward collegiate players and operates as a de facto introduction to wooden bat ball. That’s why scouts get so much more excited about a guy who hit 7 homeruns in the Cape vs 20 in a collegiate season.

All of the new leagues will be wooden bat leagues and so far two will remain dedicated to collegiate athletes. The idea here is as this spreads it will become a catchall for new draft picks or even coming of age international players.

They seem to be doing this as a stepped approach so there will still be lower levels affiliated with clubs but not two or three short season squads. This will obviously create an overflow of players and I think they’ll find a home on some of these unaffiliated squads.

This is feeling a whole lot like the setup in the NHL. I don’t know to what degree any of you follow hockey so bear with me if you hate the sport, the analogy is too close to ignore.

When a player in the NHL is drafted they tend to not be ready for the NHL, in fact they might not be ready for pro sports quite yet. Enter the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League, a world class juniors outfit meant to train hockey players to become professionals. The NHL also allows players to be drafted internationally and continue to play in their home country until they are ready to move into the actual system.

In other words, you draft an 18 year old kid and while he is the property of your team he heads off to play in the OMJHL or the Finnish Junior Hockey League, developing polish and basically letting someone else do the basic training.

You lose being able to put your stamp on them from the jump but when you get them they can play. They understand the rules, general hockey terms, who’s responsibility is who’s on a back end rush. Then you start to introduce the concepts of your organization when they reach your system.

In hockey if you’re high enough in the draft pool you might end up directly in the AAA affiliate or even on the NHL club (Hi Sid!), but there are places for the lower level instruction needed for raw talent.

For baseball, they could have much of the same setup. First round picks would either start in AA or worst play one short season in your affiliation ranks. 2nd rounders you might start in an unaffiliated league. College players might start in your system because of age.

In other words, there is a real world example of this type of system working just fine and MLB chose to puff their chests out and act hard rather than share a vision that is being brought to the surface slowly.

I’ll miss having an affiliated team that close but at least we still have Altoona, and I truly think if they execute this right it might actually work better than what we’ve had.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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