Rust Belt Rumor Roundup

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Quick observation: it’s weird how quickly the story of minor league restructuring has gone from 0 to 60. As recently as a month ago, I felt like I could lay back and casually respond to the occasional news coming down the pike. Now it’s fast and furious from all sides, and often difficult to separate the true news from the noise. But there are a few things I’d like to touch on, and coincidentally, they relate to teams more or less within America’s Rust Belt. 

Some reputable (though confounding) info came out of Pirates’ world, with Pittsburgh’s Athletic beat writer Rob Biertempfel tweeting the following: “Per the Bradenton Herald, Pirates president Travis Williams said High-A Bradenton and Class A Greensboro will not be affected by minor league downsizing next year. Williams made his comments during a Zoom call on Thursday with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.”

There’s a pedantic way to take this news, and not just the incorrect statement that these teams will not be affected. Taken at face value, all we’ve learned here is that Greensboro will be among the 120. That’s expected, but is there enough here to assume that the Grasshoppers are staying with the Pirates?

Let’s use common sense and assume this is what Biertempfel/Williams meant. If so, that’s pretty significant. The Pirates and Grasshoppers’ connection seemed loose, and there has been plenty of speculation that the West Virginia Black Bears could be Pittsburgh’s new High A team. While it is certainly possible that WV makes the 120, not having the Pirates as a parent club significantly diminishes that hope. If I were a betting man, I’d say that the Black Bears are in the same boat as most New York-Penn League teams, awaiting their fate. 

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Moving on to the Tigers, and a report by the Detroit Free Press, acting on sources. The key point is whether or not the Erie SeaWolves will be stay in the affiliated minors, and the article says that the “Tigers are ‘optimistic’ about maintaining affiliation.” Although I’ve considered the SeaWolves likely to be saved since J.J. Cooper mentioned them in a podcast back in August, it’s still refreshing to hear it from another source. 

It’s worth mentioning, however, that the Tigers apparently have “backup plans” if things don’t work out with Erie. The specifics of the plans aren’t laid out, as the source is apparently very optimistic that an agreement with the SeaWolves is reached. Let’s not guess for now.

If we are to match the Tiger/SeaWolf optimism, we’re looking at the Tigers having a GCL-Lakeland-West Michigan-Erie-Toledo setup, with the Norwich Sea Unicorns left out. Not a bad setup for the Tigers, who will now concentrate their top three affiliates relatively close to Detroit.

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In Cleveland, we have a tweet of questionable validity that mentions the Lynchburg Hillcats. Specifically, it says “Hearing the Hillcats have pared down staff & might not be able to meet new MiLB facility requirements set by MLB.

I was wondering if this day would come. Lynchburg has been mentioned in relocation rumors for nigh on ten years, and I was surprised that they weren’t on the original cut list. Looking back on when that list came out (a year ago, almost to the day!) I mentioned Lynchburg first on the list of teams that I was most surprised to see absent from the 42. 

If the Hillcats are indeed banished to the hills (and I’ll come back to this) it will interesting to see how the new Sally League map shakes out. As for a Cleveland affiliate at Low-A? Your guess is as good as mine. Assuming the the Hillcats are out, I could see Cleveland linking up maybe Asheville or Augusta or Charleston. I guess you can’t rule out the Fresno Grizzlies in the Cal League. 

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Moving on to the other Ohio team, there is a Reds connection that I think is at least worth mentioning. With Cincy being in essentially the same position as Cleveland (if Lynchburg’s gone) with regard to Low A, their options are a similar list of Asheville, Augusta, or Charleston–if the RiverDogs don’t get a promotion to the Carolina. And, sure, the Grizzlies I guess. 

Actually, this relates to the Grizzlies a little. I think many of us who have delved into these details would guess that the most likely parent club for Fresno at Low-A is the Colorado Rockies. It just seems like a fit, given the relative proximity in the west. (And sure, I suppose another California MLB team could snatch up Fresno, but in that case we’d be saying Colorado-to-Stockton or whatever.) The Rockies have been accustomed to an affiliation with the Asheville Tourists, but as I happened to discover back in September, the Tourists are owned by now-famous Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and his family. 

The DeWines are from Dayton and are reported to be Reds’ fans. Assuming they can bring historic McCormick Field up to meet MLB’s new standards, that seems like a great fit, right? In fact, Asheville is poised to be the closest High-A team to Cincinnati. The Bowling Green rumors suggest that the Reds would like to keep all their affiliates close to the vest, so the Asheville-Dayton-Bowling Green-Louisville chain may be the best option by a good measure. [here’s a map] I’m rooting for it! 

This is more a Corn Belt rumor, but I keep forgetting to mention a report from the Quad-City Times that came out a few weeks back. It’s a well-done piece, and it all but flat-out states that the River Bandits will be carried forward into affiliated ball. This jibes with what Senator Chuck Grassley stated several months ago, but it still comes as a bit of a surprise. 

I’ve asked this question a thousand times: if Bowling Green is headed to the Southern League, who else from the Midwest Leaving is leaving? It seems necessary to have the MWL at twelve teams. Don’t quote me on this–pure guess–but I wonder if Kane County could be vulnerable. The Cougars’ park is getting on thirty years old and they don’t have a built-in MLB parent club. With Arizona possibly/probably going with the Northwest League, it’s easy to imagine the Cougars being left out in the cold.

Of course, they would find a home–likely in the American Association or possibly the Frontier League. Maybe we’ll even see something J.J. Cooper mentioned in passing back in the summer–a non-affiliated, MLB-run league centered in the Chicago area. Right now, there are six teams in the greater Chicago/Milwaukee region within those two indy leagues, and some of the facilities are pretty nice and new. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Kane County somehow slotting into that mix. That would allow the Association to keep a more western focus (adding Pioneer League teams?) while the Frontier could keep up with their territories in the northeast and Rust Belt. 

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The last thing I’ll mention is that I heard from someone that they saw a tweet from an unverified account who purported to be a reporter from the West Virginia Gazette. So…rumor, eh? I can’t find the actual tweet, but it supposedly said, “Looks like professional baseball in Charleston is over. Word is W.Va. Power will be demoted to the Appalachian League, which will become a collegiate wood bat league in 2021.”

Very far from surprising that the Power is being cut off (yuk, yuk) but the Appalachian League is certainly an eyebrow-raiser. I’ve long suspected that the team would land in the Frontier League, but if you expand your gaze, they aren’t too far away from Appy locales like Princeton and Bluefield. It’s certainly believable, and kind of a nice option for Charleston, WV, to fall back on. 

But this begs another question: can the Appy League operate at eleven teams? I wonder if there’s another team in the hopper that would bring the new summer collegiate circuit up to twelve. Maybe one in a Virginia city that is reasonably close to Danville, Pulaski, and Burlington. Could the Hillcats hike to the Appalachian League? We shall see. 

Till next time.