Major League Baseball and USA Baseball this week jointly announced a new format for the Appalachian League in a press conference via Zoom. The league will feature both college freshmen and sophomores in wood-bat play each summer.
Morgan Sword, Executive Vice President of Baseball Economics and Operations, discussed how the Appalachian League is partnering with USA Baseball. According to Sword, with the new format, they will create a new summer league that will attract the nation’s top baseball players.
According to the Associated Press, Tuesday’s announcement on the Appalachian League was the beginning of Major League Baseball’s efforts to start the process of eliminating minor league affiliates.
The agreement between MLB and the minor leagues expired Wednesday. MLB has proposed cutting the minimum guaranteed minor league affiliates from 160 to 120 next year, which leaves four per major league organization plus teams at their spring training complexes.
The Appalachian League will become a part of the Prospect Development Pipeline (“PDP”), the collaborative effort between MLB and USA Baseball that establishes a player development pathway for amateur baseball players in the United States, and will be an integral part of the identification and development process for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and other future national teams.
Appalachian League participants will receive extensive visibility to MLB Club scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology. Players will receive instruction from former MLB players and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes.
Plans include a 54-game regular season and an annual All-Star Game. MLB and USA Baseball will provide support for the league’s staffing, player participation, and administrative functions. The parties are in communication with the NCAA to ensure athlete eligibility requirements are met.
To herald the start of this exciting new format, each of the 10 teams in the Appalachian League have decided to undertake a process for changing their names and logos to incorporate symbols and images important to their respective local communities, to be adopted before the 2021 season. MLB and USA Baseball have already begun the process of identifying and inviting the top 320 players to participate in the 2021 Appalachian League.
“Fans are going to get to see top prospects in their own towns, communities are going to see an influx of new revenue opportunities, players are going to receive state of the art training, and visibility to our scouts. There will also be educational opportunities designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes,” said Sword.
Sword also said that the MLB made it clear that one of the goals with the new format will be trying to preserve baseball in the communities of the Appalachian league.
After Sword was done, he introduced former MLB player and current analyst for the MLB Network and Fox Sports, Harold Reynolds, who was zooming from the studio of the MLB Network.
According to Reynolds, the league will feature ten teams, with 300 players from across the country. According to Reynolds, it takes about four years for players to get to the Major Leagues, and in 2016 within the four teams that were in the Appy League playoffs, 13 out of the 139 players are now in MLB. Reynolds said that one of the goals of this new format is to move the number of future MLB players into the upward direction.
Reynolds then showed a video presentation that even featured Calfee Park. The video mentioned how they were going to try to attract college players, and that the new format would feature new talent.
After Reynolds finished, Michael Teevan, Vice President of Communications for the MLB, introduced the President of USA Baseball, Mike Gaski. One of the things that Gaski mentioned was that the new format will make it easier for the scouts of USA Baseball to check out the players.
“The great thing about this league is that it is going to give our staff a chance to see these guys up close for a longer period of time as we select our national team. Whether that be selecting the college national team, or the professional national team as we compete for world championships,” said Gaski.
He then preceded to give the floor to the Dan Moushon, President of the Appalachian League. Moushon started off by mentioning how the league was established in 1911, and the bigger names to come out of the Appalachian league, such as Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken Jr. He also mentioned that the current MLB playoffs will feature players, coaches and umpires from the Appalachian League.
Another thing that was brought up by Moushon was that teams will be able to create their own names and make their own logos. In 2021, every team in the Appalachian League will have its own identity.
According to Moushon, the league will be operated the same, just with each team having their own individual name.
After Sword, Teevan introduced Senator Joe Manchin who talked about how the league will help younger players.
Another question, which was aimed toward Moushon, was how important it was to keep Pulaski involved in the league.
“We’re thrilled to have Pulaski in the league, along with our other clubs. They’re one of the premier clubs in our league with the facilities there, and to have them back is just tremendous,” said Sword.
Reynolds then added that during every one of their ten meetings with the Appalachian League clubs, everyone agreed that the new format was good.
“Before the pitch was even half-way through, it was encouraged, it was welcomed. It just got better as we kept talking through,’’ said Reynolds.
Sword later talked about how USA Baseball will be the ones to handle the operational elements of the league and that the Appalachian League will be providing their support.
Reynolds then talked about the fact that with the new league, players will stay with their team during the whole summer.
“When you’re in the Minor League, the goal is to get to the big leagues. So, if a player is performing well, you’re going to move them to that next level. They’re not leaving, they’ll be staying. It’ll feel nice knowing that when a player starts getting hot, they won’t be gone the next week, you’ll still get to see them,” said Reynolds.
So far reaction over the news of the new league format have been good.
Locally, Jonathan D. Sweet, Pulaski County Administrator, said: “Minor League Baseball has a storied history in the Town of Pulaski and we so are proud and excited that our community will be a big part of preserving and improving America’s pastime. The new Appalachian League format ensures high-level baseball will continue being played right here in Calfee Park for a long time to come. I look forward to seeing the next generation of big-league stars come through our town, and as a community of baseball fans, we are committed to supporting these players and our teams.”
Ron Martin, the Mayor of longtime Appalachian League venue Bluefield, West Virginia, said: “The City of Bluefield is extremely excited about the prospect of a wooden-bat collegiate baseball league coming to Bluefield and other Appalachian League cities. This will continue the long tradition of excellent baseball being played at Bowen Field. This summer of COVID-19 has shown us what a summer without baseball in Bluefield is like. We are all anxious to see the players take the field at Bowen in 2021.”
United States Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said: “I am delighted that MLB and the Appalachian League have come to this agreement. I’ve called for baseball to remain in communities like Bluefield, Danville, Pulaski, and Bristol — this format will do just that with high-quality competition on the field for these communities to enjoy for years to come.”
MLB views the new status of the Appalachian League as following through on its commitment to preserve baseball in the cities losing affiliated minor league teams. MLB said it consulted with top college coaches in the change.
Many teams from the Pioneer League and the New York-Penn League also are likely to become part of college summer leagues.
According to the Associated Press, the Appalachian League could be in competition with the Cape Cod League for top amateur talent. The 10-team Cape League has long been the No. 1 summer ball destination for college freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Many top college players are drafted after their junior season and don’t participate in summer leagues the year they anticipate signing, meaning the deepest crop of talent for summer league is usually freshmen and sophomores.
The 10 teams that were scheduled to be in the Appalachian League at the Rookie Advanced level in 2020 were:
Bluefield (West Virginia) Blue Jays; Bristol (Virginia and Tennessee) Pirates; Burlington (North Carolina) Royals; Danville (Virginia) Braves; Elizabethton (Tennessee) Twins; Greeneville (Tennessee) Reds; Johnson City (Tennessee) Cardinals; Kingsport (Tennessee) Mets; Princeton (West Virginia) Rays; and Pulaski (Virginia) Yankees
A large number of teams in the Rookie Advanced Pioneer League and the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League also were on an early list of those targeted to lose their affiliations but it is not clear whether those targeted by MLB have changed.
MLB owns most of the Appalachian League teams and has local operators, making the change the easiest of the switches.
The early list included four Double-A teams from the Eastern League and Southern League and several from the Class A Advanced Florida State League, Midwest League and South Atlantic League, and the Class A Short Season Northwest League.
MLB has proposed eliminating the office of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues in St. Petersburg, Florida, and moving administration of the minors to MLB’s office in New York. Pat O’Conner, president of the National Association since December 2007, said on Sept. 8 that he will retire on Dec. 31.
Sword said MLB had agreed with minor league owners not to comment on negotiations for a new PDA while talks were ongoing.
Among other changes MLB has announced, the independent American Association, Atlantic League and Frontier Leagues were designated as partner leagues.
By LUCAS GOAD, The Patriot