Across all of baseball, there will be major changes to the minor leagues this winter. We already know that. We also know a few things that are happening already—and from there, we can probably extrapolate some more information.
In 2019, and in theory in 2020, the Twins had affiliates in Rochester, NY; Pensacola, FL; Fort Myers, FL; Cedar Rapids, IA, Elizabethton TN, and Fort Myers again. That doesn’t include the various foreign leagues—I believe those will stay the same. Those teams played in the International League (triple-A,) Southern League (double-A,) Florida League (High-A,} Midwest League (Low-A,) Appalachian League (Rookie,) and Gulf Coast League (Rookie,) respectively.
The first league we learned the fate of was the Appalachian League. Despite fan outcry (including on this site,) the Appy league is now a college wood-bat league, rather than being a part of affiliated baseball. We do not know for sure if they will keep the MLB names, but one would suspect not. One bit of good news for Elizabethton, the Twins will be honoring their commitment to pay for facility improvements.
A recent New York Yankees news dump helps provide a bit more clarity on the disposition of the other leagues—although from here forward will also contain rampant speculation on my part.
New York is leaving their top affiliate alone, the triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. As an International League team, they play against top Twins affiliate Rochester. Although Rochester may not fulfill that role next season. Significant amounts of speculation suggest that the Saint Paul Saints may finally cave, and become the Twins’ triple-A affiliate—which would leave Rochester in search of a new dance partner. With most of the International League teams much farther east, and the Pacific Coast League teams much further west (although the Iowa Cubs would be a natural rival) the last question for affiliation would be the logistics.
At the double-A level, the Yankees are changing horses. Long-time affiliate Trenton leaves, and Atlantic League Somerset controversially takes their place. As Trenton plays in the Eastern League, and the Twins affiliate plays in the Southern league, this doesn’t tell us much. The Twins and Blue Wahoos have only been partners for a few years, but the proximity to the Twins facilities in Fort Myers is a major selling point, and may keep the relationship intact. Yeah, its an nine-hour drive or a four-hour flight, but compared to many MiLB towns, that’s not too far. As far as the Twins go, the two highest levels do seem the most likely to change affiliates though.
The teams at A-ball are where things got interesting. The Yankees are essentially flipping their High-A and Low-A affiliates, which suggests that other teams will be doing so as well. The Tampa Tarpons were the High-A affiliate for the Yankees, but will now be moving to their Low-A team. The Tarpons, like the Twins’ affiliate the Fort Myers Miracle, play in the Florida State League. This move makes it look very likely for the entire Florida State League to move down a level. As many of these teams are now going to be playing in-or-near the spring complexes of their major league partners, this could help younger and more poorly-paid players. Perhaps the increased resources are one reason why this change is happening.
The Yankees former Low-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs, is expected to find a partner in another MLB organization, but the Yankees are moving their squad to the Hudson Valley Renegades, which will now be a High-A club. Charleston competes in the South Atlantic (Sally) league, while Hudson Valley was a member of the short-season NY-Penn league. Given their new level of play, Hudson Valley is likely going to need to find a new league to compete in.
Assuming that the leagues flip levels, it is unlikely for the Twins current High-A partner to leave, they will likely simply become the Low-A affiliate. The Mighty Mussels play at Hammond Stadium, the spring home of the Twins, and the organizations have been long-time partners. That does mean that the Midwest League is likely to move up in the world.
Playing in the Midwest League, the Twins low-A affiliate was the Cedar Rapids Kernals. This is a good pairing, as Iowa is considered at least partially “Twins Territory,” and fans can get a glimpse of the up-and-coming talent. Again, it seems unlikely the Twins would shake this up, unless they went to another Midwest League team, such as their former affiliate at Beloit. Assuming that the Twins high-A squad is playing in Iowa, and their Triple-A squad is in Saint Paul, it also allows players to move through the organization a bit more flexibly. A quick ride across town could get a player to the big league, and an “emergency” call-up from High-A to Triple-A is very feasible.
The GCL, for both organizations, will remain as the only Rookie League team.
While we are still in the speculation stage, there will be changes for sure. What do you want to see the Twins Minor League affiliations look like for 2021 and beyond?