More information on how MLB is uprooting and changing the minor leagues was posted Friday in this Baseball America article, following up on the invitation of 119 (now 120, since Fresno has agreed to be invited) clubs to be MLB team affiliates at four levels.
The Iowa Cubs have been the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate since 1981, the third-longest Triple-A affiliation in the major leagues (Braves, 1965 with Richmond/Gwinnett and Royals, 1969 with Omaha, are the two longer-running affiliations) and Iowa has been a member of the Pacific Coast League since 1998. After 1997, the original Triple-A American Association disbanded and all the Triple-A teams were placed into the PCL or the International League. (The current independent American Association has no relation to the old Triple-A league, apart from its name.)
Now, Iowa will be part of ... well, we’re not quite sure yet. Here’s the Triple-A split as reported in the BA article:
Well, that’s... unwieldy. You’ll note that there are no league names at all, and one split has 20 teams and the other 10. It would seem likely that the 20-team list will split into either two divisions or two leagues, likely split as follows:
East: Buffalo, Charlotte, Durham, Jacksonville, Lehigh Valley, Norfolk, Rochester, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse, Worcester
Midwest: Columbus, Gwinnett, Indianapolis, Iowa, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, St. Paul, Toledo
That would cut travel expenses way down for Triple-A teams, and Gwinnett isn’t an obvious match for “Midwest” (it’s in suburban Atlanta), but otherwise you don’t have a 10-10 split. Those could wind up as two leagues, further split into two divisions of five teams each.
Here’s how Double-A will be arranged beginning next year:
Not much change there, and again, the leagues are being arranged to help reduce travel.
High-A will be split up as follows:
Bowling Green moves from the Midwest League to the Mid-Atlantic League, so the Midwest League will become 12 teams, most likely split into two divisions of six:
East: Dayton, Fort Wayne, Great Lakes, Lake County, Lansing, West Michigan
West: Beloit, Cedar Rapids, Peoria, Quad Cities, South Bend, Wisconsin
Again, this makes for much shorter bus trips, since typically teams in opposing divisions make only one trip a year to each city. Note that I have no specific information on the two division/league splits I’ve posted here; that’s simply my own speculation.
And, lastly, here are the Low-A leagues:
For Myrtle Beach, the Cubs affiliate in the Carolina League, this won’t mean a lot of change, either.
The BA article notes one caveat to the league names you see above:
The names of these leagues are also likely to be determined, but in the case of leagues that have long been known by their current names, we used them for now as placeholders. So the Texas League may or may not be known as the Texas League under the new system, but almost all the teams in the new league will be coming from what was the Texas League.
It would be a shame if long-time league names like the Pacific Coast League, Texas League or Southern League would disappear just because MLB wants them to. It should be noted that half of the teams listed as “Texas League” above aren’t actually in Texas (Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas, Springfield, Tulsa and Wichita).
This alignment does mean that if you live in western cities such as Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or Tacoma, you’ll no longer be able to see the Iowa Cubs play in your town.
As always, we await developments.