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A Minor League Baseball Primer, Part One: Affiliation, Leagues, and Levels

In the first part of this multi part series Wesley Baier breaks down the Minor League Baseball Affiliation system, its different levels and more

Aces Ballpark in Reno, Nevada

To someone who has only recently gotten into Major League Baseball, the Minor League affiliate system can be a very confusing thing. There are 26 different professional minor baseball league in the United States alone, all starting at different times of the year, and it can be very confusing just figuring out which teams ‘belong’ to which team, if they do at all,

The minor league teams act as a player development system, giving a place for players to hone their skills and get regular playing time. In addition they also serves as a place for Major League players to rehabilitate and recover from injuries. In most cases, the parent major league club pays the salaries and benefits of uniformed personnel (players and coaches) and bats and balls, while the minor league club pays for in-season travel and other operational expenses.

Most minor league teams aren’t owned by any of the 30 major league teams, but operate as independent under an affiliate system. Rule 56 off the Major League bylaws governs the standard terms of a Player Development Contract (PDC) which is the standard agreement of association between a minor league team and its major league affiliate. Teams enter into either a two or four year PDC, but renew an unlimited amount of times. The existence of the minor league system is due in part to MLB’s ability to include a reserve clause in its contracts with minor league players, which gives the major league team exclusive rights to a player even after the contract has expired. In a landmark 1922 Supreme Court decision, Federal Baseball Club v. National League, baseball was granted a special immunity from antitrust laws.

The Minor Leagues can best be divided into two different categories; the full season leagues, and the short season leagues.

First, there’s the full season leagues, which play a 140 game season, which begins the first week of April and runs through until the first week of September. The full season leagues consist of three classes, Triple-A, Double-A, and A Ball, which is broken further down into A Ball Advanced and regular ol’ A Ball.

Triple-A (AAA) is the highest level of the minor league system, and consists of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and the International League (IL). The Diamondbacks’ current Triple A affiliate is the Reno Aces, who plays in the PCL. The PCL is one of the most hitting friendly leagues in all of bases, so although it is technically the highest level, it really hasn’t held the highest level of talent for quite some time, with many players going straight from Double-A to the Majors. The Diamondbacks Triple A affiliate for the first ten years(1998-2007) was the now defunct Tucson Sidewinders before the team was relocated to Reno, Nevada.

Double-A (AA) is the second highest level of play. It consists of the Eastern League, Southern League, and the Texas League. The Diamondbacks current AA affiliate is the Jackson Generals, which plays in the Southern League. The Southern League is generally a pitching friendly environment due to most playing at sea level in the humid south.

Class-A Advanced(High A or A+ commonly) is the third highest level, and likewise consists of three different leagues; the California League, Carolina League, and Florida league. The Diamondbacks current Class-A Advanced affiliate is the Visalia Rawhide, which plays in the California League. It’s worth nothing that the California League is even more hitting friendly than the Pacific Coast league.

Class A Ball (A) is the fourth highest level and consists of the Midwest League and the South Atlantic League. The Diamondbacks current A ball affiliate is the Kane County Cougars, which plays in the Midwest League

Short Season A Ball(A-), consists of two leagues, the New York-Penn League and the Northwest League. The Diamondbacks current Short Season A Ball affiliate is the Hillsboro Hops, which plays in the Northwest League. Despite the name, Short Season A Ball has no relation to the full season A Ball leagues.

Rookie-Advanced consists of the Pioneer League and the Appalachian League. The Diamondbacks current Rookie Advanced team is the Missoula Ospreys, which plays in the Pioneer league. Missoula is the longest serving of the Dbacks current minor league affiliations, having been associated with the team since the 1999 season.

Rookie ball consists of a domestic league, the Arizona Summer League(AZL), and a foreign Dominican Summer League(DSL). Those teams are the unoriginally named AZL Diamondbacks and DSL Diamondbacks.

In addition to the Major League affiliated Minor League Baseball, there are a number of independent minor leagues. These teams have no ties with Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball, and as the name suggests, operate independently of either. There are currently eight different independent baseball leagues, the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball, the Empire Professional Baseball League, the Pecos League, the Frontier League, the Thoroughbred Baseball League, Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, and the United Shore Professional Baseball League. There are many defunct leagues that have come and gone, or merged with another league, only to fold.

Independent baseball is where professional baseball players careers to die, or be resurrected. For Diamondbacks fans, David Peralta is the most immediate notable of a player who resurrected his career. Peralta started his career as a pitcher in the Cardinals organization in 2006. After numerous injuries and two shoulder surgeries, the Cardinals released him in 2009. He played for three different teams in independent leagues, and resurrected his career as outfielder. The Dbacks saw his talent, and signed him in 2013. The rest is history.

In addition to all of these, there are the foreign baseball leagues in Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Australia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panamá, the U.K., Ireland, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Latvia, and the Interlyga which covers Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus. I don’t think most of these are relevant at this point aside from Japan with the Nippon Professional Baseball league, and South Korea with its KBO league. Some of the leagues have ties to Major League Baseball through the form of financial investments, but other than that carry no other ties to Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball.

In part two of this three part series of articles, I will break down how the Amateur Draft works, Compensation and Competitive Balance draft picks, International Signing rules, and more! Thanks for reading.