Major League Baseball is Changing the Landscape of Indy Ball

Earlier this year, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced partnerships with existing independent leagues. The top three indy leagues – the Atlantic League, the American Association, and the Frontier League – have entered into a partnership with the MLB for the upcoming season.

Now, the MLB is restructuring and cutting their minor leagues which will ultimately impact independent baseball even more.

The Pioneer League, the Appalachian League, and the New York Penn League, all former MLB affiliated leagues, are being repurposed for 2021.

The Pioneer League will now be an  independent professional MLB Partner League.

All eight members of the Pioneer League – the Billings Mustangs, the Grand Junction Rockies, the Great Falls Voyagers, the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Missoula Paddleheads, the Ogden Raptors, the Northern Colorado Owlz and the Rocky Mountain Vibes – will continue participating in the league and will maintain their existing team names and brands.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations, said: “Over the past year, we have worked closely with Pioneer League owners and elected officials to ensure the continued success of baseball in the Mountain West. We’re excited to support this new initiative and look forward to Pioneer League baseball returning in 2021.”

MLB.com

The Appy League and part of the New York Penn League will turn into two new wood-bat leagues that will feature top collegiate and draft eligible players from across the country.

Each of the ten teams in the Appalachian League will be rebranded to reflect the communities and towns that they represent. The league will feature top rising college freshman and sophomores during the summer.

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.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations, said: “We are thrilled to partner with USA Baseball and the Appalachian League communities to create a one-of-a-kind summer league that will attract the nation’s top collegiate players and allow local fans to see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns. This announcement continues MLB’s commitment to preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States. The road to the big leagues now runs through Appalachia.”

Mike Gaski, President of USA Baseball, said: “USA Baseball is excited for this unique opportunity to enhance the offerings within the Prospect Development Pipeline through the creation of a premier summer collegiate baseball league. Our commitment to the continued development of amateur athletes is paramount to our mission as the national governing body for the sport in the United States and it is an honor to align ourselves with a historic baseball brand such as the Appalachian League, as well as our partners in Major League Baseball. We look forward to welcoming elite-level college athletes to the Appalachian League and identifying players who will hope to one day play for Team USA.”

Dan Moushon, the President of the Appalachian League, said: “The communities of the Appalachian League have supported baseball since our founding in 1911. We are grateful to MLB and USA Baseball for bringing this exciting opportunity to our fans and look forward to welcoming players, coaches, MLB scouts and fans into our cities next summer.”

MLB.com

Teams from the New York Penn League: the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the West Virginia Black Bears, and the Williamsport Crosscutters along with former AA team the Trenton Thunder, with talks of a sixth team, are forming the MLB Draft League.

This league will be the first of its kind that focuses exclusively on top prospects who are eligible for the MLB Draft that summer.

With the 2021 MLB Draft moved back to July and being held as part of All-Star Week, draft-eligible players will have a unique opportunity to showcase their abilities and gain exposure to MLB Clubs and fans next summer. The new format affirms MLB’s commitment to the region and assures that communities of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey will continue to host high-caliber baseball and future Major Leaguers for years to come.

Plans include a 68-game regular season with an annual All-Star Break centered around the MLB Draft. MLB Draft League participants will receive unprecedented visibility to MLB Club scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology, and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes. PBR will provide support for the league’s staffing, player and coach recruitment, on-field operations, and administrative functions. PBR will also use their media and technology platforms to promote the league and its players throughout the season.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations, said: “We are thrilled to partner with Prep Baseball Report and the founding members of the MLB Draft League to create a one-of-a-kind league that will attract the nation’s top players who are eligible for each year’s MLB Draft and allow local fans to see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns. This announcement continues MLB’s commitment to preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States.”

Sean Duncan, President of Prep Baseball Report, said: “We are honored to work with these ownership groups and Major League Baseball to assure the future of impactful, high-level baseball to the region and continue the legacy of deep community involvement from all of these teams. With more than 150 scouts and operations personnel coast-to-coast at the high school, collegiate and junior college levels, we take great pride in our ability to identify the nation’s top amateur draft prospects, which will ultimately make the MLB Draft League the preeminent league for draft-eligible players.”

MLB.com

Currently, the 2021 season will feature four independent leagues that are partnered with the MLB as well as two college/top prospect leagues that will also be supported by major league baseball.

It should be an interesting summer full of many changes in professional baseball.

6 thoughts on “Major League Baseball is Changing the Landscape of Indy Ball”

      1. A couple of notes: First, the Trenton Thunder did not come over from the New York-Penn League. They’re a cast-out from the double-A Eastern League. They lost their affiliation when the Yankees decided to affiliate instead with the Somerset Patriots formerly of the Atlantic League.
        As for financing, I’d seen a report that MLB would be paying for field upgrades, new scoreboards, and advanced scouting equipment to the Pioneer League. They will be sharing the costs of the Appy League NY-Penn Leagues with the partners you’d mentioned in the article/

        Liked by 1 person

  1. There’s really SO so much to unpack regarding MLB’s moves, and so many teams and leagues whose fates have yet to be decided.
    The Atlantic League losing two teams to MLB at a time when they were looking to expand, and the American Association losing one is an issue.
    Yes, MLB will [have to] eliminate more teams from the minors ranks under their plan. And yes, any of those teams could be candidates for entry into an Indy league. But many of those teams will come from the Midwest and Northwest leagues. A few may come from the South Atlantic League. And there are about seven NY-Penn League teams not yet accounted for.
    But with most of those teams being at A-ball (both low and high) will those markets be big enough to support Indy teams? Will those ballparks be up to the standards of the Atlantic or American?? Will those owners be willing to take on the costs of payroll, let alone both payroll AND ballpark upgrades?
    At least one team owner, the Staten Island former Yankees (short-A), has said that an Indy team model is not sustainable in his market. So he’s filed a lawsuit against MLB. Will other teams jump onto that with him? Or will they simple take whatever scraps MLB has decided to leave for them?
    Hopefully, MLB will at least finalize its plans by the end of its winter meetings later this week, so the teams and leagues can get on with the business of making schedules and selling tickets, instead of being held hostage by MLB’s whims.

    Liked by 1 person

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