NEW YORK — Major League Baseball started the process of contracting minor league affiliates Tuesday, with the Appalachian League converted to a college summer circuit for rising freshmen and sophomores.
The agreement between MLB and the minor leagues expires Wednesday. MLB has proposed cutting the minimum guaranteed minor league affiliates from 160 to 120 next year, or to four per major league organization plus teams at their spring training complexes.
Many teams from the Pioneer League and the New York-Penn League also are likely to become part of college summer leagues.
MLB and USA Baseball said the Appalachian League will become part of its Prospect Development Pipeline and that 320 players will be invited to play next year. The Appalachian League had been an affiliated minor league with professional players since 1911.
MLB and USA Baseball said they are communicating with the NCAA to ensure participation does not detract from college eligibility, which presumably means players in the league no longer will be paid.
Each team will be scheduled for a 54-game regular season with wood bats, and the two organizations will support staffing and administration. Former major league players will provide instruction.
The 10 teams in the league will change their names and logos to “incorporate symbols and images important to their respective local communities,” according to MLB and USA Baseball.
The 10 teams that were scheduled to be in the Appalachian League at the Rookie Advanced level in 2020 were the 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 the 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.
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 Conner, president of the National Association since December 2007, said on Sept. 8 that he will retire on Dec. 31.