Baseball America posted an article a couple days ago about the likely shape of the minor leagues come 2021. There isn’t much hard information, partly because there haven’t been any negotiations between MLB and MiLB in over two months. It’s pretty clear now that MLB has the upper hand, with minor league teams facing major financial distress and some possibly headed for bankruptcy. The AAA and AA teams will likely jump at any offer they get that’ll solidify their status, with many lower-level teams slated for elimination. We do know more or less for sure that each MLB team will have four full-season affiliates and one or more teams operating in the Gulf Coast or Arizona League.
BA does report that likely at least three independent league teams will be added to the list of 120 affiliates, which means several more existing teams being eliminated. There will be some realignment to reduce travel. That could mean a return to three AAA leagues (the old American Association was eliminated in 1998). It could also mean the South Atlantic League being split into two, six-team leagues, one still called the SAL and the other the Mid-Atlantic League. Or not. Nobody knows for sure yet.
Probably all surviving minor league teams would become “free agents,” with MLB teams having to swing what deals they, and their prospective affiliates, found most amenable. For the Pirates, this could mean some or all of their existing affiliations might change, except for Bradenton, which the Pirates own. I’d be rather surprised to see that, as the Pirates seem to be one of the more sought-after parent clubs. Altoona and Indianapolis should be particularly good matches.
Once that all settles out, the Bucs have to assign players somewhere. Inevitably, that should mean an upward push, as there won’t be as much room, especially for the veterans who always make up a decent portion of the AAA roster (although in recent years it’s been a much smaller portion than in the old Dave Littlefield days). Logically, this should mean younger rosters in AAA and AA, and at least a slightly reduced quality of play throughout the full-season minors, as younger players get pushed faster.
Anyway, here are some guesses about the depth chart that we could see at the start of 2021. Obviously, they are just guesses. Things will happen between now and then, either in whatever taxi squad play takes place, or whatever fall and winter ball gets cobbled together. And between the new front office and the new MiL structure, a lot of changes can take place.
You’ll notice some upper-level guys missing. I’m assuming some (Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes, for instance) will be in the majors, and others will be gone or in the majors (a bunch of relievers fall into this category). I’m also largely assuming that nobody . . . well . . . sucks too badly to move up. Of course, lots of these guesses are going to be wrong, but hopefully this conveys some of the shoehorning the Pirates are going to have to do.
I hope it also conveys the very limited need they’re going to have for MiL veterans and organizational players. The amount of development time that gets wasted on guys who are just deep depth and roster filler has become an increasing concern for me.
Catcher: Christian Kelley, Arden Pabst, Jason Delay
Infield: Will Craig, Kevin Kramer, Hunter Owen, Stephen Alemais, Robbie Glendinning, Oneil Cruz
Outfield: Travis Swaggerty, Jared Oliva, Chris Sharpe, Bligh Madris
Pitcher: Cody Bolton, James Marvel, Cody Ponce, Domingo Robles, Cam Vieaux, Aaron Shortridge, Brandon Waddell, Beau Sulser, Joel Cesar, Matt Eckelman, Nick Mears, Shea Murray, Braeden Ogle, Joe Jacques
Catcher: Deon Stafford, Grant Koch, Zac Susi
Infield: Mason Martin, Dylan Busby, Jared Triolo, Nick Gonzales, Rodolfo Castro
Outfield: Cal Mitchell, Lolo Sanchez, Daniel Amaral, Jonah Davis
Pitcher: Max Kranick, Gage Hinsz, Brad Case, Osvaldo Bido, Alex Manasa, Grant Ford, Austin Roberts, Cameron Junker, Yerry De Los Santos, John O’Reilly Samuel Reyes, Ike Schlabach, Hunter Stratton, Conner Loeprich
Catcher: Kyle Wilkie, Eli Wilson
Infield: Will Matthiessen, Ji-Hwan Bae, Cory Wood, Connor Kaiser, Liover Peguero, Ethan Paul
Outfield: Jack Herman, Fabricio Macias, Justin Harrer, Matt Gorski, Matt Fraizer, Blake Sabol, Fernando Villegas
Pitcher: Carmen Mlodzinski, Nick Garcia, Travis MacGregor, Noe Toribio, J.C. Flowers, Jack Hartman, Colin Selby, Will Kobos, Steven Jennings, Winston Nicacio, Oddy Nunez, Michael Flynn, Cristofer Melendez, Cody Smith, Cam Alldred, Will Gardner, Oliver Garcia, Samson Abernathy
Catcher: Ethan Goforth, Daniel Angulo
Infield: Yoyer Fajardo, Josh Bissonette, Alexander Mojica, Aaron Shackelford, Jesus Valdez, Francisco Acuna
Outfield: Jasiah Dixon, Deion Walker, Sammy Siani, Chase Murray, Jake Snider, Jake Wright
Pitcher: Tahnaj Thomas, Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone, Braxton Ashcraft, Michael Burrows, Santiago Florez, Logan Hofmann, Luis Nova, Luis Ortiz, Domingo Gonzalez, Adrian Florencio, Bear Bellomy, Zach Spears, Jesus Valles, Xavier Concepcion, Garrett Leonard, Parker Brahms, Alex Aquino, Denny Roman, Jake Sweeney, Alex Roth
SONG OF THE DAY
A pandemic theme song?
RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY
Leaked video of MLB/MLBPA negotiations:
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.