We’ve been speculating for over a year now about the future state of minor league baseball as the initial rumors looked to remove or at least change all short season leagues and possibly change the status of other leagues. We learned earlier this week that the Mahoning Valley Scrappers will in fact no longer be an Indians affiliate and instead will become part of a pre-draft league to allow MLB teams get a better look at players prior to the draft. The league will begin in June with the State College Spikes, West Virginia Black Bears, Trenton Thunder, Williamsport Crosscutters and the Frederick Keys featuring amateur players to allow MLB teams further scouting opportunities of those draft eligible players. Following the July draft, players are expected to stay with their teams instead of reporting to their new franchises for their first season, a major change from previous seasons.

This leads directly into the biggest change announced today from the winter meetings, the dissolution of the AZL Indians Blue. The Indians added a second Arizona League team in 2018 and changed their typical process from sending college draft picks to Mahoning Valley and high school ones to Arizona to sending all draft picks to Arizona. With new picks now staying in the newly formed draft league, the sole Arizona League will now likely be made up of international free agents and second year draft picks.

We have also been speculating for a long time about the potential for massive cuts from all franchises. Some teams made those last spring, but the Indians didn’t and have lost less than 30 players since the end of the 2020 season due to free agency and cuts. This number would possibly be enough to make up for the loss of the Scrappers as an affiliate and the new additions from the 2020 draft, but not enough to make up for two years worth of new international signings and the elimination of the Indians Blue. Essentially, these decisions could be put off until next spring, but eventually a large mass of minor leaguers will have to be ejected from the Indians farm system.

That number could be decreased slightly, however, by the addition of half of a new team. Instead of running a co-op team in the Dominican Summer League with the Brewers, the Indians will have two full squads in 2021. The Indians had 33 men on their full squad roster last year, but just 13 members of the Indians/Brewers. This would potentially add another ~20 roster spots for international signings.

The final change in 2021 is a logistical one as the Lake County Captains and Lynchburg Hillcats will switch levels with the Captains becoming an advanced A team and the Hillcats dropping to low A. This is part of the total restructuring of the Carolina and Midwest Leagues, but should help the Indians as players already have to travel a long distance from Rookie level to A ball, but will now have a shorter distance to travel between A+ and AA. This will allow the team to be more free when making roster moves between Lake County and Akron as they will no longer have to fly players to Virginia when they are promoted from A to A+ then back to Ohio when they are promoted to AA. Akron and Columbus will remain the franchises AA and AAA affiliates.

New Affiliate Breakdown:

LevelTeam
AAAColumbus Clippers
AAAkron Rubberducks
A+Lake County Captains
ALynchburg Hillcats
AZLIndians
DSLIndians 1
DSLIndians 2

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