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Elephant Rumblings: MLB announces Draft Scouting League as part of new minors

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Baltimore Orioles vs. Oakland Athletics
2019 pick Logan Davidson
Photo by Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Good morning afternoon, Athletics Nation!

Two big things are going on in baseball right now. One is the upcoming arbitration deadline, as teams have until Wednesday (Dec. 2) to tender contracts to their eligible players.

That means we’ll see a flurry of one-year deals signed in the next 24 hours, followed by a deluge of players being set loose to free agency by clubs who don’t want to pay their rising salaries. Still others will receive general commitments from their teams, with terms to be decided later. The Oakland A’s already made their first such transaction, signing pitcher Burch Smith and avoiding arbitration with him, but they have nine more eligible players to address.

The other major story involves the minors. MLB is streamlining the system in 2021, including significant realignment, as detailed in Friday’s Rumblings. They’re also eliminating the short-season Low-A level entirely, where the A’s were affiliated with the Vermont Lake Monsters, and where many of their college picks would go for an immediate taste of pro action in the months after the draft.

However, there will be something new instead, called the Draft Scouting League. Details from the league’s press release on Monday:

Major League Baseball, Prep Baseball Report (PBR), and five founding members today announced the formation of the MLB Draft League, which will become the first league in the country focused on top prospects who are eligible to be drafted by MLB Clubs 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.

The founding members of the MLB Draft League will be the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears, and the Williamsport Crosscutters. The League is in advanced discussions with a sixth team and hopes to announce in the coming weeks. 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.

The plan calls for six teams, playing a 68-game season (compared with 76 games for the old short-season Low-A). The season will run from June through August, with the MLB draft (which was already pushed back to July) taking place right in the middle during a league All-Star break. It will debut next summer, in 2021.

The purpose of the league will be twofold. During its first half, prospects get the chance to showcase themselves to teams leading up to the draft. In its second half, they can continue getting reps in pro games as their new clubs evaluate them.

My question: After the draft, will the league feature all the top names so they can get pro playing time? Or will it be the mid-round guys who are competing for full-season roster spots in 2021, and/or hoping to pull a Parker Dunshee and put themselves on the map with an early standout performance? If this has already been definitively answered then let’s talk about it in the comments, and otherwise we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out!

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