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How minor league realignment affects Oakland A’s affiliate teams

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The A’s four affiliates are now in newly formed leagues, though only the Las Vegas Aviators will see much change

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The minor leagues already got a makeover during the offseason. Many affiliate clubs were swapped around to new major league parent teams, and a few leagues even switched levels.

The process took its next step on Friday, as the whole system was realigned into new leagues and divisions. Gone are the Pacific Coast League and the Texas League, and in their place are Triple-A West and Double-A Central. Click here to see the full listings.

We already knew the identity of the A’s four affiliates, but now they have been placed in leagues and divisions.

  • Triple-A: Las Vegas Aviators (West league, West division)
  • Double-A: Midland RockHounds (Central league, South division)
  • High-A: Lansing Lugnuts (Central league, East division)
  • Low-A: Stockton Ports (West league, North division)

For three of these clubs, not much will change. The Ports’ Low-A West League is identical to the old High-A California League, except the Lancaster JetHawks are out and the Fresno Grizzlies (same Rockies parent club) take their place. Fresno also swaps divisions with Visalia.

The RockHounds’ Double-A Central League is also mostly similar to their old Texas League, but ironically it got slightly larger after switching away from its old moniker. It added the Wichita Wind Surge (Twins), and also welcomed back the San Antonio Missions (Padres), who had been in the Texas League for decades but briefly moved up to Triple-A in 2019.

The Lugnuts’ High-A Central League almost matches their old Midwest League, but with the Bowling Green Hot Rods swapped out for the Lake County Captains (Indians). The Beloit Snappers, previously an A’s affiliate (now Marlins), are in the same league but the other division.

The biggest change will come for the Aviators, whose 16-team Pacific Coast League was reduced to a 10-team Triple-A West League. They will no longer share a league with Iowa, Memphis, Nashville, or Omaha, as well as San Antonio which moved back to Double-A, Fresno which moved to Low-A, and New Orleans which was eliminated from affiliated ball entirely (RIP Baby Cakes). However, the Aviators will now play against the Sugar Land Skeeters (Astros), who were added to the system this winter from independent ball.

In addition to the league realignment, there are more details in Friday’s news, including a long overdue increase in pay for minor league players:

There will be a new set of standards instituted throughout the entire [Player Development League] and the affiliates at the Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A levels. It starts with a salary increase for players throughout all four levels, ranging from 38 percent to 72 percent for the 2021 season. Facilities and player working conditions will also be upgraded and modernized to meet the needs of professional athletes and staff.

Here are the four relevant divisions for A’s fans:

Triple-A West

East Division

  • Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies)
  • El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres)
  • Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers)
  • Round Rock Express (Rangers)
  • Sugar Land Skeeters (Astros)

West Division

  • Las Vegas Aviators (A’s)
  • Reno Aces (D-backs)
  • Sacramento River Cats (Giants)
  • Salt Lake Bees (Angels)
  • Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)

Double-A Central

North Division

  • Arkansas Travelers (Mariners)
  • Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
  • Springfield Cardinals (Cardinals)
  • Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers)
  • Wichita Wind Surge (Twins)

South Division

  • Amarillo Sod Poodles (D-backs)
  • Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros)
  • Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers)
  • Midland RockHounds (A’s)
  • San Antonio Missions (Padres)

High-A Central

East Division

  • Dayton Dragons (Reds)
  • Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres)
  • Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers)
  • Lake County Captains (Indians)
  • Lansing Lugnuts (A’s)
  • West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers)

West Division

  • Beloit Snappers (Marlins)
  • Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins)
  • Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)
  • Quad Cities River Bandits (Royals)
  • South Bend Cubs (Cubs)
  • Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers)

Low-A West

North Division

  • Fresno Grizzlies (Rockies)
  • Modesto Nuts (Mariners)
  • San Jose Giants (Giants)
  • Stockton Ports (A’s)

South Division

  • Inland Empire 66ers (Angels)
  • Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)
  • Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers)
  • Visalia Rawhide (D-backs)

In addition to these four levels of the minors, each organization also still has a Rookie League affiliate, in either Arizona or Florida (the A’s are in Arizona).

Analysis: Got to admit, this new alignment makes a lot more sense than how it was before. There used to be a thing called the Pacific Coast League that had a division of teams in Iowa, Memphis, Nashville, and Omaha. And the Texas League had two clubs in Arkansas, one in Oklahoma, and one in Missouri — they’re still all together, but it’s not called Texas anymore.

Overall this new setup will cut down on travel in the minors, which is a good thing. And that’s on top of the efficiency that had already been gained by changing some team affiliates to more nearby parents, like moving the Nationals’ Triple-A from Fresno to Rochester.