Miami Marlins Minors: Shrinking the Farm

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 13: A general view of Marlins Park home of the Miami Marlins on March 13, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Major League Baseball is suspending Spring Training and delaying the start of the regular season by at least two weeks due to the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 13: A general view of Marlins Park home of the Miami Marlins on March 13, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Major League Baseball is suspending Spring Training and delaying the start of the regular season by at least two weeks due to the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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Shrinking the minor league baseball system to 120 full-season teams means that cuts will need to be made to every team.

The Miami Marlins currently boast a multi-layered minor league system. The Wichita Wind Surge (Pacific Coast League, Triple-A), the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Southern League, Double-A), the Jupiter Hammerheads (Florida State League, High-A), the Clinton LumberKings (Midwest League, Single-A), the Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn League, Short-season-A), the GCL Marlins (Gulf Coast League, Rookie-level), and the DSL Marlins (Dominican Summer League (Rookie-level) comprise the seven-level organization, not counting the parent club. Proposed cuts would eliminate the Clinton LumberKings and the Batavia Muckdogs.

Rookie-level ball should remain unaffected, but 120 total teams translates to four teams for each of the 30 clubs above that level, and the Marlins only have three. The Hammerheads, the Jumbo Shrimp, and the Wind Surge should resume business as usual at some point in the future, either late in the 2020 “season,” or anew in 2021. The Marlins need to start the hunt for a new Single-A affiliate, or convince the powers-that-be to leave Clinton alone.

The NYPL has operated continuously since 1939, when they identified themselves as the PONY League (Pennsylvania, Ontario, New York). The Muckdogs are the lone remaining original franchise associated with the circuit, less the 1954-56 and 1960 seasons. Financial difficulties have plagued the franchise in recent years, leading to it being ceded to the league proper in 2018. Batavia’s average attendance last season, 1,165 per game, was only seven attendees on average better than the last place Auburn Doubledays. In 2018, their 784 average attendance per game was far-and-away the worst in the NYPL, and about a quarter of average league-wide attendance figures per MILB.COM.

The LumberKings ranked 14th in the 16-team MWL, averaging 1,838 per game in their first season of Miami Marlins affiliation last season. The average attendance at a MWL game last season was closer to 4,000, more than double the average contest in Clinton.

All that said, financially speaking, the move makes some sense. The move does leave some major league feeder systems with only three teams, and others with five. I can only assume that some equalization should follow, with some of clubs with five affiliates ceding control to some with three affiliates. The 42 affiliates slated for elimination are:

Double-A

Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets)
Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds)
Erie SeaWolves (Tigers)
Jackson Generals (DiamondBacks)

High-A

Lancaster JetHawks (Rockies)
Daytona Tortugas (Reds)
Florida Fire Frogs (Braves)
Frederick Keys (Orioles)

Single-A

Beloit Snappers (Athletics)
Burlington Bees (Angels)
Clinton LumberKings (Marlins)
Lexington Legends (Royals)
Hagerstown Suns (Nationals)
West Virginia Power (Mariners)

Short-Season-A

Auburn Doubledays (Nationals)
Batavia Muckdogs (Marlins)
Norwich Sea Unicorns (Tigers)
Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)
Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Indians)
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Giants)
State College Spikes (Cardinals)
Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)
Tri-City Dust Devils (Padres)
Vermont Lake Monsters (Athletics)
Williamsport Crosscutters (Phillies)

Rookie

Billings Mustangs (Reds)
Bluefield Blue Jays (Blue Jays)
Bristol Pirates (Pirates)
Burlington Royals (Royals)
Danville Braves (Braves)
Elizabethton Twins (Twins)
Grand Junction Rockies (Rockies)
Great Falls Voyagers (White Sox)
Greeneville Reds (Reds)
Idaho Falls Chukars (Royals)
Johnson City Cardinals (Cardinals)
Kingsport Mets (Mets)
Missoula PaddleHeads (Diamondbacks)
Ogden Raptors (Dodgers)
Orem Owlz (Angels)
Princeton Rays (Rays)
Rocky Mountain Vibes (Brewers)

Some heavy hitters there. This eliminates all the “named” rookie-level teams and around half of the short-season-A teams. What this means is that along with changing their affiliations, some teams will be repurposed as full-season teams and change their league-level and -affiliation entirely.

It also leaves alone the developmental leagues in Arizona, Florida, and the Dominican Republic. What we are left with, above the rookie-level, anyway, looks like this:

NL East

Atlanta Braves

Gwinnett Stripers
Mississippi Braves
Rome Braves

Philadelphia Phillies

Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Reading Fightin Phils
Clearwater Threshers
Lakewood BlueClaws

Miami Marlins

Wichita Wind Surge
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
Jupiter Hammerheads

New York Mets

Syracuse Mets
St. Lucie Mets
Columbia Fireflies
Brooklyn Cyclones

Washington Nationals

Fresno Grizzlies
Harrisburg Senators
Fredericksburg Nationals

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

Iowa Cubs
Tennessee Smokies
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
South Bend Cubs
Eugene Emeralds

Cincinnati Reds

Louisville Bats
Dayton Dragons

Milwaukee Brewers

San Antonio MIssions
Biloxi Shuckers
Carolina Mudcats
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Pittsburgh Pirates

Indianapolis Indians
Altoona Curve
Bradenton Marauders
Greensboro Grasshoppers
West Virginia Black Bears

St. Louis Cardinals

Memphis Redbirds
Springfield Cardinals
Palm Beach Cardinals
Peoria Chiefs

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Reno Aces
Visalia Rawhide
Kane County Cougars
Hillsboro Hops

Colorado Rockies

Albuquerque Isotopes
Hartford Yard Goats
Asheville Tourists
Boise Hawks

Los Angeles Dodgers

Oklahoma City Dodgers
Tulsa Drillers
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Great Lakes Loons

San Diego Padres

El Paso Chihuahuas
Amarillo Sod Poodles
Lake Elsinore Storm
Fort Wayne Tin Caps

San Francisco Giants

Sacramento River Cats
Richmond Flying Squirrels
San Jose Giants
Augusta GreenJackets

AL East

Baltimore Orioles

Norfolk Tides
Bowie Baysox
Delmarva Shorebirds
Aberdeen IronBirds

Boston Red Sox

Pawtucket Red Sox
Portland Sea Dogs
Salem Red Sox
Greenville Drive

New York Yankees

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Trenton Thunder
Tampa Tarpons
Charleston RiverDogs
Pulaski Yankees

Tampa Bay Rays

Durham Bulls
Montgomery Biscuits
Charlotte Stone Crabs
Bowling Green Hot Rods
Hudson Valley Renegades

Toronto Blue Jays

Buffalo Bisons
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Dunedin Blue Jays
Lansing Lugnuts
Vancouver Canadians

AL Central

Chicago White Sox

Charlotte Knights
Birmingham Barons
Winston-Salem Dash
Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

Cleveland Indians

Columbus Clippers
Akron RubberDucks
Lynchburg Hillcats
Lake County Captains

Detroit Tigers

Toledo Mud Hens
Lakeland Flying Tigers
West Michigan Whitecaps

Kansas City Royals

Omaha Storm Chasers
Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Wilmington Blue Rocks

Minnesota Twins

Rochester Red Wings
Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Fort Myers Mighty Mussels
Cedar Rapids Kernels

AL West

Houston Astros

Round Rock Express
Corpus Christi Hooks
Fayetteville Woodpeckers
Quad Cities River Bandits
Tri-City ValleyCats

Los Angeles Angels

Salt Lake Bees
Rocket City Trash Pandas
Inland Empire 66ers

Oakland Athletics

Las Vegas Aviators
Midland RockHounds
Stockton Ports

Seattle Mariners

Tacoma Rainiers
Arkansas Travelers
Modesto Nuts
Everett AquaSox

Texas Rangers

Nashville Sounds
Frisco RoughRiders
Down East Wood Ducks
Hickory Crawdads
Spokane Indians

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The numbers don’t really add up in that this proposal leaves untouched only 118 teams instead of 120. They can’t very well say that 28 of the clubs will get four teams and the other two will only get three. That leaves a very small sliver of wiggle room for the 42 teams on the chopping block to make their cases. After all, it’d be far easier to save two of them than to start from scratch with two new ones.

Understand this is a huge change to the infrastructure of the minor league feeder system, and the less complicated it is, the more they’ll ultimately be willing to sign off on it. That being said, I think that the Cubs, Pirates, Yankees, Rays, Jays, Astros, and Rangers systems will be losing one of their remaining affiliates to the organizations that wind up with only three (or two in the sad case of the Reds).

In closing, I’d say that it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that one of the Hickory Crawdads, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, the Eugene Emeralds, or the Lansing Lugnuts could become Marlins entities pretty soon. Thanks for reading.

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