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Breaking down the new Draft League and Pioneer League changes

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There have been some recent changes to how minor league baseball is going to operate in the coming season. Here is a quick look at what is going on.

National League Championship Series Game 6: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Lets go ahead and get this out of the way...a lot of the information regarding the changes in minor league affiliated baseball for the coming season happen in real time. If you are coming here for the definitive ‘this is what things will look like exactly’, well that just doesn’t exist yet. However, here is a quick primer on the most recent changes regarding the most recent changes with the creation of a new Draft League as well as the repurposing of the Pioneer League.

At the beginning of October, we covered how the Appalachian League was removed from minor league baseball proper and turned, instead, into a college wood bat league for college freshman and sophomore not dissimilar from the Cape Cod League. This obviously included the Braves’ long time rookie ball affiliate, Danville, so if you are wanting a detailed breakdown of those changes and the overall landscape of minor league baseball, give that a read first.

The most recent changes can be seen as a supplement to those changes as well as the changes regarding the MLB Draft and, as of now, don’t impact any other Braves affiliates. Starting in 2021, the draft is being moved from June to July to coincide with the All-Star break. This is a welcome change as MLB can showcase its draft and its participants properly while not interfering with the College World Series. However, with the later start AND the elimination of short season rookie ball leagues, folks wondered how draft year players would get their feet wet in the pros outside of full season ball.

Enter the league’s new Draft League which will be compromised of, as of now, of the former MiLB affiliates the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, Trenton Thunder, West Virginia Black Bears, and Williamsport Crosscutters with talks with a sixth team occurring as we speak. The idea here is the Draft League will have a 68 game season with draft eligible players participating with MLB in control of the environment, including proper data collection and health protocols, while giving amateurs, in particular high schoolers, a chance to play in front of scouts against higher levels of competition closer to the draft. It seems like the league wants those same players to continue to play in the league after they are drafted although whether all organizations will be on board with that remains to be seen. It is also worth mentioning that it doesn’t seem like this league is set in stone as the path forward for the foreseeable future. The league is giving the idea a look as a six team league and iterations are likely to follow including more teams, more or less games, etc.

The other big change was the reclassification of the Pioneer League to what they call a partner league which is how the Atlantic League and Frontier League operate. While the Braves have no affiliates there, so changes here for Braves fans necessarily, the eight team league will get funding from MLB to implement facility and technological upgrades while also creating a pathway for its players to get signed by MLB clubs more readily than just flinging guys into the free agency void. This also keeps baseball in these towns and that makes me happy. The league will play a 92 game season starting in May and what those rosters will look like remains to be seen, although I imagine some of the guys getting non-tendered soon could be participants.

Minor league baseball is going to look drastically different in 2021 and not all of the shoes have dropped here. There is also the spectre of COVID-19 looming over all of this, but for now...we will keep you updated as more changes are rolled out.