Setting the minors by league and Elias’ excitement for season

Among a few adjustments Orioles fans have to get used to with minor league baseball in 2021 is seeing Aberdeen play as their high Single-A full-season affiliate and no longer as a short-season club. As of yesterday we also have to get used to new and very generic league names for these farm clubs.

In many cases their league will be similar to where they have been in terms of the teams they will play, but no longer will those clubs play in the International, Eastern, Carolina or South Atlantic Leagues.

Major League Baseball announced Friday that all 120 clubs that were extended invitations to continue as affiliates have accepted those invitations by signing agreements. They are now Professional Development League (PDL) license holders. The agreements are for 10 years. So for the Orioles they will have Norfolk at Triple-A, Bowie at Double-A, Aberdeen at high Single-A and Delmarva at low Single-A.

The MLB press release touting the new situation as improving the experience and lifestyle for players outlined these changes:

* Player salary increases ranging from 38-72 percent for the 2021 season.

* Modernized facility standards better suited for professional athletes.

* Improved amenities and working conditions for players and staff.

* Reduced in-season travel for players and coaches.

* Better geographical alignment.

One thing that we already knew before yesterday is that the Orioles have a great situation geographically with their four full-season affiliates. According to a story published on the Minor League Baseball website, the combined distance of the O’s four top farm teams from Camden Yards is 442 miles. By contrast, the closest single team to Tropicana Field for Tampa Bay is in Charleston, S.C., which is 456 miles away.

New York’s top four clubs are a combined 1,377 miles from Yankee Stadium, but most of that is with low Single-A Tampa, which is 1,142 miles from New York. Boston’s clubs are a combined 1,761 miles from Fenway Park. For Tampa Bay, that number is 2,436 miles, and for Toronto that number is 4,617 miles. The Blue Jays have just one farm team in Canada, and their high Single-A club in Vancouver is 2,686 miles from Rogers Centre.

The O’s have three teams in the state of Maryland among their top four. Norfolk is 259 miles from Baltimore, while Bowie is just 27 miles away, Aberdeen 35 and Delmarva 121. So yes, the O’s have a great situation here. We need only to look at the rest of the division to see how good they have it.

As for the leagues, Norfolk will play in a 20-team Triple-A East League. The Tides will be in a seven-team Southeast Division with Charlotte, Durham, Gwinnett, Jacksonville, Memphis and Nashville. There will also be a West Coast-based 10-team Triple-A league.

There are three Double-A leagues, and Bowie will play in the 12-team Double-A Northeast League. The Baysox will play in a six-team Southwest Division along with Akron, Altoona, Erie, Harrisburg and Richmond.

Among three high Single-A leagues, Aberdeen will play in the 12-team East. The IronBirds reside in the five-team North Division with Brooklyn, Hudson Valley, Jersey Shore and Wilmington.

Among three low Single-A leagues, Delmarva will play in the 12-team low-A East. The Shorebirds are in the four-team North Division with Fredericksburg, Lynchburg and Salem.

According to Baseball America, the schedules for each team should be released next week. Triple-A games are expected to start in early April, with the rest of the minors set to begin May 4. The majority of minor leaguers will have to wait until big league spring training ends to begin their spring training. Announcements on tickets, which teams can host fans and other details are likely to come from the individual clubs, who may already have reached out to some of their season-ticket holders.

How the No. 7 ranking was determined: When the Orioles were ranked No. 7 in Baseball America’s organizational rankings this week, the publication noted it was their highest ranking for the Orioles in their 37 years of doing these ratings. That was a nice achievement for the club.

Thumbnail image for Rutschman-Gear-Delmarva-sidebar.jpgIn a podcast released yesterday, a couple of the Baseball America writers explained further the process by which they rank teams No. 1 to No. 30 on the farm. Tampa Bay was No. 1 for the second year in a row, with Toronto No. 3, the New York Yankees No. 18 and Boston No. 20.

“Every player in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook has both a grade and a risk (level grade) attached,” said writer Kyle Glaser. “Every grade and risk has a numerical value, and we assign that numerical value to the player based on those grades. We tally them all up and it’s a point system. Whoever has the most points at the end, one to 30 (ranked prospects), forms the basis of our organization talent rankings.

“Now, I would say that for 25 or so of the 30 teams it is straight math and where you land with your total points. The math is the basis of what we do for 80 to 90 percent of the teams. There a few teams where the points might not line up and we might make a tweak. But when we make those adjustments, it’s for one or two spots.”

Baseball America executive editor J.J. Cooper explained that a team’s ranking is often directly related to how many top 100 prospects they have and how highly in the top 100 those players are rated.

“It is a formula, but there is a subjective part as well,” said Cooper. “There are studies done over the years, and the overarching thing that stands out is that depth is nice and depth is useful, but stars are what stand out. The ability to produce an impact player has much more of a tie to winning big league games than the ability to produce major leaguers.”

For just the second time since the rankings first came out in 1990, the O’s put five players this year in the Baseball America top 100. Adley Rutschman was No. 2, Grayson Rodriguez was No. 22 with DL Hall No. 59, Heston Kjerstad No. 62 and Ryan Mountcastle No. 63.

“If you think of it as a slope, the chances of the No. 1 prospect ending up as an impact player are much higher than No. 10,” Cooper said. “The chances of No. 10 are much higher than No. 50. And this is where it gets tricky when fans look only at top 100 players. We cut it off at 100, but the difference between No. 75 and No. 125 is really very minimal. Studies have shown, if you look back at historical data, the difference between 75 and 100 on the list is way less than the difference between 1 and 25 or 25 and 50. And our rankings reflect that.

“The key thing to know is, if you have top 10 or top 25 prospects, you are going to do really well in our organizational rankings. We see this at the major league level. If you wanted to get Wander Franco (the No. 1 player) from the Rays right now, the cost is going to be massive. You talk about stars in their primes, being paid a lot of money. You can get those for less a lot of times.”

The spring roster takes shape: The Orioles have a spring training roster at this moment of 72 players. That includes every player on the 40-man roster and 32 other players named yesterday - 10 as non-roster invites and 22 as camp reserves. There is little difference between these last two groups, as executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias told reporters Friday afternoon.

There will not be a minor league camp to start at Twin Lakes Park as we would see in past seasons, but some of the 72 players may take part in workouts at Twin Lakes some days as the Orioles socially distance all those players.

The two O’s top pitching prospects, Rodriguez and Hall, are not among the 72 players.

“The reason for that is that a lot of those guys we are projecting to probably start in the mid-minors somewhere,” Elias said. “We don’t know exactly how it’s going to shake out, and that minor league season is going to start later than the major league and Triple-A alternate-site action. So, we’re being a little mindful of the calendar, time-wise, and how long they are going to have to pitch over the course of the year. And what we are trying to do, workload-wise, with those guys. But as opportunities present themselves for some of those guys to join and trickle in possibly during this camp, we’re going to be looking to do that.”

Even with a team expected to have little to no chance to play in the postseason and maybe not even produce a winning season, Elias said he sees reasons to get excited about his third year with the Orioles.

“I think there is a lot of talent on that list,” he said. “Look, this is a young team, there is no question about that. But we saw some really encouraging, strong debuts last year. Those guys are back. We’ve got more coming that haven’t debuted yet, but they’re knocking on the door, and now you also see on that list a lot of our young prospects that we have gotten through the draft and recent trades. I know (manager) Brandon Hyde wants to have them there for their own development, but also so our staff can start learning them as well.

“So, this is an organization that is getting more talented by the day and by the year. You know, our farm system is an excellent shape and it’s only getting stronger. We enjoy bringing all these guys into one place. It’s a very unique year and a very unique spring training, and I think some of these guys are going to benefit from it. There are a lot more minor leaguers that I wish we could squeeze in here, and we’ll be looking to do that when some spots free up. Especially for these young position players, this is a really good experience for them.”

For more of Elias’ Friday Zoom session with Baltimore media, click here.

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