The Royals announced they have invited four teams to be minor league affiliaties for the 2021 season. If accepted, the Royals will retain their affiliations with Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, but will change their A-ball affiliations. The new High-A affiliate will be Quad Cities in the Midwest League, which is moving up after being a Low-A ball league last year. The new Low-A ball affiliate will be in Columbia, South Carolina, in a yet unspecified league. They would replace the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League, who will now be a Washington Nationals affiliate, and the Low-A ball Lexington Legends, who were not invited by MLB to be an affiliated team next year.
These moves come as 119 teams were invited to be part of a revamped affiliated minor league system run by MLB, with 42 teams cut off from affiliations. The Pioneer League, which was home to a Royals affiliate in Idaho Falls, and the New York-Penn League have already announced they will convert from affiliated short-season rookie leagues to independent “partner leagues.”
The Royals will retain their affiliation with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers, a partnership they have maintained since their first season in 1969. There were some rumors that a new midwestern Triple-A league will be created to reduce travel, but recent reports by Baseball America suggest that won’t be the case. In that event, the Storm Chasers could continue to play in the Pacific Coast League, although there will possibly be some new teams with two independent league clubs joining the affiliated ranks - the St. Paul Saints and the Sugar Land Skeeters.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals will continue to serve as the Royals’ Double-A affiliate in the Texas League. The league will also add Wichita to its lineup of teams, although the city was expecting to get a Triple-A franchise after building a new ballpark.
The Quad City River Bandits, who play in Davenport, Iowa, would be the new High-A affiliate in the Midwest League. The River Bandits had been a Houston Astros affiliate since 2013, and the area has continuously held a minor league affiliation since 1960.
The Royals' Class A affiliate has the best nickname of all their affiliates. pic.twitter.com/FriG3ICs35— Pete Grathoff (@pgrathoff) December 9, 2020
The Columbia Fireflies had been a New York Mets affiliate since 2016, when the team moved from Savannah, Georgia. They had played in the South Atlantic League, which may continue as a Low-A ball league.
There will no longer be any short-season rookie ball leagues for newly drafted players to participate in. Teams would still host complex-based summer league teams in Arizona and Florida in addition to Dominican summer league teams. MLB has discussed raising the limit of domestic league players from 150 to 180.
You can see a complete list of affiliations at Baseball America. In addition to the Lexington Legends, 11 other full-season teams did not receive invites to be affiliated with MLB teams, including the Burlington Bees, the Clinton LumberKings, and the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League. There is still one affiliation left to be decided as MLB has offered the club in Fresno to either accept an A-ball affiliation or be left out entirely, while the team and city of Fresno have resisted a demotion from Triple-A.
These changes come as MLB’s working agreement with Minor League Baseball has expired, leading to contentious negotiations. MLB would like to consolidate operations to have more control over minor league facilities, reduce travel, and cut costs. The changes will likely be devastating to many minor league communities left behind, will cut several jobs, and lead to fewer opportunities for minor league players.