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Following the 2000 season, the minor leagues underwent dozens of changes.
Organizations changed their affiliations within leagues, moved their
affiliates from one league to another, and jumped and bumped teams between
levels. Along with the reconfigurations, there will be several new parks
throughout the minor leagues. What follows below is a delineation of the
changes, along with an attempt to anticipate what effects those changes
might have.

Most of the changes occurred at the lower levels. At any level, the talent
matters more than the park or league. That’s especially true for the low
minors, where the change is so rapid, the talent so immature, and the
organizational goals so much more focused on development than statistical
results. This article doesn’t spend much space addressing changes at the
rookie or short-season levels. But all the changes are worth noting, both
to help track player movement and to better analyze drastic changes in
player performance.

The park factors given here are taken from Baseball Prospectus 2001.
Note that an average park would be rated 1000.

Some leagues remained unchanged. For the leagues that were affected, we use
the following abbreviations:

Car = Carolina League
Cal = California League
Eas = Eastern League
FSL = Florida State League
Mid = Midwest League
Nwn = Northwest League
PCL = Pacific Coast League
Pio = Pioneer League
NYP = New York-Penn League
SAL = South Atlantic League
Sou = Southern League
Tex = Texas League

Anaheim Angels

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Triple-A   PCL       Edmonton          PCL       Salt Lake City
Double-A   Eas       Erie              Texas     Arkansas
High-A     Cal       Lake Elsinore     Cal       Rancho Cucamonga
Short-A    Nwn       Boise             N/A       N/A
Rookie     Pio       Butte             Ari       Butte
Rookie     N/A       N/A               Pio       Provo

An inconsequential reorganization, and an aggressive one at that. At
Triple-A, the move from Edmonton (park factor 1030) to Salt Lake (1103)
won’t help the pitching. Salt Lake is one of the best hitters’ environments
in one of the best hitters’ leagues in the minors. Last year at Edmonton,
the team’s pitchers ranked 11th in walks allowed and last in strikeouts.
The situation is the same at Double-A: of 12 teams in the Eastern League,
the Angels’ Double-A affiliate ranked tenth in walks allowed and 11th in
strikeouts. The move to the Texas League, another haven for hitters, won’t
help. Even at High-A, the Angels’ prospects finished near the bottom of
their league in walks allowed and strikeouts. Strikeouts and walks are the
categories least effected by park factors and defense.

As noted in Baseball Prospectus 2001, the Angels’ minor-league
affiliates had the worst composite winning percentage of any organization.
Until the Angels can teach their kids to do a better job of getting batters
out on their own, the misery will continue.

When the Angels moved into Salt Lake, the affiliate changed its name from
Buzz to Stingers. But parts is parts. No matter what they call themselves,
no matter where they play, The Angels’ prospects are just so much pressed
chicken.

Arizona Diamondbacks

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
High-A     Cal       High Desert       Cal       Lancaster
Short-A    N/A       N/A               Nwn       Yakima
Rookie     Ari       Tucson            N/A       N/A

They’re out of the batting cage at High Desert, which at 1139 had the
highest park factor in the minor leagues, but Lancaster, with its park
factor of 1103, won’t be much better for the Diamondbacks’ young pitchers.
Like the Angels’ pitchers, the young D’backs have trouble getting batters
out on their own. We can ignore the league-worst ERA posted at High Desert
last year, but the team ranked next to last in both walks allowed and
strikeouts.

The usual route for developing Snakes takes them from South Bend to
Lancaster. At South Bend, the pitchers ranked fifth-worst in walks allowed
and third-worst in strikeouts, so even if there’s an influx of new talent,
don’t expect the move from High Desert to Lancaster to help the pitching
stats much. The hitters will still be in a good environment, though.
Playing at Lancaster last year, Mariners’ hitters led the league in batting
average, runs, and home runs.

Chicago White Sox

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   Mid       Burlington        SAL       Kannapolis/Piedmont

Piedmont was very good to the Phillies’ prospects last year. Playing in a
neutral park, the Boll Weevils’ pitchers led the Sally League in ERA and
the batters finished second in batting average and runs scored. With the
White Sox in town, the affiliate changed its name to the Intimidators.

The 2000 affiliate–the Burlington Bees–played in a hitters’ park and
posted an ERA near the bottom of the league, gave up the most walks in the
Midwest League, and finished in last place. The good news is that they
finished fifth in strikeouts. At the Appalachian League stop en route to
Piedmont (Bristol), a hitters’ league in a hitters’ park, the young Sox
pitchers put up a respectable ERA, had the second-most strikeouts, and gave
up the second-fewest walks. Some of the Sox’s heralded talent will spend
the year at Piedmont, so expect the Sox to do better as Intimidators than
they did as Bees.

Chicago Cubs

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Short-A    Nwn       Eugene            Nwn       Boise

From a neutral park (1001) to slightly less neutral park (1020). That’s
about as flavorful as the parent organization’s off-season changes. When
you’re 12 and your girlfriend offers her chewed gum to you, you take it.
When you’re 22, it’s just gross. That’s the Cubs: chewed gum.

Cincinnati Reds

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
High-A     Mid       Clinton           Cal       Mudville

Following a mandate from Major League Baseball, the Reds shipped one of
their Midwest League teams to the California League. The transfer from
Middle-A to High-A means the competition will be stiffer. The Cal is a
hitters’ league, but if you compare Clinton’s 2000 final stats to
Mudville’s 2001 stats-in-progress, expect the change to hurt the hitters
and help the pitchers. Mudville’s park factor of 855 is the lowest in the
minor leagues. If the Reds suddenly seem to have developed a few aces, look
twice.

Colorado Rockies

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Short-A    Nwn       Portland          Nwn       Tri-City
Rookie     Ari       Tucson            Pio       Casper

The only item of interest is that these Rockies’ affiliates will play in
new parks. Last year at Portland, the park favored pitchers. Tri-City
Stadium (unrated) is in Pesco, Wash. The new park in Casper is Wyoming’s
only professional ballpark. It’s called Mike Lansing Field, which on the
face of it should mean it isn’t a hitters’ park.

Detroit Tigers

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Double-A   Sou       Jacksonville      Eas       Erie

Playing at Jacksonville in 2000, the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate enjoyed a
pitchers’ park (979) and still posted the Southern League’s worst ERA. Not
coincidentally, they also finished next to last in strikeouts. The batters
had trouble too, finishing next to last in batting average and in the
second-tier in runs and homers. Erie (1084) was just awful to the Angels’
squad last year, with the pitchers and hitters finishing near the bottom in
the meaningful categories. While it’s true that the Angels are a bad
barometer, don’t expect the change of league or affiliation to help the
Tigers.

Houston Astros

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   FSL       Kissimme          SAL       Lexington
Short-A    NYP       Auburn            NYP       Pittsfield

The Kissimmee affiliate was dissolved after last season. The new team and
park in Lexington have gotten a lot of attention, most notably in a feature
article in the February 19 Baseball America. This is Lexington’s
first team since 1954. At Short-A, the change is from a hitters’ park
(1038) to a pitchers’ park (946).

Kansas City Royals

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   SAL       Charleston, W.Va. Mid       Burlington

The hitters at Charleston had the league’s lowest batting average, runs,
and homers. The park factor was only 980, so it wasn’t as if they were
struggling in Mudville. The talent is just poor. The change to Burlington
(1057) might help a very little. The pitchers at Charleston last year had
an alarming inability to strike anyone out. Only a couple of Charleston
pitchers rated write-ups in Baseball Prospectus 2001, and they’ve
moved on. The team finished 53-80. But some would say it’s just A ball, and
indicative of nothing.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Triple-A   PCL       Albuquerque       PCL       Las Vegas
Double-A   Tex       San Antonio       Sou       Jacksonville
Middle-A   Cal       San Bernardino    SAL       Wilmington    
Short-A    Nwn       Yakima            N/A       N/A
Rookie     N/A       N/A               GCL       Vero Beach

Like their colleagues at Disney, the Fox Corporation shuffled their
baseball division’s affiliates following last season. The change from
Albuquerque (park factor 1075) to Las Vegas (1052) is unimportant. It just
makes Mike Judd’s flight shorter. At Double-A, the change is from an
extreme hitters’ league to a neutral league, and from an extreme pitchers’
park (903) to a relatively neutral park (979). Mostly, this just means
you’ll have less normalizing to do. The ease of analysis means that taking
the Dodgers’ Double-A prospects stats at face value won’t be an act of
recklessness. After the move from San Bernardino (976) to the new park in
Wilmington, N.C., the Dodgers will have only one High-A affiliate, Vero
Beach in the Florida State League.

Milwaukee Brewers

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
High-A     Cal       Mudville          Cal       High Desert
Rookie     Pio       Helena            Ari       Provo

This is the minors’ most eye-catching off-season move. Mudville (855) is
the most extreme pitchers’ park in the minor leagues, while High Desert
(1139) is the most extreme hitters’ park. It’s something like going from
Comerica Park to Coors Field. At Mudville, the Brewers had the California
League’s second-best ERA, while at High Desert, the Diamondbacks affiliate
had the league’s worst. The spread between the Brewers’ pitching talent and
that of the D’backs’ isn’t much.

This will be simple: the Brewers’ hitters will appear to have improved, the
pitchers will appear to have gotten worse, and no one should pay it any
attention. Instead, just wait for next year’s Davenport Translations to put
it all in context. The Arizona League affiliate Provo will play in Larry H.
Miller Field at Miller Park. On information and belief, I note that the
park was not named after the comedian.

Minnesota Twins

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Triple-A   PCL       Salt Lake City    PCL       Edmonton

Edmonton (1030) is only slightly less cozy than Salt Lake (1103). Hitters
will still do fine there, pitchers slightly better than they did in Utah.
The focus should be on who’s there. While the White Sox like to promote
from Double-A to the majors, the Twins like to expose their players to the
Pacific Coast League before calling them up. The constitution of the roster
will be more interesting than the change of affiliation. Of course, it’s
still an extreme league, so don’t forget to account for the effects before
concluding that, say, Michael Cuddyer has gotten the hang of it, or
that Adam Johnson can’t handle the jump from Ft. Myers.

Montreal Expos

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   SAL       Cape Fear         Mid       Clinton

A lateral move. Similar league, similar park. For those of you who have
seen Waiting for Guffman, do you remember the closing lines from
"Nothing Ever Happens on Mars?" Boring, boring, boring, boring.
The Expos are Mars.

New York Mets

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Short-A    NYP       Pittsfield        NYP       Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Mets. That’s the point of interest here. Culturally
interesting but a non-starter for statheads. It’s an unrated ballpark.

Philadelphia Phillies

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   SAL       Piedmont          SAL       Lakewood

Hell of a year at Piedmont. The move to Lakewood means a new park, unrated.
The Sally League is now in Jersey.

St. Louis Cardinals

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Double-A   Tex       Arkansas          Eas       New Haven

The move is to a similar park (from a park factor of 981 to 970) but a much
better environment for pitchers. The Arkansas staff got lit up last year,
even with the benefit of a pitchers’ park. Finishing last in strikeouts,
they just put too many balls in play. New Haven, on the other hand, was
wonderful for the Mariners’ young pitchers, who led the Eastern League in
ERA. But they also allowed the fewest walks and had the most strikeouts.
Unlike the Cardinals’ pitchers, they kept the ball out of play. The New
Haven Ravens won their league’s championship last year. Don’t expect a repeat.

San Diego Padres

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Triple-A   PCL       Las Vegas         PCL       Portland
High-A     Cal       Rancho Cucamonga  Cal       Lake Elsinore
Short-A    N/A       N/A               Nwn       Eugene
Rookie     Ari       Peoria            N/A       N/A

In the Northwest League, the park at Portland had a rating of 948, but the
park has undergone major reconstruction to accommodate its ascendency to
Triple-A. The construction won’t be complete until May, so the club will
play its initial home games in Pesco, Wash., home of the Rockies’ relocated
Northwest League affiliate.

Las Vegas was the way station for last year’s surprises, Brian
Tollberg
and Will Cunnane, who both pitched well in an
unfriendly environment. This year, expect Brian Lawrence and
Wascar Serrano to "surprise." Jacob Peavy,
Dennis Tankersley and Gerik Baxter, who all got good
write-ups in Baseball Prospectus 2001, will pass through Lake
Elsinore before surprising everyone next year. Lake Elsinore is, like
Rancho Cucamonga, a pitchers’ park, just a little more so, and maybe just
enough to off-set the league’s tendency to favor hitters.

San Francisco Giants

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   Cal       Bakersfield       SAL       Hagerstown

Blue Jays’ hitters were terrible at Hagerstown, even though it’s a hitters’
park (1072). The Giants’ hitters were second in runs and homers at
Bakersfield, which was only a mild hitters’ park (1012). Expect the
Hagerstown fans to have more fun with the Giants around. Note of no
consequence: Hagerstown has never won a pennant.

Seattle Mariners

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Double-A   Eas       New Haven         Tex       San Antonio
High-A     Cal       Lancaster         Cal       San Bernardino

The Mariners do a great job of sheltering their developing arms. Except for
the short-season squad at Everett, every Mariners’ affiliate plays in a
pitchers’ park: Tacoma (916), San Antonio (903), San Bernardino (976) and
Wisconsin (982). So even when their prospects pitch in hitters’ leagues
like the PCL and Texas League, the Mariners minimize the risk of shellshock.

At New Haven (970) the Ms led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio. The
move to San Antonio, an extreme pitchers’ park, will only help. The move
from Lancaster (1103) to San Bernardino will help, too, since the Ms led
that league in K/BB ratio, too, even though they were in a hostile
environment, And as they did at Double-A, the Ms have moved their
California League team from a hitters’ park to a pitchers’ park.

The point is that it’s not just the parks. Unlike the Angels, the Ms have
gotten their pitchers to control the game by keeping the ball out of play.
And while the Angels have moved into parks hostile to pitching, the Ms have
given cover to their pitchers at every level. That’s the upside. The
downside is that we might never know if Greg Wooten is really any good.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
High-A     FSL       St. Petersburg    Cal       Bakersfield

The move is to a slightly better hitters’ park in a better hitters’ league,
not that the D-Rays have any hitters who will take advantage of it. Look
twice if their toolsy hitters appear to have improved.

Toronto Blue Jays

2001       2000      2000              2001      2001
Level      League    Affiliate         League    Affiliate
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Middle-A   SAL       Hagerstown        SAL       Charleston, W.Va.
Short-A    NYP       Queens            NYP       Auburn

This is a big change. They’ve gone from the second-best hitters’ park in
the Sally League to a pitchers’ park. And they couldn’t hit in the hitters’
park. Baseball Prospectus 2001 is high on Toronto’s organizational
depth, but there wasn’t anything happening at Hagerstown last year. No
Hagerstown batter rated a write-up in the book. The team finished near the
bottom in the meaningful batting categories. The park change won’t make it
better.

No Changes:

Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians,
Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas
Rangers

Keith Scherer can be reached at
KJSbaseball@aol.com.