MLB seeks less travel with new minor-league alignment; here's how it affects Tigers' four teams

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Major League Baseball on Friday unveiled its new alignment for its slimmed down 120-team minor-league operation, focusing on decreased travel while moving the Triple-A teams closer to the parent clubs when possible.

Toledo, Detroit's Triple-A partner since 1987, remains as the organization's top prospect rung, but now will join the new 20-team Triple-A East league. The Mud Hens had long been part of a 14-team International League.

Muddonna, Toledo's mascot, was given 2020 off, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new league will be divided into three divisions, with Toledo joined by Columbus, Indianapolis, Iowa, Louisville, Omaha and St. Paul in the Midwest division. Other teams in the league include Buffalo, Lehigh Valley, Rochester, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse and Worcester in the Northeast division, and Charlotte, Durham, Gwinnett, Jacksonville, Memphis, Nashville and Norfolk in the Southeast division.

The other 10 Triple-A affiliates will play in the Triple-A West league.

Double-A Erie will play in that level's Northeast league, in the Southwest division joined by Akron, Altoona, Bowie, Harrisburg and Richmond. The Northeast division includes Binghamton, Hartford, New Hampshire, Portland, Reading and Somerset.

High Single A will look much like the old Midwest League for the Tigers' affiliate, West Michigan. The Whitecaps will play in the High-A Central league, in the East division with Dayton, Fort Wayne, Great Lakes (Midland), Lake County and Lansing, while the West will be Beloit, Cedar Rapids, Peoria, Quad City, South Ben and Wisconsin.

The Tigers' Low Single-A affiliate in Lakeland will play in the Low-A Southeast league, in the West division with Bradenton, Clearwater, Dunedin, Fort Myers and Tampa, while the East will include Daytona, Jupiter, Palm Beach and St. Lucie.

The Tigers' flipped West Michigan to High A and Lakeland to Low A this season.

"We are excited to unveil this new model, which not only provides a pipeline to the majors, but continues the minor leagues’ tradition of entertaining millions of families in hundreds of communities," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. In modernizing our minor-league system, we prioritized the qualities that make the minor leagues such an integral part of our game while strengthening how we develop professional athletes on and off the field.

"We look forward to demonstrating the best of our game throughout local communities, supporting all those who are working hard to grow the sport, and sharing unrivaled technology and resources with minor league teams and players.”

MLB cut affiliations with at least 40 minor-league teams, including the Connecticut Tigers, Detroit's short-season A-ball affiliate.

Among the other changes pledged by MLB: Increased pay for minor-leagues by as little as 38% and as much as 72%, starting in 2021, and improved athletic facilities and amenities.

The 2020 minor-league season was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984