Major League Baseball elected to shake up its minor league system beginning in 2021 by reducing the number of teams to 120 across four classes and restructuring leagues that have become synonymous with their communities.
The changes are being felt in Lynchburg.
The Hillcats confirmed they were one of the 120 minor league baseball teams offered an invitation Wednesday. The invitation allows them to remain as an affiliated team with the Cleveland Indians.
Lynchburg has served as Cleveland’s Class A-Advanced affiliate in the Carolina League since 2015, and Wednesday’s invitation would move the Hillcats down to Class A in a league that is still finalizing its name and structure.
Those minor league teams can accept or turn down the invitations. Many reports indicate the invitations include changes needed to be made for the respective affiliates, with potentially a new league to call home and requirements for upgrading facilities high on those list of changes.
The affiliations are not official until the respective teams sign Professional Development Licenses, which will be sent at a later date.
Lynchburg, in a release, said once full details are revealed by Major League Baseball, it will evaluate “the proposal to confirm it meets the necessary criteria for the team, the fans, and the Lynchburg community before the invitation is accepted.”
“Although the last nine months has featured many unknowns, we are excited at the prospect of remaining with the Indians, a team we’ve been affiliated with since 2015 and an organization that helped deliver a championship to the Hill City in 2017,” Hillcats president and general manager Chris Jones said in a written release. “We appreciate Cleveland’s commitment to top-notch player development and working with us to keep professional baseball in Lynchburg for years to come. We can’t wait to host baseball games again at Bank of the James Stadium and do what we do best — provide affordable family fun to our passionate fans.”
The Indians announced the other invitations were sent to Columbus (Class AAA), Akron (Class AA) and Lake County (Class A-Advanced).
The Hillcats and Lake County Captains essentially swapped affiliations. Lake County was the Indians’ Class A affiliate from 2010.
Wednesday’s announcement signified uniformity among the 30 MLB franchises. All will have four affiliates (Class AAA, Class AA, Class A-Advanced and Class A) after years of uneven numbers with some franchises electing to have more than others.
The Hillcats’ pending move to Class A ends a 30-year run as an Class A-Advanced affiliate.
While the potential Class A league is still being finalized, the Hillcats could see familiar faces in the new league.
The Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox), Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs), Carolina Mudcats (Milwaukee Brewers), Down East Wood Ducks (Texas Rangers) and Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Houston Astros) were extended invitations by their respective parent clubs for Class A affiliations.
The Fredericksburg Nationals, formerly the Potomac Nationals, also were extended a Class A affiliate invitation by the Washington Nationals.
Those seven teams were members of the Carolina League this past season. The 2020 minor league season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks (Washington Nationals) and Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox) will remain as Class A-Advanced affiliates based on the invitations they have received from their respective parent clubs.
Wilmington was previously affiliated with the Kansas City Royals.
MLB, in this process, is reducing the number of affiliated minor league teams from 160 to 120. The bulk of those contracted teams were either in rookie or short-season leagues.
Eleven full-season clubs did not receive an invitation Wednesday to join the minors in 2021, and one of those teams is the Frederick Keys. The Keys, previously farmhands of the Baltimore Orioles in the Carolina League, announced Wednesday they were joining the newly formed MLB Draft League that will feature top prospects eligible to be drafted by MLB clubs that summer.
MLB began the process of eliminating minor league affiliates in late September when it converted the Appalachian League, formerly a summer rookie league, to a college summer circuit for rising freshmen and sophomores.
The Danville Braves and Pulaski Yankees remain members of the Appy League as part of the new college summer circuit.