Baseball 101 is an ongoing series from The Good Phight’s Allie Foster that breaks down some of the multifaceted aspects of baseball for those fans who might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the game. In this first edition, she looks at the Phillies’ farm system from top to bottom.
While spring training games don’t count for anything, they are useful for more than just getting the players back into game-shape before the regular season starts. For some players, like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, they provide a first look at a new organization. For others, like Dylan Cozens, they represent a chance to prove value and potentially earn a spot on the roster on Opening Day or a call-up later in the season.
There are a lot of players, however, who don’t fit into either of these categories. Guys like Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley, who have a relatively slim chance at making “The Show” at some point this year, still get a chance to gain experience with the major league team.
So where do those guys go once spring training is over? The minor league system is complex and has so many levels it’s sometimes hard to figure out the process. There are actually six different levels within the affiliated minor league system, by far the most out of the four major professional sports. Hockey is the next closest, with two minor league levels. Basketball has one and football has none.
The most commonly recognized affiliations among MLB fans are the Double A and Triple A teams. For the Phillies, these are the Reading Fightins and Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, respectively. These levels are where the most MLB-ready prospects are. They’re also where major league players are generally sent for conditioning stints when returning from injury.
The 2018 Iron Pigs roster was highlighted by Cozens, Drew Anderson, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin and Roman Quinn, until he was called up to the majors. The 2018 Fightins boasted a roster with Cornelius Randolph, Luke Leftwich and JoJo Romero.
Below Double and Triple A is Single A, which is split into three separate levels of its own. There’s Class A-Advanced (Clearwater Threshers), Class A (Lakewood BlueClaws) and Class A short-season (Williamsport Crosscutters). Class A-Advanced is also sometimes known as “High A.” These players are generally multiple years away from being MLB-ready, but can still be high-ranked prospects in a particular organization’s system. For example, 2016 first overall draft pick Mickey Moniak and top pitching prospect Adonis Medina both played in Clearwater during the 2018 campaign. They are typically very young, between 19-24 years old.
Unlike the major league teams, these levels only play around 140 games per season, with the exception of short-season which plays around 60 games. While the others start in April, short-season doesn’t start until June. It’s designed this way so that college players can compete in the College World Series before turning professional.
The final level in baseball’s minor league system is Rookie Ball. Unlike the previously mentioned affiliations, these games don’t actually count towards anything. The entire purpose of the Rookie Leagues is to give newly drafted players a chance to hone their skills.
There are four domestic leagues: The Appalachian League, the Pioneer League, the Arizona League and the Gulf Coast League, and one international league: The Dominican Summer League. The Appalachian League and Pioneer League are both interesting in that they are considered “hybrid” leagues. While technically they fall under the “Rookie” classification, some parent clubs have their short-season teams in these leagues. The Phillies have two affiliated teams in the Gulf Coast League and two in the Dominican Summer League. These teams take on their parent club’s name, so all are called the Phillies.
Despite its complexity, the minor league system has been designed to give players the best shot possible at developing and reaching their potential. Coaches for these teams are carefully selected and supported by the parent clubs in hopes that they can guide these prospects along their journey to the majors. The ultimate goal, of course, is to have the best team in baseball and win the World Series. Teams can’t do that without homegrown talent, so they rely heavily on minor league affiliates to produce their future stars.