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MLB announces new structure for minor league system

The minors will have a different look in 2021.

Minnesota Twins v Milwaukee Brewers

Earlier this week, MLB announced its new structure for the minor leagues. With four main levels, each composed of exactly 30 teams (one per MLB team), there’s more of a balance than before. The restructuring of the minors also means that some previous rivalries will be broken up, while new ones will form within the new divisions. The new minor league schedule will also feature 142 games for Triple-A teams and 120 games for the Double-A and Class A sqauds. Let’s compare, team by team, how the old and new divisions stack up.

First, let’s look at the new Triple-A setup. Previously, there had been a 16-team Pacific Coast League (covering the west coast and central US) and 14-team International League (focused more on the east coast). The new alignment is similar, but there are some big changes. Triple-A will be divided between the East and West, with the East containing 20 teams and the West 10 teams. In the East, there will be three divisions (Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast), two containing seven teams and one of six teams. The West will feature and even split of five teams between East and West.

For the Sounds, here’s what their old and new divisions will look like:

  • Previous Division (PCL American Northern): Iowa Cubs, Memphis Redbirds, Nashville Sounds, Omaha Storm Chasers
  • New Division (Triple-A East / Southeast): Charlotte Knights, Durham Bulls, Gwinnett Stripers, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Memphis Redbirds, Nashville Sounds, Norfolk Tides

It’s a pretty big shift for the Sounds. Only one of their previous division opponents (Memphis Redbirds) are still in their division. Iowa and Omaha move to the Midwest Division within Triple-A East, so the teams will still play, just in a reduced capacity.

Moving to the Double-A level, this will feature three regions: the Central (10 teams), Northeast (12 teams), and South (8 teams). The Biloxi Shuckers will be in South region’s South Division. Here’s how those divisions will change for the Shuckers:

  • Previous Division (Southern League South Division): Biloxi Shuckers, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Mississippi Braves, Mobile BayBears, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
  • New Division (Double-A South / South): Biloxi Shuckers, Mississippi Braves, Montgomery Biscuits, Pensacola Blue Wahoos

The Shuckers will still retain divisional matchups against the Mississippi Braves and Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the new alignment. Jacksonville and Mobile are gone, with Jacksonville moving up to Triple-A and Mobile (who moved and rebranded to the Rocket City Trash Pandas) playing in the North Division. Montgomery will join the Shuckers’ division, a familiar opponent who was previously in the Southern League’s North Division.

For the High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, it may be a new level in the minors, but it will feel very familiar for them. The new High-A structure also features three regions: the Central (12 teams), East (12 teams), and West (6 teams). Here’s how those divisions compare:

  • Previous Division (Midwest League Western Division): Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Kane County Cougars, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
  • New Division (High-A Central / West): Beloit Snappers, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Cubs, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Five of the eight teams previously from the Midwest League Western Division remain together here. Burlington, Clinton, and Kane County are on the outside looking in, not getting an invite to the new minor league system and will play in independent leagues. South Bend moves from the East to the West, joining the division with these other five teams. The rest of the East division in the Central region is basically the previous Midwest League Eastern Division.

Finally, there’s the Low-A Carolina Mudcats. There will be three regions, the East (12 teams), Southeast (10 teams), and West (8 teams). Though they shift down a level, they will keep many of the same opponents. Here’s how their divisions look:

  • Previous Division (Carolina League Southern Division): Carolina Mudcats, Down East Wood Ducks, Fayetteville Woodneckers, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Winston-Salem Dash
  • New Division (Low-A East / Central Division): Carolina Mudcats, Down East Wood Ducks, Fayetteville Woodpeckers, Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

Three of the teams remain together, while Kannapolis moves over from the South Atlantic league. Myrtle Beach remains in the same league, while Winston-Salem stays at the High-A level in the High-A East.

That’s how the new leagues will look in the minors. There will be many similarities, though there will also be some new teams to watch. The season will see a small delay in the lower levels, but many of these teams will be back in action for the first time in a year, ready to compete in the new minors.