We already knew it was coming, but on Tuesday, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was officially canceled in what’s yet another unfortunate blow to a league that’s scheduled to experience drastic changes in the near future.
Earlier today Minor League Baseball announced that there will not be a 2020 season. This season would have marked the Braves' 16th season at Trustmark Park.
— Mississippi Braves (@mbraves) June 30, 2020
For top-tier prospects and some veteran journeymen, this past Sunday’s deadline for MLB’s 60-man player pools provided those with at least a chance to play baseball in 2020 (as well as a paycheck). However, a large swath of minor league players across the country will be left without a job this year. And with COVID-19 currently reaching daily highs never seen before, it’s extremely doubtful there will be anything for these idle players to do.
“While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.” — Pat O’Conner, MiLB President
Except, given the current Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball is set to expire in September, and the latter’s unfortunate plan to act on its proposed idea to contract the minors from 160 to 120 affiliates, there are currently at least 40 minor league teams who’ve most likely played their last games… ever. And though no one went into 2020 expecting a global pandemic to shut down the minors, the Braves’ High-A affiliate — the Florida Fire Frogs — is perhaps already on its way out. Tuesday’s news just expedites what was already bound to happen.
You could say it’s been a tough and short-lived life for the Fire Frogs — who came into existence in October of 2016 after spending 12 seasons as the Brevard County Manatees in Viera, Fla. The team went with the Fire Frogs nickname after holding a name-the-team contest, with finalists that involved the Dragonflies, Mud Kickers, Rodeo Clowns Sorcerers, and Toucans (yikes).
From the beginning, Florida never had much success. All three of its seasons as a Braves’ affiliate ended with last-place finishes, including an inaugural 2017 campaign that featured a 48-81 record and less than 900 fans in attendance per home game. With matching 54-82 campaigns over the last two seasons, the Fire Frogs were never much competition in High-A’s Florida State League (FSL).
However, that doesn’t mean Florida didn’t help serve as a location for former Braves’ prospects. The team might’ve been bad overall, but the majority of its existence in the first place was to help promote the organization’s talent… and that it did.
- In 2017, it was a 20-year-old Austin Riley and 21-year-old Alex Jackson who led Florida’s offense even though neither one of them was there all year. And despite struggling with run-prevention (5.04 ERA), a 21-year-old Touki Toussaint led the team with 123 strikeouts in 19 starts.
- A 19-year-old Cristian Pache starred for the Fire Frogs in 2018, posting 105 hits in 93 games, and an entire cavalry of young pitching prospects reached the club. Ian Anderson, Tucker Davidson, Jeremy Walker, Kyle Muller, Thomas Burrows, and Joey Wentz (now in the Tigers’ organization) all made significant contributions in Florida during the ’18 season, led by Anderson and his 2.52 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 20 starts.
- Last season the Fire Frogs’ lineup was highlighted mostly by players not found near the top of the Braves’ prospect rankings. Guys like Jefrey Ramos, Riley Delgado and Kevin Josephina benefited from their time in Florida, as well as star catching prospect William Contreras. Pitcher Jasseel De La Cruz tossed the team’s first ever no-hitter and a 26-year-old Philip Pfeifer put together a breakout season by pacing the club with 110 strikeouts in 16 games (which essentially landed his name on the Braves’ recently released 60-man roster).
You see, even though the Fire Frogs were never any good and no one really went to the games… the team certainly played an integral part within the Braves’ organization. As shown above, Florida wasn’t just another minor league affiliate, it was a place that allowed numerous players to showcase their talent, which in turn, either began or continued their pro careers. Unfortunately… not anymore.
Despite my own frustrations regarding the upcoming contraction of the minors, it’s difficult to criticize Tuesday’s decision to cancel the 2020 season. It’s one thing for MLB to use its resources to pull off a season during unprecedented times, but expecting MiLB to also do so was a bit of a stretch. Just the sheer amount of players and personnel involved would’ve made hosting a season a monumental task. Although, even if minor league teams wanted to play in 2020, they simply couldn’t, given the fact that MLB wasn’t willing to assign players to any affiliates (hence the creation of taxi squads and 60-man rosters). Some may not realize, but minor league players — even though they aren’t represented by the MLB Players Union — are owned by MLB.
As a result, the minors has been slashed into two different classes of players, with one class getting quite the short end of the stick. As we saw from the Braves’ 60-man roster on Sunday, most of the organization’s prospects were included on the list, meaning even if they don’t contribute towards the big league team they’ll still get paid and have a place to train in 2020. However, prospects cover only a tiny fraction of MiLB, resulting in thousands of professional players with nowhere to continue their development. There has been talk that perhaps MLB teams would give these players special permission to play in independent leagues this season, but some have already been canceled as well. So far, minor league players left off the 60-man roster can only count on their $400 weekly stipend, which as of Tuesday, every MLB team has agreed to pay. However, most teams have only guaranteed that stipend through July. Therefore, a league-wide standard in regards to paying minor leaguers will need to be worked out soon.