Minor League Reorganization
From BR Bullpen
There have been two main periods of minor league reorganization. During these times major changes were put into place which affected the way major league teams choose their affiliates and the way the leagues were structured.
The first and largest was before the 1963 season. It was at this time the classifications were renamed. Classes B, C, D, and E were dropped in favor of the currently used A based rankings: AAA, AA, A and A (short-season) as well as the Rookie-Advanced class. This caused many leagues to be reclassified. The Eastern League moved up to AA as did the Southern League. The Carolina League moved from B to A. The Northern League and California League went from C to A. The Florida State League, Midwest League, Western Carolinas League (later renamed the South Atlantic League) and the Georgia-Florida League all moved to A from D.
The New York-Penn League became a A (short-season) league, having previously been a D League. The other short season A league, the Northwest League, had been a B league. The new Rookie-Advanced class was filled by the formerly C Pioneer League and D Appalachian League.
The biggest move of the reformation was dissolution of the American Association. The six team league saw three of its teams cease operations (Dallas Ft. Worth, Louisville and Omaha) while the remaining three joined the two remaining AAA leagues. The Indianapolis Indians joined the International League for a season before moving on to join the Denver Bears and Oklahoma City 89ers in the Pacific Coast League. An expansion team, the Arkansas Travelers, joined Indianapolis in the International League for their one year run.
Following Major League Baseball’s decision to expand from 28 to 30 teams in 1998, the decision was made to make major changes to the minor league system over the next four seasons. Some of the moves were necessary to make way for the new minor league affiliates of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
In 1998 the AAA affiliates were added for the two new major league teams. The Durham Bulls were promoted from single A to AAA and joined the International League. The other AAA expansion team was the Memphis Redbirds. Memphis had previously been a AA team. The Redbirds joined the St. Louis Cardinals organization and the Pacific Coast League. With the Diamondbacks bringing major league baseball to Phoenix, the AAA Phoenix Firebirds had to move. They were able to find a new home in Fresno, CA as they became the Fresno Grizzlies.
The biggest move that off-season was the dissolution of the American Association once again. The Pacific Coast League absorbed five of the American Association teams (Iowa Cubs, Omaha Royals, Oklahoma Redhawks, Nashville Sounds and New Orleans Zephyrs) in addition to the expansion Memphis squad to go from a 10 team league to a 16 team league. The International League took Durham and the remaining three teams from the American Association: Buffalo Bisons, Louisville Redbirds and Indianapolis Indians. The league hosted the remaining 14 AAA Affiliates.
Things went smoother in 1999 as the Eastern League added two teams. This allowed for all 30 Major League teams to have their own AA affiliate. This was the last step in creating complete farm systems for the two 1998 expansion clubs. The Erie SeaWolves and Altoona Curve joined the league, though neither team would be affiliated with the Diamondbacks or Devil Rays.
While there were no changes in 2000, 2001 brought major changes to the A level. After years of it being unspoken that certain A leagues were better than others it finally became official. The decision was made the every major league team would have one A-Advanced team in one of three leagues: Florida State League, Carolina League and California League. They would also have one A team in either the Midwest League or the South Atlantic League. 28 teams were able to immediately follow this new doctrine while two other had to wait until the player development contracts expired. This caused the Oakland A’s to have two A-Advanced teams and the Houston Astros to have two regular A teams. These changes made it necessary for two clubs to leave the higher ranking leagues and join the lower ranked leagues. The St. Petersburg Devil Rays and Kissimmee Cobras were dropped from the Florida State League. They were replaced by the Wilmington Waves and Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League. The South Atlantic League also saw two of their franchises move that off-season. The Cape Fear Crocs became the Lakewood Blue Claws and the Piedmont Boll Weevils became the Kannapolis Intimidators. Eleven single A teams changed affiliates including seven of the ten California League teams.