After 17 seasons, Great Falls no longer part of White Sox system

The Great Falls Voyagers are no longer part of the White Sox, but at least they’re not extinct.

Two big dominoes of minor-league realignment fell on Monday, with the Pioneer League joining the Appalachian League as former short-season rookie-ball leagues knocked out of the affiliated system. While the Appalachian League is being transformed into a summer amateur wood bat league, the Pioneer League is a “professional partner league.” It joins the ranks of the Atlantic League, American Association and Frontier League, but the Pioneer League will be tailored toward recently undrafted amateurs and other players released early in their careers.

All eight members of the Pioneer League will continue to operate, with the only change being the relocation of the Orem Owlz to Windsor, Colo., where they will be the Northern Colorado Owlz.

It’s a downgrade for the Voyagers, but as the Great Falls Tribune’s reaction shows, it’s better than no baseball at all. The league will get some early assistance from Major League Baseball as it shifts into an independent model tasked with acquiring its own players, after which it will expect to be self-sustaining. One point in its favor: The Pioneer League drew fairly well for its level. In fact, it had more support in the Mountain West than the Florida State League, which is expected to remain an A-ball league.

What the FSL lacks in fans it makes up for in efficiency, as those teams largely use their spring training camps. The Pioneer League had been hanging out in Rocky Mountain outposts since 1939. Its seclusion is a big part of its charm, but if you’re not the sentimental type, it’s a loose end to clip off.

The White Sox had been partners with the Voyagers since 2003 — long enough that Chris Getz could go from making his pro debut in Great Falls in 2005 to sending players there as the team’s player development director. He didn’t sound like a fan of the proposed streamlining at the start of the year.

“I’m a proponent of more players, to be honest with you,” said Getz, adding that the Sox would search for another affiliate to replace the function of Great Falls if it were eliminated. “We’re all still kind of gathering information. I’m not sure how this whole thing is going to play out. We’ve enjoyed being in Great Falls. We continue to be there. The front office there has been great to us. Personally, I’ve had good memories up there as a player.”

It’s unclear how the White Sox might replace Great Falls, if it’s indeed possible. Perhaps they can run two Arizona League teams, or maybe this paragraph in Baseball America’s report suggests teams might be able to professionally partner with Pioneer League teams in some capacity:

The Missoula Paddleheads in their release announcing their participation in the new league suggested that some of the league’s players could be affiliated players under contract with MLB teams who have been loaned to the Pioneer League clubs. Multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations said that no such agreement for player loans has been reached between MLB and the Pioneer League.

BA then reported that Major League Baseball is increasing the organizational roster limit from 150ish player to 180, creating the possibility for a second complex team or alternate arrangements such as the one Missoula may have leaked. However, if this is indeed where the White Sox’s connection to Great Falls closes, you can call the separation amicable.

* * * * * * * * *

As for the other domino, Major League Baseball announced the creation of the MLB Draft League, a six-team setup that has officially named five teams so far — four from the short-season A-ball New York-Penn League, as well as the Trenton Thunder, formerly of the Eastern League.

The MLB Draft League will play a 68-game schedule starting in late May, and Baseball America laid out the arrangement:

While high school players will be allowed to participate, the league is primarily designed for players who have just completed their junior and senior years of college baseball and are therefore draft eligible. Draft-eligible JUCO players (who are eligible to be drafted after each year of college) would also be a potential target for the six-team league.

The league will begin play in late May and run until mid August. The league is designed to offer draft-eligible players a chance to play in the leadup to the draft, which has been moved from its traditional early June date to an early July date that coincides with MLB’s All-Star weekend.

It strikes me as the equivalent of an Arizona Fall League, where a top prospect only stands to lose prestige with a poor showing, but prospects who were injured or blocked might have a stage for standing out.

Add it all up, and Major League Baseball has reassigned 23 of 43 affiliated teams it intends to contract.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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asinwreck

Speaking of minor-league ball in northern states, the Mike Veeck-owned St. Paul Saints are about to become the Twins’ AAA affiliate:

The St. Paul Saints will leave independent baseball to become the Class AAA team for the Twins. What’s unclear is if the Saints are paying the entire cost of entering affiliated ball — reports over the summer indicated a cost of as much as $20 million — or if the Twins will contribute.

Michael Kenny

Man, I wish we had an affiliate within 500 miles, let alone in the next town over. Would’ve been nice to beat the Cubs to South Bend.

SoxSideMike

They did! The South Bend White Sox then Silver Hawks were the Sox A team from 88 – 97.

asinwreck

Yep, an unfortunate decision. Before that, losing the longstanding Iowa Oaks affiliation to the Cubs after 1980 played into the Tribune Corporation’s successful marketing of Chicago’s lesser team in the western periphery.

denman

Wow, I live about 3 blocks from the St. Paul Saints’ stadium and I hadn’t heard that the Saints were to become a Twins affiliate (asinwreck is really on top of things). There was a undeniable charm watching a team composed primarily of skilled players not quite talented enough to hold a place with a Major league organization. Some players entertained hopes of earning a look from a big league club. Occasionally there’d be a Darryl Strawberry or JD Drew; Major leaguers with career paths that landed them in the Northern league for a season. But, most of the Saints’ players were clearly playing because they loved playing the game even though their abilities were a tad short of elite. I do hope that sense of playing for the love of the game will not be lost now that the Saints’ are a Twins affiliate.

egib52

I am guessing since we haven’t heard anything, the Sox affiliates will be the same minus one or two low level. I was holding out hope they would move a team to Schaumburg, Joliet, Rosemont, Peoria or the like.

asinwreck

The Sox have announced their coaches. In addition to Miguel Cairo and Ethan Katz, Dave Duncan’s son Shelley joins the staff as “analytics coordinator,” and Howie Clark (late of the Orioles) replaces Scott Coolbaugh as the assistant hitting coach. McEwing moves to 3B coach, and Boston, Menechino, and Hasler have unchanged responsibilities.

asinwreck

And there is news regarding the manager aside from his staff. James Fegan reports Dec. 21 is now a date of particular interest in Tony La Russa’s DUI case:

A change of plea hearing has now been scheduled for Dec. 21, a Maricopa County Justice Courts spokesperson confirmed. Two misdemeanor counts stemming from La Russa’s Feb. 24 arrest in Phoenix were filed in Kyrene Justice Court on Nov. 16. An initial not guilty plea was submitted on La Russa’s behalf by attorney Larry Kazan, and a pre-trial conference was scheduled for Dec. 28.

Josh Nelson

The Change of Plea is scheduled for 10:00 am MT/ 11:00 am CT.

Just in case if you were wondering when there would be more shared about the DUI case.

Josh Nelson

theSKOT

Considering how concrete the evidence was, this seemed like the only possible outcome.

I will be very curious to see what (if anything) the White Sox to do address the “seriousness” of driving a 5000lb SUV while drunk.

Trooper Galactus

Do you honestly expect them to address it? I’d be surprised if they so much as make a milquetoast press statement.

theSKOT

“Tony deserves all the assumptions and protections granted to everyone in a court of law, especially while this is a pending matter,” the team said Thursday in a statement. “Once his case reaches resolution in the courts, we will have more to say. The White Sox understand the seriousness of these charges.”

When they say things like that, I do expect them to say speak up (not holding my breath for anything substantive, but who knows.) The question is can the 1.5 White Sox beat reporters left pry it out of the org?

LamarJohnson

Does anyone have any links or sources to the fate of other minor league teams low-A and higher that have been dropped? I’m curious about the Charleston Riverdogs (which was a Yankees affiliate). They were my main means to check out Kannapolis for one or two series per year, and it is a nice ballpark with pretty decent attendance. Mike Veeck and Bill Murray are owners, too.