From Cape Cod to Alaska, college leagues are keeping an eye on changes in MLB

A few years before becoming the Commissioner of the Alaska Baseball League, Chris Beck pointed to a 6-foot-7 slugger in the Anchorage Glacier Pilot’s uniform and told him to greet his son.

Beck felt about a towering outfielder named Aaron Judge, a freshman at Fresno State University.

“I told my son to go get his autograph, because he was just different,” Beck said.

It’s a typical college summer league experience, and I saw a major league star up close long before his big break. This is what Beck wants State 49 fans to have for years, but he’s not entirely sure they will.

Already plagued by coronavirus pandemics and changing player development, the pool of prospects was limited, but Major League Baseball announced the formation of at least two amateur leagues for professional-minded college players. At that time, college summer leagues like ABL faced another potential obstacle.

Formerly a rookie-level minor league, the Appalachian League will be transformed into a 10-team Woodbat Summer League in 2021 for college students entering the 1st and 2nd grade seasons. Meanwhile, the six-team MLB Draft League will be launched for college and high school students in the year of the draft.

Both leagues were born as MLB affiliated minors were reduced from 160 to 120 and the franchise was diverted to serve amateur talent. The new league will provide these players with top-level coaching, a guaranteed look from professional scouts, and access to the stadium with state-of-the-art cameras and tracking systems that provide valuable data to the Major League Baseball front office. ..

This is usually good news for players who want to get attention. Not very ideal for the league that gave them that chance.

“Whenever MLB gives something their name, they do it well,” Beck said. “They have the money to support it. I think the problem is that some small leagues are going out of business.”

The Woodbat University Summer League has played an important role in developing many major leaguers. Most leagues begin in May or June after the end of the spring college season and are full of professional scouts, offering players high-end competition in parks with some of the same technology as MLB leagues. ..

For decades, the league has been running almost independently of MLB, and the impact is believed to be different.

The Cape Cod League has long been a top destination for college freshmen, producing over 1,400 big leaguers. Cape Cod Commissioner Eric Zumda is his premier stop for players with two years of college experience, as the Appalachian League targets freshmen and sophomores and the MLB Draft League is likely to attract players after the senior season. I hope the league will maintain its position.

“Looking at our history, nothing has changed in that regard,” Zumda said.

In leagues that have already dealt with complications caused by changing player growth, the pressure is more likely to be felt further down. In-game personnel are still important, but they are a low priority for modern players. Pitchers limit their workloads to stay healthy, and players on both sides of the ball focus on other training, such as weightlifting and laboratory work in facilities such as drivelines.

Sean McGrath, Commissioner of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, said recruitment has undoubtedly been a major challenge in recent years, admitting that the new Appalachian League and MLB Draft League could add complexity. ..

Still, he remains an optimistic league as NECBL finds future big leaguers.

“I really don’t believe that every kid playing professional baseball will appear in one of the (new MLB) leagues,” he said.

Northwoods League Commissioner Ryan Voz has a similar view and does not consider MLB intrusion to be an existential threat in its own right.

For starters, league sustainability is not strictly tied to talent. While it would be nice to have MLB stars such as Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Pete Alonso on the NWL alumni list, the franchise’s business model is closer to the value of the community as an affordable family gathering place. Is tied to.

“Fans are looking for good baseball, but they are looking for great entertainment,” Voz said. “And that’s where we feel the North Woods League is really like a combination of all of them.”

Of course, in some leagues, player competition is not the only concern.

Cape and NECBL are members of the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball, a 12-league organization funded by MLB. The league can apply for subsidies worth thousands of dollars for important expenses such as baseball, referee costs, and team trips.

At this time, there are no signs that MLB intends to withdraw its funds, but in the future it could put NACSB members in a difficult position.

“Sure it will have an impact,” McGrath said. “It is many ticket sales or some sponsorships that offset that loss.”

Summer League executives say they are working hard on planning for the 2021 season after losing the most in the pandemic in 2020. The North Woods League is one exception, with hundreds of fans in many games.

Even those who didn’t play remain in a decent financial position. The timing of the coronavirus surge in March meant that the league avoided most of the biggest costs of baseball, bats, referee fees, travel and more.

However, uncertainty remains next season until the status of the virus vaccine is available. The franchise relies on host families for players, which is a potentially dangerous arrangement in the pandemic. They also rely on sponsors and donations from community companies that have been hit harder.

“We are all in trouble when these two things are gone,” Beck said.

Beck’s ABL alumni list includes some of the best baseball players in history, including Tom Seaver, Barry Bonds, and Randy Johnson. Players of that caliber are already less likely to pass through Alaska. Beck hopes that the obstacles presented by 2020 will not make things worse.

“When they can see Aaron Judge, they can remember those who continue to play in the Big League, and when they saw him in Alaska. It’s our attendance and everything. I will help. “


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From Cape Cod to Alaska, college leagues are keeping an eye on changes in MLB

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