The Cubs will largely retain their same Minor League affiliates in 2021.
Minor League Baseball is changing in a big way – as Major League Baseball assumes control over the system moving forward. For some teams, that means major shifts. For cities across the country with a love affair of their local MiLB organization, hearts were broken. Thankfully, for most of the Chicago Cubs affiliates, the news was positive.
As always, the Iowa Cubs and Tennessee Smokies will be the representatives at the Triple-A and Double-A level, respectively. The Single-A teams also stay the same with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and the South Bend Cubs. The short-season Eugene Emeralds are no longer in affiliation with the team.
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Iowa will be entering their 40th season as the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in 2021. The Smokies will be entering their 14th season as an affiliate organization. The Pelicans will be entering their sixth, same with South Bend.
The Iowa Cubs-Chicago Cubs relationship is the second longest between any MLB and MiLB organization. The Kansas City Royals-Omaha Storm Chasers is the longest, having been around since 1969. The Atlanta Braves had an affiliate with the Richmond Braves until 2008, before the franchise relocated to Gwinnett, Georgia beginning in the 2009 season. That partnership has been going since 1966.
All 30 Major League teams announced their four minor league affiliations today, as part of MLB’s restructuring of the Minor League system. The proposal includes two independent league teams becoming Triple-A affiliates, the St. Paul Saints for the Minnesota Twins and the Sugar Land Skeeters for the Houston Astros.
The number of total Minor League teams has dropped from 160 to 120, according to ESPN. The landscape and structure of the family atmosphere that is Minor League Baseball will never be the same.
For the Cubs, this means newly drafted players may go straight to low-level Single-A right out of the draft, rather than the short-season league. That would be quite a jump for players like 2020 first round pick Ed Howard, unless the Cubs opt to keep him in Arizona for more instruction. Players like Jordan Nwogu, however, who played four years at Michigan will go right to South Bend and be just fine.
Some names to watch from the system in 2021 are Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, and Miguel Amaya. Those are the three well-known prospects, and the top three in the system, but guys like pitcher Kohl Franklin and infielder Chase Strumpf should be ready to make a jump up to a higher level.
Two unheralded names that are starting to gain some traction not only with the Cubs but around baseball are infielder Christopher Morel and pitcher Jack Patterson. Patterson is the 27th ranked prospect, and Morel is the 11th ranked prospect in the system. Strumpf and Franklin rank in the top 10. It will be interesting to watch how these players are in actual game action again having missed all of 2020 due to COVID-19.
The reduction of the minor leagues makes it harder for players to break into professional baseball now, and it’s a sad day, because a lot of baseball fans’ first exposure to the game was their local minor league team.