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How The Minor Leagues Work

If you've ever been curious what differentiates Major and Minor League baseball, this post will break down the organizations and acronyms that make of the Minor Leagues.
April 20, 2016

Sure, baseball is known as 'America's pastime', but the reality is that there are only 30 Major League teams. If you don't happen to live in or near one of the 28 American cities that are the homes of those teams, how do you get your live baseball fix?

That's where the minor leagues come in.

While many know about the concept of minor league teams, the specifics of how many levels there are and what each of them does differently than the others is sometimes a mystery, even to pretty knowledgeable baseball fans. And that's understandable - baseball is the only sport to use an expansive minor league development system. The NFL tried it for a while with NFL Europe, a place for players who were great in college but not good enough for the League quite yet could go and hone their skills, but it folded in 2007. The NBA has a Development League, but it isn't very popular. The only comparable sport is hockey, but even they don't have as many varying levels before getting to the big show.

Minor league baseball teams, also known as 'farm teams', are teams made up of players under the control of a major league team, from either signing them as a free agent or by drafting them. Every major league team has a branching system of minor league teams that feed players up to the majors. Let's take a look at each of these levels and the kind of players usually found at each, starting with the lowest levels and moving closer to the majors with each step.

Rookie Ball/Short Season:

The MLB draft happens in the middle of the major league season, so a lot of younger players aren't ready to hop into the middle of an ongoing season, especially players drafted straight out of high school. That's what the short season, or rookie ball season, is for. Short season ball is meant to let newly drafted players get acclimated to the life of a major league ballplayer, with varying degrees of travel involved. For example, the South Atlantic League is one without a whole lot of rigorous travel involved, which works best for players just coming out of high school or for international players acclimating to the United States for the first time.

Low/High-A Ball:

A-ball is the first step toward playing a legitimate professional season as a baseball player. It's where players first have Spring Training and prepare themselves for a 140 game season stretching just over 5 months. Players coming straight out of high school are usually assigned to Low-A while college players, especially ones who come out of major college programs, can start their first full season at High-A.

Double-A Ball:

Double-A baseball is where you'll find a lot of talent. Since it's one step closer to the major leagues, it weeds out a lot of players who don't make the cut talent-wise. At the same time, the amount of talent it takes just to get to Double-A is such a high bar that anyone making it even to this level has major league potential. Double-A is also known as the beginning of the 'upper minors'. Since the competition is so much better, pitchers are usually a lot more advanced than those at Single-A. Double-A pitchers are usually the ones talented enough to not only have the pitching ability to succeed, but the mental preparation to get the most out of that talent, and the same goes with the hitters at this level. Sure, you'll find players with major league experience at the Double-A level, but more often than not this level is full of players who are still ascending to the majors.

Triple-A Ball:

The closest level to the majors, Triple-A is filled with all kinds of players. Some are the game's rising stars, although some of the best players can skip Triple-A and move directly from Double-A to the major leagues. Triple-A is also full of players who have major league experience, some of them having quite a bit of it, as well as established major league players that are rehabbing from injuries that have kept them out of action for an extended period of time. With the combination of old and new stars as well as the occasional major leaguer or two, Triple-A baseball is a fan-favorite place to see all kinds of fan favorite players.

With over 240 minor league teams across the nation, there's a chance one plays closer to you than you think. With lower prices and elite talent at every level, minor league games are a great way to get a live baseball fix without breaking the bank.