If the optimism expressed during the Williamsport Crosscutters recent Facebook Live Town Hall is an accurate gauge, the franchise’s affiliation with the new MLB Draft League should be a home run.
“We are excited about the new opportunity,” said Gabe Sinicropi, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations. “Our number one goal was to remain affiliated with Major League Baseball.”
Sinicropi and Doug Estes, Vice President, General Manager, hosted the event, which provided clarity on the team’s future. The outlook for Williamsport had been murky since last fall when Major League Baseball’s plan to reform the minor leagues by cutting more than 40 teams became public. The list of clubs on the chopping block included the Crosscutters.
At the team’s Hot Stove Banquet in January, Principal Owner and President Peter Freund stated his commitment to keep the Crosscutters in Williamsport. On Nov. 30, that pledge came to fruition when MLB announced the Crosscutters as a founding member of its Draft League, an amateur wood-bat loop designed to showcase the top draft-eligible high school and college players.
Besides Williamsport, the new league is comprised of three other members of the now defunct New York-Penn League: the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes and West Virginia Black Bears. Other teams in the league include the Trenton (NJ) Thunder, formerly of the Double-A Eastern League and the Frederick (MD) Keys whose former home was the long season A Carolina League.
Operated by Major League Baseball and Prep Baseball Report – a prominent scouting and showcase service – the MLB Draft League is the first in the country to focus on draft-eligible prospects. The league will feature a 68-game schedule that will run from late May through mid-August. In conjunction with the league’s creation, the MLB Draft has been moved from early June to All-Star Weekend in mid-July and will consist of 20 rounds instead of its customary 40.
Sinicropi and Estes offered specifics about the Crosscutters’ future in the MLB Draft League and answered questions submitted by Facebook viewers throughout the hour-long session. Here’s what we learned:
A tough year
Estes admitted that “we were all kind of in shock and wondering what the next step was” when MLB revealed its intent to reduce the minor leagues upon expiration of its agreement with MiLB in September. Despite such uncertainty, the Crosscutters planned for a successful 2020 season, which would have been its last in the New York-Penn League, a short-season Class-A circuit. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season’s cancelation.
“Trying times” is how Estes described it. However, ownership support provided solace. “They were 100% committed to Williamsport,” Estes said. “We’re thankful the ownership group was behind the 2021 season, no matter what that was.”
Major changes to Minor League Baseball
“The way Minor League Baseball has been for decades has now changed. Nothing is the same,” Sinicropi said.
The minor leagues have been trimmed from 160 to 120 teams comprising Triple A, Double A, High A and Low A levels, plus complex leagues at MLB Spring Training sites and Dominican Summer Leagues. Short-season pro leagues affiliated with MLB teams are no more.
MLB’s stated impetus for change is to have improved minor league facilities for player development, reduce travel time with the geographic reorganization of leagues and for MLB teams to have less players in their minor league system while paying them higher wages
Some clubs who lost their MLB affiliation have opted to join one of a couple independent leagues in existence. Estes said that wasn’t a viable option for the Williamsport market because such teams are financially responsible for the salaries of players and coaches.
Everything old is new again
“There will be no difference from a fan standpoint,” Sinicropi said about attending Crosscutters games in 2021. “The hot dogs will be hot and the beer will be cold.”
The food, games, promotions and fun family entertainment (including fireworks) that have become synonymous with the Crosscutters will continue. The front office staff remains unchanged, and Boomer and Director of Smiles Rhashon will still call BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field home.
The Kids Club and Senior Loggers Club will be back, as will special events such as the Dominican Plate Dinner.
Even the uniforms will be the same, except for an MLB Draft League shoulder patch replacing a Phillies patch.
As for tickets, prices for MVP Club Season Ticket Packages, Bonus Books, Mini-Plans and single-game seats will remain at 2020 levels.
Speaking of tickets
A food and beverage credit has been added at no charge to all MVP Club Season Ticket Packages for 2021. The amount of credit depends on the particular ticket plan.
For those who paid for a 2020 ticket package and elected to roll it over to 2021, Sinicropi said, “Your seats are already reserved.” A team representative will be in contact in January to discuss options for using the 10% credit that was part of the rollover agreement.
Sinicropi noted that Bonus Books are always popular gifts during the holiday season. However, because the MLB Draft League schedule isn’t finalized, Bonus Books won’t be available prior to Jan 1. Sinicropi suggested purchasing gift cards online that could be used to buy Bonus Books when they are available in the new year.
The 10-Voucher Bonus Books will be $59 each and a 6-Voucher option will cost $35.
Phillies plus 29
Estes and Sinicropi lauded Williamsport’s “tremendous” 14-year affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies that expired on Sept. 30. But thanks to the new league, Crosscutters fans will see players who could be drafted by any of the 30 MLB clubs, instead of only prospects in the Philadelphia organization.
Put me in coach
How will player quality in the MLB Draft League compare to the New York-Penn League? “Seems it should be better,” Estes said. “We’re going to have high-level guys. A few years down the road, we hope to see several in Major League Baseball.”
Estes estimated that each past Williamsport team had three to four players who eventually advanced to MLB. Since the majority of players in the MLB Draft League are projected to be top prospects, he thinks the number of Williamsport players making it to “the show” will multiply.
The duo revealed that Major League Baseball and Prep Baseball Report will be responsible for assigning players and coaches to all the teams in the league. They expect the roster size to be about 30 players, who will be classified as amateurs since they won’t be getting paid.
Sinicropi said MLB’s plan is to push college freshmen to the Appalachian League, sophomores to the Cape Cod League and juniors and seniors, as well as elite high school seniors, to the MLB Draft League.
“This will be the spot for players to get a final look by all 30 teams with scouts watching in person or virtually,” Sinicropi said. “They will be able to show their stuff in the six weeks prior to the draft.”
After they are drafted, Estes said it’s his hope that the players will remain in Williamsport for the final couple weeks of the season.
The Crosscutters’ schedule should be released by the end of January, according to Sinicropi. The season will begin and end about two weeks earlier than in the past. It has not yet been decided if a playoff structure will be part of the league.
A long-term commitment
With the backing of MLB and its strong desire for the Draft League to succeed, Sinicropi and Estes are confident that the initiative ensures that baseball will remain in Williamsport for the foreseeable future. The initial contract between the Crosscutters and the MLB Draft League is for five years, according to Estes.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Crosscutters’ Hot Stove Banquet has been canceled for next month, but Sinicropi said the popular event will return in the future.
Estes reported that the team has purchased “a slew” of supplies and equipment that will facilitate disinfecting all areas of the stadium complex.
Any capacity limits or other restrictions won’t be known until closer to the start of the season, but Sinicropi said fans will need to be “flexible” if social-distancing measures are imposed.
As for players’ housing arrangements, Estes said they will not use host families for the 2021 season because of COVID-19. He expects host families to resume their vital role in future seasons.
A blast from the past
Evan Porter, a member of the 2009 Crosscutters and current head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, joined the Facebook Live event for a couple minutes to reminisce about his experiences in Williamsport and share his joy about the team’s new lease on life in the MLB Draft League.
“Boy am I excited about the recent news that baseball will still be played at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport,” he said. “What a great opportunity for the city and the community. The league sounds so exciting.”
Porter – flanked by a “borrowed” Crosscutters batting helmet – proudly shared a scrapbook of news clippings from the 2009 season made by loyal Crosscutters boosters “Sylvia and Fran.”
Thanks to the new MLB Draft League, Williamsport will be the source of countless such memories for years to come. Go Cutters!