The New York Yankees are changing their minor league lineup.
Things at PNC Field will stay the same — the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are still the Triple-A affiliate — but otherwise, New York’s prospects now will travel a different road to the Bronx as part of Major League Baseball’s plan to restructure the minor leagues.
The Somerset Patriots, previously a member of the independent Atlantic League from New Jersey, take the place of the Trenton Thunder at the Double-A level and the Hudson Valley Renegades enter the fold as the High-A affiliate. The Renegades, based in Wappingers Falls, New York, were the Tampa Bay Rays’ team in the short-season New York-Penn League. The Tampa Tarpons, which had been the Yankees’ High-A team, stay in the organization, but drop to Low A instead.
“Restructuring our minor league affiliations — especially with the additions of Somerset and Hudson Valley — gives us greater continuity to streamline and improve the development of our minor league system,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in a press release. “The relationships we have formed with all of our teams will allow for a more consistent application of training with similarly aligned facilities in terms of structure, quality and ease of travel. We are confident that these changes will greatly benefit our players and Yankees fans for many years to come.”
Major League Baseball’s plan will cut the number of minor league affiliates from 160 to 120, with big league clubs limited to just four full-season minor league teams. The Yankees, who had 10 minor league teams, are losing the Charleston RiverDogs (Low A), the Staten Island Yankees (short-season rookie) and the Pulaski Yankees (short-season rookie). They’ll keep developmental complex-level teams in the Gulf Coast League and the Dominican Summer League.
One goal of the restructuring is to cut down on travel. Adding Somerset and Hudson Valley centralizes New York’s top three affiliates within a short distance of Yankee Stadium. The RailRiders are a 2-hour drive from the Bronx; Hudson Valley a 1-hour, 20-minute trip; and Somerset only a 1-hour dash. That means they’re close to each other, too: RailRiders players can get to Somerset — located a just a bit west of New Brunswick, New Jersey — in 2 hours, and they can get to Hudson Valley in 1 hour, 40 minutes. Sending Tampa down a level makes it easier for young players to transition between the Gulf Coast team, which is based at the Yankees’ player development complex in Tampa, and full-season ball.
Trenton was a Yankees affiliate for 18 years, but New York said it preferred Somerset’s TD Bank Ballpark, built in 1999, to the Thunder’s Arm & Hammer Park, which opened in 1994. The Yankees said Trenton and Staten Island have spots waiting for them in the independent Atlantic League, if they want them, but it’s also possible another team brings them on as an affiliate. Though, that doesn’t mean the move sits well with Thunder ownership.
Quite the opposite, actually.
“(Friday night), we learned through the media, that New York Yankees management has made the calculated and ungracious maneuver to leave the urban setting of Trenton for the affluent confines of Bridgewater Township, leaving one of the finest facilities according to Major League Baseball without an affiliate,” Trenton Thunder owner Joseph Plumeri said in a statement Saturday.
“This move by the Yankees removes a key source of income for Trenton,” he added. “Despite repeated assurances that the Thunder would remain its Double-A affiliate over the last 16 months, the Yankees betrayed their partnership at the 11th hour. By doing so, the Yankees have misled and abandoned the Thunder and the taxpayers of Mercer County, who have invested millions of dollars over the years to ensure that Arm & Hammer Park remains one of the premier ballparks in America. While this community built the Yankees organization up and set minor league baseball attendance records, it seems the Yankees were only focused on trying to cut culturally diverse Trenton down in favor of a wealthy, higher socioeconomic area in Somerset.”
Charleston was in New York’s pipeline since 2005, but its owners, the Goldkang Group also owns Hudson Valley and Marvin Goldkang is a minority owner of the New York Yankees. The RiverDogs’ location in South Carolina should be plenty enticing for another big league club to take them on as an affiliate. Hudson Valley’s Dutchess Stadium opened in 1994 and has a turf field. This will be the first time it hosts a full-season team, as the NY-Penn League was typically reserved for college players who are fresh out of the draft and are brand new to professional baseball.
“Loved my time in Hudson Valley,” said San Francisco Giants prospect Joe McCarthy, the Scranton native who played the first games of his career for the Renegades in 2015 after he was drafted by the Rays. “The area has a great fan base that loves coming out to watch games and the group of host families we had were very welcoming and supportive as well.”
It is unclear which league the High-A Renegades will play in, though Baseball America has indicated a new Mid-Atlantic League is in the works.
The RailRiders being selected to host the alternate site this season was a good indicator of how the Yankees feel about their facilities.
“PNC Field is one of the best facilities in Minor League Baseball thanks to the hard work and support of ownership, community leaders, media, partners, fans and all the staff — past and present,” RailRiders team president John Adams said in a statement. “We will work hard to do our part in helping the Yankees develop talent that will lead to future World Championships.”