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Scrappers move on without the Indians

NEW YORK — The Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ time as an affiliate for the Cleveland Indians came to end on Monday as Major League Baseball announced it was creating a new minor league for top eligible prospects leading into the summer draft.

The wood-bat MLB Draft League is launching with five teams including the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and could add a sixth, MLB said Monday. Teams will play a 68-game regular season that includes an All-Star break coinciding with the draft in early July.

The Scrappers have been a part of the Class A short season 14-team New York-Penn League since 1999. That league played a 76-game schedule.

The founding members of the MLB Draft League are located in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey: the Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears and the Williamsport Crosscutters. MLB said it is in discussions with a sixth team that it hopes to announce soon.

MLB also announced that the eight-team Pioneer League will lose its affiliated status and become an independent “Partner League.” MLB has pledged to provide initial funding for operating expenses and will install scouting technology at league stadiums. The Pioneer League spans Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Utah and had been a Rookie-level affiliated league since 1964.

Teams in the MLB Draft League are going to communities that lost franchises when MLB began shrinking the affiliated minor leagues from 160 to 120 teams. The reduction this offseason followed the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governed the relationship between the majors and minors. MLB has planned to eliminate the separate governing body of minor league baseball. Most of the reductions came from the elimination of Class A short season leagues.

The season will run roughly from late May through mid-August, broken into halves. The first half will be a showcase for draft-eligible high school, college and junior college players. Following a multiday break for the draft, rosters will be restocked with the best players passed over by MLB teams who are still interested in signing.

The start of the season will overlap with the College World Series, meaning some top players won’t be able to join until after opening day, similar to other college summer leagues like the Cape Cod League.

MLB’s push to shrink the minors had drawn criticism from many in minor league communities, including politicians. A trio of U.S. senators — Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — praised the MLB Draft League as a way to keep high-level baseball in their communities.

“I’m glad that MLB listened,” Brown said. “The formation of the MLB Draft League is good news for baseball and for fans in the (Mahoning) Valley, who will get to continue to see high-level prospects in their own backyard and rally around the Scrappers again soon.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the “Trenton Thunder is saved” during a COVID-19 press briefing Monday.

The draft league will be operated by Prep Baseball Report — a scouting, events and media organization focused on youth ball — and former Cape Cod League coach Kerrick Jackson has been appointed president.

MLB said in a statement that players will “receive unprecedented visibility to MLB club scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology, and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes.”

Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball economics and operations, called the venture a “one-of-a-kind league” that will allow fans to “see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns.” He added that MLB is committed to “preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States.”

MLB announced in September that the Appalachian League, formerly a Rookie-level affiliated league, would be transformed into a wood-bat college summer league.

Notes

• The New York-Penn League is the longest continuous operating Class A league having formed in 1939. After Monday’s announcement, eight teams in the league do not have affiliation. It’s unclear what will happen to the rest of the teams going forward.

• The New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays say they will not be a part of the Draft League having cited that the franchise fee to join the Draft League was significantly higher than the one previously cost to play in the New York-Penn League.

• In its last season with the New York-Penn League in 2019, the Scrappers drew 98,883 fans over 36 dates. The average attendance of 2,745 ranked 100th in all of minor league baseball. The 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Minor league baseball attendance was up 2.6 percent in 2019 with more than 41 million fans attending games.

• The Scrappers’ lone New York-Penn League title came in 2004.

• Famous Scrapper alumni include C.C. Sabathia, Francisco Lindor, Victor Martinez, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis.

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