Last season, followers of the minor leagues were suddenly following their teams in leagues with generic names like Triple-A West and East, or Low-A West or Low-A Southeast and many other such names. But that legacy will be left in the pandemic, as for 2022, the many minor leagues will get their names and histories back.
What that means for fans of the San Francisco Giants is that their affiliates will be in the Pacific Coast League, the Eastern League, the Northwest League, and the California League once again, and most of the other names will also return across the country.
Since their last appearance in the 2019 season, however, the leagues have various changes. The various Single-A leagues have switched levels, with formerly High-A leagues like the California League switching to Low-A, while former Low-A Leagues going to High-A, such as the South Atlantic League. The Northwest League, which formerly was a Short-A league, is now in High-A. And many of the leagues had various membership changes.
MLB also indicated they will officially call what was formerly known as “Low-A” as “Single-A”, although how well that will catch on could be a big question.
All the leagues will retain their histories, and most will keep their logos. The one exception is the Pacific Coast League, which has debuted a new logo with a smaller membership. The logo was designed to represent the many regions the league represents, from the ocean to the redwood forests and red rocks of the southwest desert, to the mountain ranges from California to Utah, and the palm trees of the south.
The Giants saw some minor shuffles in the new system, with San Jose dropping from its decades-long home in High-A to the lower Single-A level, and a new team in the Eugene Emeralds, whose Northwest League was moved from Short-season ball to full season High-A. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, who had been a longtime Giants affiliate in the NWL, were among the teams that MLB unceremoniously booted as they cut the minor leagues after 2020. The Giants maintained their two higher level affiliates, with their Double-A affiliate in Richmond, Virginia now the longest physical distance between a MLB team and one of its affiliates. Many of MLB’s shuffles in the minors were an attempt to get affiliates closer to their MLB teams where possible. The closest Double-A league to the west coast is the Texas League.
Former Giants affiliates also saw changes. The Augusta GreenJackets, who became a Braves affiliate in 2021, had previously been a Low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. They stayed in Low-A but were moved to the Carolina League, while the Sally League moved up to High-A. Augusta’s new stadium, opened in 2019, is technically in North Augusta, South Carolina, so the league change is fitting.
The Fresno Grizzlies, a longtime Giants Triple-A affiliate who the Giants left in 2014, and since had been affiliates of the Houston Astros (2015-2018) and the Washington Nationals (2019-2020), were unable to find any team willing to take it as an affiliate, with all the west coast teams already having partners. After an acrimonious fight, Fresno agreed to be demoted to Low-A, where they became the Colorado Rockies’ California League affiliate. It should be noted that Fresno has seen each of its three Major League affiliates as a Triple-A team win a World Series in its tenure, with five parent title wins over a 23-year history in the highest level.
Other former Giants affiliates from the 21st century faced difficult fates. The aforementioned Salem-Keizer Volcanoes were not chosen to stay in the affiliated minors, but began their own local 4-team independent Mavericks League. The Hagerstown Suns were disbanded. The Giants were affiliated with them in Low-A from 2001-2004 before affiliating with the GreenJackets. Hagerstown had been with the Nationals since 2007, but played in one of the older ballparks in the minors. Two other former Giants affiliates, the Clinton LumberKings (Low-A, 1990-1994) and the Burlington Bees (Low-A, 1995-1996), were removed from affiliated baseball as well, but both survive as part of the Prospect League, a collegiate summer league.
Despite the clinical names for the various minor leagues existing only one season, their history will be remembered in the Giants system, with two affiliates literally flying them high. The Eugene Emeralds won the High-A West, and the San Jose Giants won the Low-A West. The latter faced off against the Fresno Grizzlies in that championship series.