Minor League Baseball

Minor League Baseball
MiLB logo.svg
Sport Baseball
Founded September 5, 1901; 119 years ago (1901-09-05)
No. of teams 261
Countries United States
Dominican Republic
Headquarters St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.
TV partner(s) CBS Sports Network
MiLB.tv, local tv stations
Official website MiLB.com

Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is a hierarchy of professional baseball leagues in the Americas that compete at levels below Major League Baseball (MLB) and help prepare players to join major league teams. All of the minor leagues are operated as independent businesses. Most are members of the umbrella organization formally known as National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), which operates under the Commissioner of Baseball within the scope of organized baseball. Several leagues, known as independent baseball leagues, have no official links to Major League Baseball.

Except for the Mexican League, teams in the organized minor leagues are generally independently owned and operated but are directly affiliated with one major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). These leagues also go by the nicknames the "farm system", "farm clubs", or "farm teams" because of a joke passed around by major league players in the 1930s when St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey formalized the system, and teams in small towns were "growing players down on the farm like corn".

Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball teams may enter into a PDC for a two- or four-year term. At the expiration of a PDC term, teams may renew their affiliation, or sign new PDCs with different clubs, though many relationships are renewed and endure for extended time periods. For example, the Omaha Storm Chasers (formerly the Omaha Royals and Omaha Golden Spikes) have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since the Royals joined the American League in 1969, but the Columbus Clippers changed affiliations, after being associated with the New York Yankees from 1979, to the Washington Nationals in 2007, and have been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians since 2009.

A few minor league teams are directly owned by their major league parent club, such as the Springfield Cardinals, owned by the St. Louis Cardinals, and all of the Atlanta Braves' affiliates except the Florida Fire Frogs. Minor League teams that are owned directly by the major league club do not have PDCs with the parent club and are typically not part of the reaffiliation shuffles that occur after each even-numbered season.

As of 2018, there were 14 MLB-affiliated minor leagues with a total of 160 revenue-generating teams, located in large, medium, and small cities and suburbs across the United States and Canada, and there are three MLB-affiliated rookie leagues with a total of 80 teams, located in Arizona, Florida, and the Dominican Republic, though these teams do not generate revenue.[1]

On June 30, 2020, Minor League Baseball announced that the 2020 season would not be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2]


Class A-Advanced California League game in San Jose, California, 1994

The earliest professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players of 1871 to 1875, comprised all fully professional teams. This system proved unworkable, however, as there was no way to ensure competitive balance, and financially unsound clubs often failed in midseason. This problem was solved in 1876 with the formation of the National League (NL), with a limited membership which excluded less competitive and financially weaker teams. Professional clubs outside the NL responded by forming regional associations of their own. There was a series of ad hoc groupings, such as the New England Association of 1877 and the Eastern Championship Association of 1881. These were loose groups of independent clubs which agreed to play a series of games over the course of one season for a championship pennant.

The first true minor league is traditionally considered to be the Northwestern League of 1883 to 1884. Unlike the earlier minor associations, it was conceived as a permanent organization. It also, along with the NL and the American Association (AA), was a party to the National Agreement of 1883. Included in this was the agreement to respect the reserve lists of clubs in each league. Teams in the NL and the AA could only reserve players who had been paid at least $1000. Northwest League teams could reserve players paid merely $750, implicitly establishing the division into major and minor leagues. Over the next two decades, more minor leagues signed various versions of the National Agreement. Eventually, the minor leagues joined together to negotiate jointly.

In the late 1890s, the Western League run by Ban Johnson decided to challenge the NL's position. In 1900, he changed the name of the league to the American League (AL) and vowed to make deals to sign contracts with players who were dissatisfied with the pay and terms of their deals with the NL. This led to a turf war that heated up in 1901 enough to concern Patrick T. Powers, president of the Eastern League, and many other minor league owners about the conflict potentially affecting their organizations. Representatives of the different minor leagues met at the Leland Hotel in Chicago on September 5, 1901.[3] In response to the NL–AL battle, they agreed to form the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, called the NAPBL, or NA for short. (The NA uses the trade name Minor League Baseball today.) The purpose of the NAPBL at the time was to maintain the independence of the leagues involved. Several did not sign the agreement and continued to work independently. Powers was made the first president of the NAPBL, whose offices were established in Auburn, New York.

In 1903, the conflict between the AL and NL ended in the National Agreement of 1903.[4] The NAPBL became involved in the later stages of the negotiations to develop rules for the acquisition of players from their leagues by the NL and the AL. The 1903 agreement ensured that teams would be compensated for the players that they had taken the time and effort to scout and develop, and no NA team was required to sell their players, although most did because the cash was an important source of revenue for most teams. The NA leagues were still fiercely independent, and the term "minor" was seldom used in reference to them, save by the major-market sportswriters. Sports news, like most news generally, often did not travel far in the days before radio and television, so, while the leagues often bristled at the major market writers descriptions, they viewed themselves as independent sports businesses. Many baseball writers of that time regarded the greatest players of the minor leagues, such as Buzz Arlett, Jigger Statz, Ike Boone, Buddy Ryan, Earl Rapp and Frank Shellenback, as comparable to major league players. Leagues in the NA would not be truly called minor until Branch Rickey developed the first modern farm system in the 1930s. The Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis fought Rickey's scheme, but, ultimately, the Great Depression drove teams to establish systems like Rickey's to ensure a steady supply of players, as many NA and independent teams could not afford to keep their doors open without the patronage of Major League Baseball. The leagues of the NA became subordinate to the major leagues, creating the first minor leagues in the current sense of the term. Other than the Pacific Coast League (PCL), which under its president Pants Rowland tried to become a third major league in the Western states, the other leagues maintained autonomy in name only, being totally economically dependent upon the AL and NL.

In 1922, the United States Supreme Court decision Federal Baseball Club v. National League (259 U.S. 200), which grants baseball a special immunity from antitrust laws, had a major effect on the minor leagues. The special immunity meant that the AL and NL could dictate terms under which every independent league did business. By 1925, major league baseball established a flat-fee purchase amount of $5,000 for the contract of any player from an NA member league team. This power was leveled primarily at the Baltimore Orioles, then a Triple-A team that had dominated the minors with stars.

The start of the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before ultimately being cancelled on June 30.[5][6] This marked the first time since 1901 that there would be no Minor League Baseball played that year.[6]

Current system

The third base stands of the Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express

With some exceptions, minor league teams are not owned by major league clubs but have affiliation contracts with them. Major League Rule 56 governs the standard terms of a Player Development Contract (PDC), which is the standard agreement of association between a minor league team and its major league affiliate. Generally, the parent major league club pays the salaries and benefits of uniformed personnel (players and coaches) and provides bats and balls, while the minor league club pays for in-season travel and other operational expenses.[7] In even-numbered years, any major or minor league club with an expiring PDC may notify Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball, respectively, of its desire to explore a re-affiliation with a different PDC partner. The Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball offices then send a list of the corresponding major and minor league clubs seeking new affiliations, and there is a limited period of time in September within which clubs may agree upon new PDCs. If any are left over after this process, the Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball offices are empowered to assign major and minor league clubs to each other.

At the start of the 2018 season, the longest continuous affiliations were two 53-year links: between the Philadelphia Phillies and their Double-A Eastern League affiliate, the Reading Fightin Phils; and the one between the Detroit Tigers and their Class A-Advanced Florida State League affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Both Reading and Lakeland are now owned outright by their parent major league clubs.

There are several baseball clubs that operate teams at multiple levels of the minor leagues; they are not required to affiliate all of their clubs to the same major league franchise. Bob Rich, Jr., for example, owns the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and the short-season Class A West Virginia Black Bears, the latter of which had been the Jamestown Jammers before the 2015 season. Even though the teams were located slightly more than 70 miles (110 km) apart before the Jammers' relocation, Rich has never affiliated the two teams with the same parent club.

The current minor league classification system divides leagues into one of six classes, those being Triple-A (AAA), Double-A (AA), Class A-Advanced (High A or A+), Class A (Low A), Class A Short Season, and Rookie. Furthermore, Rookie is further informally subdivided into Rookie Advanced, complex-based Rookie, and international summer baseball. Under the rules governing the affiliated minor leagues (specifically Major League Baseball Rule 51), Class A-Advanced, Class A, and Class A Short Season are separate classifications despite the similarity in name.

Most leagues at Double-A and below play a split season, where the standings are reset at the halfway mark, and the winners of both halves qualify for post-season play. This allows teams to remain in contention longer into the season, as rosters feature heavy turnover during the course of the season.


This classification currently includes two affiliated leagues: the International League and the Pacific Coast League, which feature teams from Eastern and Western United States respectively.[8] For most of the 20th century, it also contained the American Association, based in the Midwest, but that league disbanded, its clubs absorbed by the other two leagues, as part of a reorganization of the Triple-A level in 1997. The Mexican League is also classified as a Triple-A league, though its clubs do not have PDCs with major league clubs.

Both young players and veterans play for Triple-A teams. Teams usually hold many of the remaining 15 players of the 40-man major league roster whom the major league club has chosen not to play at the major league level. Players at Triple-A on the 40-man roster can be invited to come up to the major league club once the major league roster expands on September 1, although teams usually wait until their affiliates' playoff runs are over, should they qualify. For teams in contention for a pennant, it gives them fresh players. For those not in contention, it gives them an opportunity to evaluate their second-tier players against major league competition.[9] Some Triple-A players are "career minor leaguers", former prospects whose skill growth has halted and are not likely to advance to MLB, unless as a temporary replacement.[10]

Unlike at other levels of competition, the two affiliated Triple-A leagues meet each summer in the Triple-A All-Star Game, first played in 1988. Each league fields a team composed of the top players in their respective leagues as voted on by fans, the media, and each club's field manager and general manager.[11] In another instance of interleague play, the annual Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game has been held since 2006 to serve as a single championship game between the champions of the International League and Pacific Coast League to determine an overall champion of Triple-A baseball.[12] There have previously been multi-game championship series, sometimes styled as the Junior World Series, for this purpose.


There are currently three leagues in this classification: Eastern League, Southern League, and the Texas League.[8] Some players jump to the majors from this level, as many of the top prospects are put here to play against each other rather than against minor and major league veterans in Triple-A.[10] A small handful of players might be placed here to start, usually the veterans from foreign leagues with more experience in professional baseball. The expectation is usually that these players will be in the majors by the end of the season, as their salaries tend to be higher than those of most prospects.

Class A-Advanced

One level below Double-A, the California League, Carolina League, and the Florida State League play at the Class A-Advanced level, also known as "Class A+" or "High A".[8] This is often a second or third promotion for a minor league player, although a few high first-round draftees, particularly those with college experience, begin at this level. These leagues play a complete season like Triple-A and Double-A, from April through early September. Many of the teams in the Florida State League are owned by major league parent clubs and use their spring training complexes. The class consists of 30 teams from around the United States, from San Jose to Tampa.

Class A

Will Rhymes bats during a 2006 Class A game between the West Michigan Whitecaps and Kane County Cougars

Slightly below Class A-Advanced are the full-season Class A leagues, the South Atlantic League and Midwest League.[8] These leagues are a mix of players moving up from the Short Season and Rookie leagues, as well as the occasional experienced first-year player. These leagues play a full 140-game schedule, which runs from the first week of April through the first week of September.

Short-season leagues

Short-season leagues, as the name implies, play a shortened season of 76 games, starting in mid-June and ending in early September, with only a few off-days during the season. The late start of the season is designed to allow college players to complete their college seasons in the spring, then be drafted, signed, and immediately placed in a competitive league (the MLB First Year Player Draft begins on the first Monday in June).

Players in short-season leagues are a mixture of newly signed draftees who are considered more advanced than other draftees, and second-year pros who were not ready or for whom there was not space at a higher level to move up. Second-year pros are assigned to "extended spring training" in Florida or Arizona during April and May before reporting to their short season leagues.

Of the 30 major league clubs, 14 field teams in Class A Short Season only, 8 clubs field their top short-season teams in the Rookie Advanced leagues, and 8 clubs have affiliates at both levels.

A proposal put forth during the 2019–20 season would eliminate both levels and close all of the teams and leagues therein, in favor of re-designating Class A as "Low-A" and moving the shortened Major League Baseball Draft to August. Some of the teams that are in these leagues will not be eliminated and will instead be promoted to fill the positions of teams in higher leagues that will also be eliminated as part of the process.[13]

Class A Short Season, despite the name, is a separate classification from Class A. Class A Short Season teams are slightly more limited than Class A teams with respect to player age and years of experience in professional baseball. There are two Class A Short Season leagues, the New York–Penn League and Northwest League.

The Appalachian League and Pioneer League are known as "Rookie Advanced" leagues. The players in these leagues are thought to be further along in their development than players in the pure Rookie leagues, and hence games are more competitive. Teams in these leagues sell concessions and charge admission.


Jake Thompson pitches for the GCL Tigers against the GCL Blue Jays in 2012

MiLB leagues with the Rookie classification play a shortened season, similar to, but slightly shorter than, the short season leagues, starting in mid-June and ending in late August or early September. This lowest level of minor league baseball consists of two domestic leagues, the Arizona League and Gulf Coast League, and one foreign-based league, the Dominican Summer League.[8]

The domestic Rookie leagues play a 60-game schedule and are usually called "complex leagues" because games are played at their parent clubs' spring training complexes. Rosters comprise newly drafted players who are not ready for a higher level of play. These leagues are intended almost exclusively to allow players to hone their skills; no admission is charged and no concessions are sold.

Rehabilitation assignments

Players on the injured list (IL) can be sent to the minor leagues to aid in rehabilitation following an injury, typically for one or two weeks. Players are often sent to minor league clubs based on geography and facilities, not necessarily by class for these reassignments.

Curt Schilling's recovery from an ankle injury in 2005 included a rehabilitation stint in Pawtucket, Rhode Island at the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, very close to the home club in Boston. The Cincinnati Reds often send players to their Class A affiliate, the Dayton Dragons, for rehab assignments. Despite Dayton's status as Class A, Dayton is a short, 50-mile drive away from the Reds' Great American Ball Park.

Former Minnesota Twins superstar Joe Mauer, who missed most of the first two months of the 2011 season due to a difficult recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery after the 2010 season, reported to Minnesota's Class A-Advanced Florida State League team, the Fort Myers Miracle, which is based in their spring training facility in Fort Myers. In addition, the Miracle manager at the time was Mauer's older brother Jake. The Twins later sent Joe Mauer and pitcher Ricky Nolasco to rehab with the club's Low-A affiliate located across the Minnesota-Iowa border in Cedar Rapids.[14]

Mike Trout's first rehab assignment of his career, in July 2017, was with the Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernardino, California, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. This allowed Trout to stay closer to the Angels compared to the team's Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees.[15]

Reorganization of 1963

The current minor league structure is largely based on a significant reorganization that occurred before the 1963 season, which was caused by the club and league contraction of the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1949, the peak of the post-World War II minor league baseball boom, 438 teams in 59 leagues were members of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. By the end of 1963, only 15 leagues survived in the United States and Canada.[16]

Previous structure (1946–1962)

From 1912 through 1945, the minors' highest level was labeled Double-A. In 1946, the Triple-A classification was created and the three Double-A circuits (the Pacific Coast League, International League, and the American Association) were automatically reclassified Triple-A. The Class A1 level, two rungs below the Majors and comprising the Texas League and the Southern Association, was then renamed Double-A.

Prior to 1963, the Class A level was a higher classification than it is today. In 1946, Class A consisted of the Eastern League and the original South Atlantic League (or "Sally League"), and it would soon include the Western League (1947–1958), Central League (1948–1951) and Western International League (1952–1954). The Western International League became the Class B Northwest League in 1955, and the Western and Central loops folded. The remaining Class A leagues ascended to Double-A in the 1963 reorganization. Postwar Class A cities included communities such as Vancouver, Omaha, Colorado Springs, Charlotte, Scranton and Allentown, which would establish themselves as Triple-A venues, and Denver, which would get its own major league team, the Colorado Rockies, in 1993.

The lower levels of the minors were ranked Classes B through D in descending order, with Class D being the equivalent of today's Rookie leagues. With the exception of the 1952–1957 Open classification experiment for the Pacific Coast League, this structure would remain intact through 1962.

Pre-1963 classifications

A baseball card of Joe DiMaggio when he played for the minor league San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, circa 1933–36.

Defunct classifications, in use prior to 1963, were as follows:

The Pacific Coast League, which had been rated Triple-A since 1946, was the only minor league to obtain Open classification, which existed from 1952 to 1957.[17] At this time, the major leagues only extended as far west as Missouri and as far south as Washington, D.C. This classification severely restricted the rights of the major leagues to draft players out of the PCL, and at the time it seemed like the PCL would eventually become a third major league. The PCL would revert to Triple-A in 1958 due to increasing television coverage of major league games and in light of the Dodgers and Giants moving to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.[17]

The forerunner to the modern Double-A classification, the A1 level existed from 1936 through 1945.[18] In 1936, two Class A circuits, the Texas League and the Southern Association, were upgraded to Class A1 to signify their continued status as one step below the highest classification,[18] then Double-A, yet a notch above their former Class A peers, the New York–Pennsylvania League and Western League. Ten years later, after World War II, with the minor leagues poised for unprecedented growth, classification terminology was changed. Beginning in 1946, the three Double-A leagues of 1912–1945, the American Association and International and Pacific Coast leagues, joined a new classification, Triple-A, and the Class A1 level became known as Double-A.

From 1902 through 1962, there were Class B, C, and D leagues.[18] The Class D of that period would be equivalent to the Rookie level today. The other class designations disappeared because leagues of that level could not sustain operation during a large downturn in the financial fortunes of minor league baseball in the 1950s and 1960s caused by the rise of television broadcasts of major league sports across broad regions of the country. The impact of the Korean War in 1950 caused a player shortage in most cities in Class D and Class C.

Class E was established in 1937, for players with no professional experience in Class D or higher.[18] The only Class E league that existed was the four-team Twin Ports League, which operated for less than a full season in 1943.[18]

The 1963 classification realignment

After the 1962 season, the Triple-A American Association—which had lost key markets such as Milwaukee, Kansas City, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Houston to the Major Leagues since 1953—disbanded. The surviving International and Pacific Coast leagues absorbed the four remaining American Association franchises. Meanwhile, at the Double-A level and below there were even more significant changes:

As part of the 1963 reorganization, Major League clubs increased their commitments to affiliate with minor league teams through Player Development Contracts, outright ownerships, or shared affiliations and co-op arrangements.[16]

Further changes after 1963

  • Triple-A: The American Association was revived as a Triple-A league in 1969 and flourished with the minor league baseball boom of the 1980s and 1990s. However, all of its teams were again absorbed into the International and Pacific Coast leagues in 1998 as part of a sweeping reorganization of the minors' top classification. The American Association and the International League also played an interlocking schedule during the late 1980s as part of the Triple-A Alliance. The Mexican League was upgraded from Double-A to Triple-A in 1967.
  • Double-A: In 1964, the South Atlantic League changed its name to its current identity, the Southern League. Because of continued contraction (and Major League expansion) that left each circuit with only seven teams, the Texas and Southern leagues merged into the 14-team Dixie Association in 1971. The arrangement lasted only for that season and the records and history of the Texas and Southern loops were kept distinct. In 1972, each league added an eighth team, rebalancing their schedules. They resumed their former, separate identities, and returned to prosperity with the revival of minor league baseball that began in the 1980s.
  • Class A: In 1965, the Class A Short Season designation was created, and the Northern and Northwest loops moved from "full season" Class A into the new classification, with the New York–Penn League joining them in 1967. Over time, the California, Carolina and Florida State leagues became known within baseball as Class A-Advanced leagues, one rung below Double-A, splitting the Class A level even further. The Georgia–Florida League disbanded after the 1963 season, while the Northern League played its last year in official minor league baseball in 1971. In 1980, the Western Carolinas League changed its identity to become the modern incarnation of the South Atlantic League.
  • Rookie: In 1964, the Pioneer League stepped down from Class A to Rookie league status, and the first "complex-based" leagues, the Sarasota Rookie League and the Cocoa Rookie League, made their debuts. The Sarasota Rookie League underwent a name change to the Florida Rookie League in 1965 before becoming the modern Gulf Coast League the next season. The Cocoa Rookie League lasted only one season, and the Florida East Coast League of 1972, based in the same region of the state, also existed for only one year. In 1989, a counterpart to the Gulf Coast League, the Arizona League, made its debut and it continues to operate as a Rookie-level league for MLB teams with spring training facilities based in Arizona.
  • Failed start-up leagues: During the 1970s, three "official" minor leagues attempted unsuccessfully to revive unaffiliated baseball within the organized baseball structure. These were the Class A Gulf States League (1976) and Lone Star League (1977), and the Triple-A Inter–American League (1979). None lasted more than a full season.

Reorganization of 2021

In October 2019, Baseball America reported that Major League Baseball had proposed dramatic changes to MiLB that would take effect after the current Professional Baseball Agreement that governs the MLB–MiLB relationship expires at the end of the 2020 season.[19][20]

In mid-November, more than 100 members of the United States Congress signed a letter sent to Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred opposing the proposal, noting that it "is not in the best interest of the overall game of baseball" and that it would "devastate our communities, their bond purchasers and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs."[21] A response from MLB highlighted that the proposal aims to improve player travel and working conditions.[21]

On November 21, Minor League Baseball released a statement, asserting that it is "unnecessary and unacceptable to wipe out one-quarter of minor league teams" and characterized the proposal as a way "to improve the profitability of MLB".[22] Manfred rebuked Minor League Baseball for releasing the negotiations to the public and threatened to cut ties with MiLB altogether.[23]

The following changes have since been implemented:

Further proposals

MLB's initial proposal also featured the following:[19][20]

  • The number of MiLB teams, then at 160, would be reduced to 120 (not counting teams in the complex-based Arizona and Gulf Coast Leagues, both of which are directly owned by MLB). This would also result in the elimination of the Short-Season A and Rookie classifications from the system, apart from the complex-based leagues.
  • The proposal also called for two independent league teams, the St. Paul Saints and the Sugar Land Skeeters, to be brought into MiLB.
  • MLB would take effective control over team affiliations, replacing the current two-year contracts between MLB and MiLB teams with longer-term agreements.
  • MiLB leagues would be reorganized to be more geographically compact. The classifications of surviving teams would also be dramatically shuffled.
  • The Major League Baseball draft would be moved to follow the College World Series, and reduced from its current 40 rounds to between 20 and 25. Drafted players would train at the teams' spring training complexes until the following spring when they would begin MiLB play.
  • MLB proposed the establishment of what it calls the "Dream League", jointly operated by MLB and MiLB and featuring undrafted players. While teams eliminated from the affiliated system could become part of the Dream League, it was anticipated that this circuit's increased expenses would likely prevent many eliminated Short-A and Rookie-level teams (especially in the Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues) from participating. The MLB proposal would encourage those teams to form new amateur collegiate summer baseball leagues sponsored by MLB.
  • MLB teams would be limited to operating five MiLB teams in the U.S. (or Canada)—four full-season affiliates, plus one complex-based Rookie-level team. Each MLB team would also be limited to between 150 and 200 players under MiLB contracts.
  • Annual Baseball Cup involving both MLB and MiLB teams.[25]


Major league clubs may only use players who are on the team's major league active roster in games; players on the active roster are selected from a 40-man major league reserve list (often called the 40-man roster). Effective with the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the active roster size for each team is 26 players for regular games and 27 players for scheduled doubleheaders, with the roster size expanding to 28 players from September 1 through the end of the regular season.[26] Prior to the 2020 season, the active roster size from the start of the regular season until September 1 was 25 players, with a 26th player allowed for a scheduled doubleheader.[27] From September 1 to the end of the regular season, teams were allowed to expand their active rosters up to 40 players, the size of the major league reserve list.

Players of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in July 2017

Players on the 40-man reserve list who are not on the team's active roster are generally either on the injured list or playing at some level of the minor leagues (usually at the Triple-A or Double-A level). Players on the 40-man reserve list are eligible for membership in the Major League Baseball Players Association. These minor league players work at the lower end of major league pay scales and are covered by all rules and player agreements of the players association. Minor league players not on the 40-man reserve list are under contract to their respective parent Major League Baseball clubs but have no union. They generally work for far less pay as they develop their skills and work their way up the ladder toward the major leagues.[28] Many players have signing bonuses and other additional compensation that can run into the millions of dollars, although that is generally reserved for early-round draft picks.

A major league team's director of player development determines where a given player will be placed in the farm system, in coordination with the coaches and managers who evaluate their talent. At the end of spring training, players both from the spring major camp and minor league winter camp are placed by the major league club on the roster of a minor league team. The director of player development and the general manager usually determine the initial assignments for new draftees, who typically begin playing professionally in June after they have been signed to contracts. The farm system is ever-changing, and the evaluation of players is a constantly ongoing process. The director of player development and his managers meet or teleconference regularly to discuss how players are performing at each level. Personal development, injuries, and high levels of achievement by players in the classes below all steer a player's movement up and down in the class system.

Players will play for the team to which they are assigned for the duration of that season unless they are "called up" (promoted to a higher level), "sent down" (demoted to a lower-class team in the major league club's farm system), or released from the farm system entirely. A release from minor-league level used to spell the end of a minor league player's career. In more modern times, released players often sign with independent baseball clubs, which are scouted heavily by major league organizations. Many players get a second or third look from the major league scouts if they improve in the independent leagues.

Minor league salaries vary based on class level and length of season; however, the majority of players make less than $10,000 per season.[29] Although not playing at the major league, minor league players are professional athletes. Minor league players describe the majors as "The Show".


Ryan Blakney (left) and Ben May umpiring in the Midwest League in 2008

Umpires at the minor league level are overseen by Minor League Baseball Umpire Development, which is responsible for the training, evaluation, and recommendation for promotion and retention or release of the umpires.[30]

The umpires are evaluated eight times a season by the staff of the MiLB Umpire Development and receive a ranking at mid-season and the end of each year. Based on performance during the year, an umpire may advance in classification when a position opens in-season or during the off-season. Umpire Development holds an annual evaluation course every year in March to evaluate rookie umpires. Participants are normally the best students from the two professional umpire schools (one owned and operated by the same entity). The top students who pass the evaluation course are recommended for the first openings in the Rookie and short-season leagues.[31]

Any student who wants to work as an umpire must attend a professional umpire training school. The MiLB recognizes two schools for training prospective professional umpires, the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School and Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy, both located in Florida. The Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy is owned and operated by Minor League Baseball Umpire Development (MiLBUD), while Wendelstedt is independently owned by MLB Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. The classes for each school are held for five weeks in January and February. The instructors at these schools are former or present major or minor league umpires. Simply attending one of these schools, however, does not guarantee that the candidate will also be recommended either to the evaluation course or to the openings in the Rookie or short season leagues. Generally, less than 20% of umpire school students move on to the Rookie Evaluation Course.[32]

Before the umpire development program was created, the Minor League presidents would recruit umpires directly from the schools. Umpires were then "sold" from league to league by word of mouth through the various league presidents.[33]

The umpire development program first started in 1964, when it was decided that a method of recruitment, training, and development for umpires of both major and minor leagues was needed. The Umpire Development Program was founded at Baseball's 1964 Winter Meetings in Houston, and it began operating the next year. The program aimed to recruit more athletic, energetic, and dedicated individuals who would also have high morals and integrity standards. In 1968, it was decided that the program needed its own umpire training course which would be held each year. The first "Umpire Specialization Course" was held in St. Petersburg, Florida the following year.[34]

Presently, the candidates for a job in professional umpiring must meet several requirements in order to be considered. An applicant must have a high school diploma or a G.E.D., must be athletic, and also must have 20/20 vision, though they are permitted to wear glasses or contact lenses.[35] They must also have good communication skills, good reflexes and coordination, and must have trained at one of the two professional umpire schools.

On June 21, 2016, the Gulf Coast League hired Jen Pawol, the first female umpire in Minor League Baseball since 2007.[36]

Presidents of Minor League Baseball

Minor League Baseball Headquarters, St. Petersburg, Florida

Television and radio

Minor League Baseball has a national television contract with CBS Sports Network, which airs 10–15 games on Thursday nights. The arrangement began in 2014 and will continue through the 2015 season.[37] For the 2015 season, select MiLB games will be featured on the American Sports Network.[38] Also, many individual teams have contracts with local over-the-air channels. Games are also occasionally simulcast on MLB Network.


MiLB.TV is the minor leagues' official online video streaming service, in the vein of Major League Baseball's MLB.tv. The service currently offers every Triple-A game and select games from the other classifications.


Nearly every minor-league team has its own local radio contract, though unlike their major-league counterparts, these generally consist of only one or two individual stations. Minor League Baseball currently has an arrangement with TuneIn to provide free audio streams of virtually every game.[39]

Independent baseball

Haymarket Park, home to the Lincoln Saltdogs, an independent baseball team in Lincoln, Nebraska

Independent leagues are those professional leagues in the United States and Canada not under the purview of organized Minor League Baseball and the Commissioner of Baseball. Independent baseball existed in the early 20th century and has become prominent again since 1993.[40]

Leagues operated mostly autonomously before 1902, when the majority joined the NAPBL. From then until 1915, a total of eight new and existing leagues remained independent. Most joined the National Association after one season of independence. Notable exceptions were the California League, which was independent in 1902 and from 1907 to 1909; the United States Baseball League, which folded during its independent 1912 season; and the Colonial League, a National Association Member that went independent in 1915 and then folded.[41] Another independent league, the Federal League, played at a level considered major league from 1914 to 1915.[42]

Few independent leagues existed between 1915 and 1993. Major exceptions included the Carolina League and the Quebec-based Provincial League. The Carolina League, based in the North Carolina Piedmont region, gained a reputation as a notorious "outlaw league" during its existence from 1936 to 1938.[43] The Provincial League fielded six teams across Quebec and was independent from 1948 to 1949. Similarly to early 20th-century independent leagues, it joined the National Association in 1950, playing for six more years.[41][44]

Independent leagues saw new growth after 1992, after the new Professional Baseball Agreement in organized baseball instituted more stringent revenue and stadium requirements on members.[45] Over the next eight years, at least 16 independent leagues formed, of which six existed in 2002.[41]

Leagues and affiliations

Minor leagues

Major league affiliations

Table key
Triple-A Double-A Class A-Advanced Class A Class A Short Season Rookie Advanced
IL International League EL Eastern League CAL California League MWL Midwest League NYPL New York-Penn League PIO Pioneer League
PCL Pacific Coast League SL Southern League CAR Carolina League SAL South Atlantic League NWL Northwest League
TL Texas League FSL Florida State League

Division MLB Team Triple-A Double-A Class A-Advanced Class A Class A Short Season Rookie Advanced
American League
East Baltimore Orioles Norfolk TidesIL Bowie BaysoxEL Frederick KeysCAR Delmarva ShorebirdsSAL Aberdeen IronBirdsNYPL
Boston Red Sox Worcester Red SoxIL Portland Sea DogsEL Salem Red SoxCAR Greenville DriveSAL Lowell SpinnersNYPL
New York Yankees Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRidersIL Trenton ThunderEL Tampa TarponsFSL Charleston RiverDogsSAL Staten Island YankeesNYPL
Tampa Bay Rays Durham BullsIL Montgomery BiscuitsSL Charlotte Stone CrabsFSL Bowling Green Hot RodsMWL Hudson Valley RenegadesNYPL
Toronto Blue Jays Buffalo BisonsIL New Hampshire Fisher CatsEL Dunedin Blue JaysFSL Lansing LugnutsMWL Vancouver CanadiansNWL
Central Chicago White Sox Charlotte KnightsIL Birmingham BaronsSL Winston-Salem DashCAR Kannapolis Cannon BallersSAL
Great Falls VoyagersPIO
Cleveland Indians Columbus ClippersIL Akron RubberDucksEL Lynchburg HillcatsCAR Lake County CaptainsMWL Mahoning Valley ScrappersNYPL
Detroit Tigers Toledo Mud HensIL Erie SeaWolvesEL Lakeland Flying TigersFSL West Michigan WhitecapsMWL Norwich Sea UnicornsNYPL
Kansas City Royals Omaha Storm ChasersPCL Northwest Arkansas NaturalsTL Wilmington Blue RocksCAR Lexington LegendsSAL
Idaho Falls ChukarsPIO
Minnesota Twins Rochester Red WingsIL Pensacola Blue WahoosSL Fort Myers Mighty MusselsFSL Cedar Rapids KernelsMWL
West Houston Astros Round Rock ExpressPCL Corpus Christi HooksTL Fayetteville WoodpeckersCAR Quad Cities River BanditsMWL Tri-City ValleyCatsNYPL
Los Angeles Angels Salt Lake BeesPCL Rocket City Trash PandasSL Inland Empire 66ersCAL Burlington BeesMWL
Orem OwlzPIO
Oakland Athletics Las Vegas AviatorsPCL Midland RockHoundsTL Stockton PortsCAL Beloit SnappersMWL Vermont Lake MonstersNYPL
Seattle Mariners Tacoma RainersPCL Arkansas TravelersTL Modesto NutsCAL West Virginia PowerSAL Everett AquaSoxNWL
Texas Rangers Nashville SoundsPCL Frisco RoughRidersTL Down East Wood DucksCAR Hickory CrawdadsSAL Spokane IndiansNWL
National League
East Atlanta Braves Gwinnett StripersIL Mississippi BravesSL Florida Fire FrogsFSL Rome BravesSAL
Miami Marlins Wichita Wind SurgePCL Jacksonville Jumbo ShrimpSL Jupiter HammerheadsFSL Clinton LumberKingsMWL Batavia MuckdogsNYPL
New York Mets Syracuse MetsIL Binghamton Rumble PoniesEL St. Lucie MetsFSL Columbia FirefliesSAL Brooklyn CyclonesNYPL
Philadelphia Phillies Lehigh Valley IronPigsIL Reading Fightin' PhilsEL Clearwater ThreshersFSL Jersey Shore BlueClawsSAL Williamsport CrosscuttersNYPL
Washington Nationals Fresno GrizzliesPCL Harrisburg SenatorsEL Fredericksburg NationalsCAR Hagerstown SunsSAL Auburn DoubledaysNYPL
Central Chicago Cubs Iowa CubsPCL Tennessee SmokiesSL Myrtle Beach PelicansCAR South Bend CubsMWL Eugene EmeraldsNWL
Cincinnati Reds Louisville BatsIL Chattanooga LookoutsSL Daytona TortugasFSL Dayton DragonsMWL
Billings MustangsPIO
Milwaukee Brewers San Antonio MissionsPCL Biloxi ShuckersSL Carolina MudcatsCAR Wisconsin Timber RattlersMWL
Rocky Mountain VibesPIO
Pittsburgh Pirates Indianapolis IndiansIL Altoona CurveEL Bradenton MaraudersFSL Greensboro GrasshoppersSAL West Virginia Black BearsNYPL
St. Louis Cardinals Memphis RedbirdsPCL Springfield CardinalsTL Palm Beach CardinalsFSL Peoria ChiefsMWL State College SpikesNYPL
West Arizona Diamondbacks Reno AcesPCL Jackson GeneralsSL Visalia RawhideCAL Kane County CougarsMWL Hillsboro HopsNWL Missoula PaddleHeadsPIO
Colorado Rockies Albuquerque IsotopesPCL Hartford Yard GoatsEL Lancaster JetHawksCAL Asheville TouristsSAL Boise HawksNWL Grand Junction RockiesPIO
Los Angeles Dodgers Oklahoma City DodgersPCL Tulsa DrillersTL Rancho Cucamonga QuakesCAL Great Lakes LoonsMWL
Ogden RaptorsPIO
San Diego Padres El Paso ChihuahuasPCL Amarillo Sod PoodlesTL Lake Elsinore StormCAL Fort Wayne TinCapsMWL Tri-City Dust DevilsNWL
San Francisco Giants Sacramento River CatsPCL Richmond Flying SquirrelsEL San Jose GiantsCAL Augusta GreenJacketsSAL Salem-Keizer VolcanoesNWL

Team rosters


MiLBY Awards

The Minor League Baseball Yearly (MiLBY) Awards (formerly "This Year in Minor League Baseball Awards") are given in nine categories. In five categories (Best Starter, Best Hitter, Best Reliever, Best Game, and Best Team), winners are selected in each of the five levels of minor-league baseball (Triple-A, Double-A, Class A-Advanced, Class A, and Class A Short Season). In three categories (Play of the Year, Moment of the Year, and Homer of the Year), one overall winner is chosen for all of minor-league baseball. In the remaining category (Promo of the Year), there are overall winners in each of five subcategories: Best Promotion (of all types), Best Theme Night, Best Giveaway, Best Celebrity Appearance, and Best Miscellaneous Promotion.

Other player awards

Major awards

  • John H. Johnson President's Award (1974) – given each year, MiLB's top award recognizes "the complete baseball franchise—based on franchise stability, contributions to league stability, contributions to baseball in the community, and promotion of the baseball industry."[49][50]
  • Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year (1976) – given each year to a woman in MiLB for exceptional contributions to her club, her league, or baseball.[49][51]
  • Warren Giles Award (1984) – given each year to a league president for outstanding service.[49][51][52]
  • King of Baseball (1951) – given annually in recognition of longtime dedication and service to professional baseball.[49]
  • Larry MacPhail Award (1966) – given annually in recognition of team promotions.[49][53]
  • Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award (2008) – given to a person with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development.[49]
  • Mike Coolbaugh Award (2008) – given to someone who has shown an outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game, and skill in mentoring young players on the field.[49]
  • John H. Moss Community Service Award (2013) – given to a team to recognize outstanding charitable service, support, and leadership.[49]
  • Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award (2016) – given to an individual or team to recognize outstanding support of and engagement with the United States Armed Forces and veterans.[49]

Top 100 teams

During its centennial celebration in 2001, Minor League Baseball compiled a list of the 100 best minor-league baseball teams of the century.[54]

See also