A proposal from Major League Baseball could see the Tri-City ValleyCats and other New York-Penn League teams come into direct competition with the Capital Region’s summer college teams from the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
As part of its plan to radically restructure the minor league system — which includes trimming the number of affiliated clubs from 160 to 120 — MLB presented a proposal to convert the New York-Penn League, of which the ValleyCats are currently a member, into a summer wooden-bat league for college players.
That’s a similar model to the PGCBL, which has three teams in the Capital Region with the Amsterdam Mohawks, Albany Dutchmen and Glens Falls Dragons. Amsterdam team president and general manager Brian Spagnola, though, said Friday that he doesn’t believe the proposed change would have that great of an impact on his franchise.
“I don’t think, for us, it would have much of an effect,” Spagnola said. “Our fans are Mohawk Valley fans, so we’re not going to lose a fanbase or sponsors, anything like that.”
According to the proposal, which was first reported by Baseball America, the NYPL teams that don’t retain affiliation with a big-league club would spin off into a summer league for college players and pay dues to the scouting service Prep Baseball Report — the major competitor to Perfect Game USA, the PGCBL’s parent entity.
ValleyCats general manager Matt Callahan said Friday that the Troy-based team’s current focus is on retaining an MLB affiliation. The ValleyCats have spent the last 18 years as the short-season Class A affiliate for the Houston Astros, but the player development contract between the ValleyCats and Astros expired at the end of September.
“Really, the way we view it right now is that it’s being positioned as an alternative for teams that don’t remain affiliated and that aren’t among the 120 [that remain affiliated],” Callahan said. “We’re still focused on maintaining our affiliation, and trying to be part of that 120 and waiting to get more information on that list.”
That list, Callahan said, is expected to be released by Major League Baseball within the next couple weeks.
“I think Major League Baseball was waiting to get through the World Series, and they’ll probably wait until after Election Day,” Callahan said. “At some point in November, we expect we’ll hear more about the affiliations moving forward.”
Under the proposal, the New York-Penn League would go from a short-season Class A league playing a 76-game season with rosters primarily made up of first-year professionals coming out of the June MLB Draft to a 60-game season for draft-eligible rising college seniors.
Plenty of top Astros prospects have made Joseph L. Bruno Stadium one of their first professional homes. Among them is Hunter Pence, who played for the ValleyCats in 2004 after being drafted out of Texas-Arlington.
Two years earlier, Pence spent his summer playing for the Mohawks when the franchise was still located in Schenectady and part of the New York Collegiate Baseball League.
Neither the New York-Penn League nor the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League had a season in 2020 due to issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Several PGCBL franchises, though, competed in an independent league.
Spagnola said he isn’t too worried about a potential collegiate version of the New York-Penn League eating into the Mohawks’ player pool. Amsterdam traditionally brings in younger players from power conference programs such as Mississippi State and Wake Forest.
Those relationships between Spagnola, veteran Mohawks head coach Keith Griffin and top college programs have helped bring Amsterdam seven league championships since Griffin’s arrival in 2009.
“Those coaches like to send their players here because of us — our organization, our community and Keith,” Spagnola said. “Mississippi State is sending their guys here for those three reasons. I don’t think [a new summer college league] would have much of an impact.”
Should the ValleyCats be one of the teams that doesn’t make the cut for MLB affiliation, Callahan said the franchise will “evaluate all options.”
That could include staying with the NYPL as a summer college team if the proposal goes forward or joining an independent professional league.
“We’ll try to make a decision that we think is best for our fans, best for our franchise and best for our market,” Callahan said. “We’re not at a point yet where we have enough information on any of the options to make a decision moving forward. We’re putting our energy into doing what we can to maintain an affiliation. We’re doing everything we can to do that.”