The Long and Winding Road to Anaheim

As I scoured the Angels farm system looking for a player or theme to write about I kept coming up empty. I don’t think it’s any great secret that the Halos have a fairly barren minor league system right now. That shouldn’t be interpreted as an aspersion on their scouting or front office – their job is always hard and it becomes that much harder when you’re giving up your first pick year after year to sign premium free agents. We should also remember that although it was under a different scouting director, drafting and signing Mike Trout might be the best piece of scouting business since Tony Lucadello. Yet when you look around the Angels minor leagues right now you just don’t see much that resembles major league impact talent.

While I struggled to come up with a topic for this piece my eye fell on the different Angels affiliate teams. I usually know and/or try to keep abreast of that stuff anyway, but my expertise tends to run towards East Coast teams and affiliates since those are the teams I see. Well, I’m a curious guy and it catches my attention when I see a team have an affiliate really far away from the big league club. The Angels have their Double-A team almost 1,500 miles away from Anaheim in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their A-Ball affiliate is even farther East in Burlington, Iowa. A player climbing the ladder in the Angels org. would theoretically play a full year consecutively in Iowa, then California, then Arkansas and finally in Utah before reaching the big league club. It’s sort of like that old WWII Navy poster: “Join the Angels! See the World!” It’s impossible for many teams to find affiliates all that close by, but that’s still quite  a spread (more data on this below).

What are the effects of having your affiliates located distantly? There’s no real reason for it to be a major nuisance or issue. One major issue is the inconvenience to team officials, front office folk running around and checking in on prospects and rehabbing players. Rehabbing vets are of course put out as well. If you wish to call up a player and your Triple-A team is 2,000 miles away (like the Mets with Las Vegas) then that really hamstrings what you can do and the timetable on your decision making. For example, if a MLB vet might have to go on the DL a team with a Triple-A team in driving distance will often have that player scratched and have him in the big league clubhouse just in case. Another big consideration is fan interest. It’s really nice for interest and ticket purposes with the fans and affiliates to have those teams located near the big league club. You can certainly operate a great operation at a distance, though. This is especially true if you’re a Northern team that has only one warm weather affiliate where they can send their top guys or rehabs to avoid poor weather. It’s not a necessity, but there are clearly benefits to having your affiliates nearby. So, let’s take a look at where major league baseball has their full season affiliates located:

The 5 Closest Full Season Affiliates:

  1. Lake County (CLE – A): 17 miles
  2. Tacoma (SEA – AAA): 21 miles
  3. Bowie (BAL – AA): 21 miles
  4. Potomac (WAS – A+): 23 miles
  5. Frisco (TEX – AA): 27 miles

The 5 Farthest Full Season Affiliates:

  1. Richmond (SF – AA): 2435 miles
  2. Augusta (SF – A): 2272 miles
  3. Las Vegas (NYM – AAA): 2246 miles
  4. Great Lakes (LAD – A): 1931 miles
  5. Bakersfield (CIN – A+): 1906 miles

The 5 Franchises with Closest Average Affiliate Distance:

  1. Baltimore Orioles: 79.5 miles
  2. Washington Nationals: 119.75 miles
  3. Cleveland Indians: 153.25 miles
  4. Atlanta Braves: 205.75 miles
  5. Philadelphia Phillies: 272.25 miles

The 5 Franchises with Farthest Average Affiliate Distance:

  1.  San Francisco Giants: 1227.25 miles
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 1125.5 miles
  3. Seattle Mariners: 1117 miles
  4. New York Mets: 1027.75 miles
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks: 997.5 miles

Here’s all the teams in map form via google maps. Hover your mouse over points and lines to see more info:

It’s interesting the footprints teams have. Obviously there are other considerations here. Minor league teams are in large part independently owned, and they walk a thin line of profitably or sometimes subsistence. There aren’t enough quality cities with nice ballparks and sufficient fans and corporate sponsors to support a successful team. These things are big factors that weight into teams’ decisions. For fun, I also made a map of where MLB teams were and their top affiliates (the lower minors were a constantly shifting mess at the time) from 1952. In 1953 the Braves left Beantown to the Red Sox and headed for Milwaukee. That ushered in the era of expansion and relocation. This is snapshot from right before that all began:

 

 

I would be remiss to not discuss the Angels system at all… there are some players I do like in this system. I feel that Kaleb Cowart can still be an above average regular and was harmed by an overly aggressive assignment to Double-A in 2013. Taylor Lindsey is a ballplayer. C.J. Cron can rake and now has a future in the Angels org. following Mark Trumbo’s departure. The three players I’ve seen a bit of that I liked are R.J. Alvarez, Alex Yarbrough and Nick Maronde. I think Maronde can develop into the top left-handed relief option in a playoff bullpen in time. I wasn’t surprised to see Yarbrough have a break out season in the Cal. league. Like Lindsey, he’s a better player than the sum of his tools would suggest and has a good feel for hitting. Alvarez is a nice power arm with a deceptive, slingy delivery that gives hitters fits. He secondaries have their moments, but the heater really keeps batters honest and lets the other pitches play up. The bottom line here may be that these three turn into a utility player and the 3rd and 4th guys out of the Angels pen. That’s where this system is right now, sadly. I’ll leave you with some video of Alvarez I got on the Cape a few years back:




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Al Skorupa writes about baseball & baseball prospects for Bullpen Banter and Fangraphs/Rotographs. He lives in Rhode Island. He watches & videotapes a good amount of amateur and minor league baseball. You can follow him on twitter @alskor.


18 Responses to “The Long and Winding Road to Anaheim”

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  1. srpst23 says:

    Anecdotally, it seems that the Angels have been this way for a while. I know that the Angels’ AA affiliate used to be the Erie (PA) Seawolves (in 1999 and 2000). That is ~2,450 miles to drive (I’ve driven this as I’m from Erie and have family in Anaheim), which would have been one of the longest. Erie has since switched to be the AA team of the Tigers which is obviously much closer.

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    • j6takish says:

      All of the Tigers minor league affiliates are close with the exception of the Flying Tigers in Lakeland, which is probably atleast 1200 miles. Interestingly enough, it is the longest tenured affiliation in the sport. No idea why they kept it up as long as they have

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      • TK says:

        Another fun fact, the Flying Tigers are actually named after the 1st American Volunteer Group, some of whom trained in Lakeland at the Lakeland School of Aeronautics.

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      • Steve says:

        I’d guess 995… if only that info was presented in the article.

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      • Al Skorupa says:

        The reason is that Lakeland is the location of Tigertown – the Spring Training home and complex for the Tigers. It’s been their Spring Training home for 78 years – the longest tenured Spring site relationship in the game.

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  2. Basil Ganglia says:

    With a Northwest League affiliate in Everett, Mariners fans have the ability to see a player in his first season of ball, then see him again a few years later in AAA, and then on to MLB roster. Felix Hernandez went that route, and more recently Mike Zunino.

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    • Al Skorupa says:

      There’s a few teams that are lucky enough to have short season nearby, but the limited locations of short season leagues convinced me to leave them out of the piece. Boston, the Yankees, Mets, Phillies and Orioles are all lucky like that.

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  3. Krog says:

    I think the A’s are amongst the teams with the best minor league affiliates. Their AAA club in Sacramento is super close so they can easily replenish the major league roster. Their A club in Stockton is close as well, allowing them to monitor their young prospects. Then, their AA team is in the middle of nowhere in Midland, Texas, allowing the prospects to adjust to living life on the road.

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  4. Mr Punch says:

    The Red Sox have their AAA affiliate less than an hour from Fenway, and the AA team within two hours. (There’s also a A team, Lowell, in the Boston metro area.) The most distant US affiliate is at their spring home in Ft. Myers – I’d guess this is true of a number of teams.

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  5. bjsworld says:

    Makes sense that the teams on the coasts (and particularly the west coast) would have the furthest affiliates. There is a lot of open space usually between about 100 miles inland from the west coast until you go east past the Mississippi.

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  6. Paul says:

    It is really a cool map … Nice!

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  7. CardinalRules says:

    I couldn’t help but thing about this amazing Onion article mixing Steve Miller Band and baseball.

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