We’ve had some big news emerge recently as more details on the reshuffling of the Minor League Baseball system are emerging. The Crawdads received an invitation to jump up a level and become a High-A affiliate with the Texas Rangers. We had been the Rangers’ Low-A team since 2009.

What does this all mean? To put it simply, it’s great news for Crawdads fans as we are likely to see a little higher talent level here in Hickory. As part of the re-organization that is taking place across Minor League Baseball, each MLB team will have four affiliates going forward. The highest level is Triple-A where players go in their final development stage before reaching the majors.

Below that is Double A, then High A where the Crawdads were invited to join. The fourth level is Low A, where the ‘Dads had previously been. The Ranger’s Triple A team will be the Round Rock Express while the Double-A team will remain the Frisco RoughRiders. The Down East Wood Ducks, who play in Kinston, North Carolina, would flip from the High-A affiliate to the Low-A one to counteract the Crawdads move. As players move up in levels, their skills get more refined and they face higher caliber competition. What that all breaks down to is that we will be seeing players that are a year further in their development than we would have seen as a Low-A club.

The Crawdads were a Low-A affiliate and members of the South Atlantic League for their first 27 seasons of play in Hickory. The organization’s ties to the South Atlantic League go back to 1987 when the team was still in Gastonia before moving to Hickory for the 1993 season. Although the ‘Dads are moving up, fans will likely still get to see a few familiar teams come to town as Asheville, Greenville, Rome, and Greensboro, who were all fellow members of the SAL, also received invites to move up to High-A along with the ‘Dads.

Traditionally, the two leagues in the area have been the South Atlantic League for the Low-A teams and the Carolina League for the High-A teams. The exact league structure going into 2021 is not yet known. Guesses can be made as to which teams will be grouped together, but right now there are still a few pieces to iron out before the final assignments are made. On Dec. 9, MLB sent out invitations to 120 clubs to join the new-look minor league system. Teams have been given 30 days to accept the invitation so until all teams sign on or opt out, the leagues can’t be officially determined. Once that happens, work can begin on a schedule for the upcoming season.

The changes are coming as a result of Major League Baseball’s desire to have team’s affiliates and their respective leagues make more geographic sense and for facilities to meet a new minimum standard in areas such as playing surface and player amenities.

This year certainly hasn’t been one that any of us could have predicted but baseball season is once again on the horizon. Major league players will report to camp in less than two months and soon after, the regular season will be upon us. We look forward to being able to welcome you all back to the stadium for Crawdads baseball in 2021. Until then, stay safe and happy holidays.