The Rangers officially renewed their affiliations with their Double-A Texas League affiliate Frisco Roughriders, Class A South Atlantic League affiliate Hickory Crawdads and Short Season Northwest League affiliate Spokane Indians. The club owns its Arizona rookie complex league affiliate, so just two stateside affiliations have not been renewed: Triple-A Pacific Coast League Oklahoma Redhawks and Class-A Advanced California League Bakersfield Blaze.
Today's announcements leave an undertone confirming two long rumored changes - the Triple-A affiliation moving to Round Rock, also in the PCL, and the High A affiliation possibly moving to Myrtle Beach, which is owned by Chuck Greenberg. Both of those agreements are up, and Astros GM Ed Wade has confirmed that they expect to lose the Round Rock affiliation.
First off, I would love for both of these to happen. OKC/Round Rock is a tougher call because Oklahoma has been a nice fan base for the Rangers, and the stadium is a good place to watch a game. The Rangers have had a presence in Oklahoma for a long, long time, both in OKC and for several years with a Double-A club in Tulsa. At the same time, Round Rock could give the team a stronger foothold in Central Texas, where the Rangers have fought a losing battle against the Astros for fan support. While the locations are nearly equidistant from DFW, the Austin area is also a fun place to visit for those of us loopy enough to center a day or weekend trip around watching minor league baseball.
A move to Myrtle Beach would be more of a clear cut win for the organization. Bakersfield has been one of the worst minor league affiliation situations for years, and it's only gotten worse with a struggling economy. The facility is poor, as is local fan support. Myrtle Beach, meanwhile, is in a resort town and has been a minor league success story under Greenberg. The locals might struggle with the change from the popular and regional Braves to the Rangers, but it would be a great place to visit. It is only a four hour car ride from Hickory, so logistics for promoted players, roving coaches, front office members and scouts would be greatly simplified. Box scores would come three hours earlier for the hoard of die hard Rangers minor league followers.
Most important to me, though, the Carolina League is just a better place to be from a developmental standpoint. Every Bakersfield statistic or performance has to be viewed against the backdrop of a handful of Cal League stadiums. Bakersfield isn't the most over-the-top offensive park in the league - that's probably Lancaster - but it is bad enough and the team plays enough games in the really silly parks that it has caused a real problem for the organization. Neftali Feliz and Martin Perez both skipped the High A level completely, presumably to spare the young talents the headaches of the league. Others, such as Michael Main and John Danks, had to battle the almost inevitable long ball issues the league presents.
Now, Myrtle Beach has its own slant. It is one of the better pitchers parks in the minors, so evaluators would still have to consider the environment heavily as they track their players. But from a developmental standpoint pitchers parks and leagues are much easier to manage than hitters havens, just as we have learned that they are at the major league level.
The Round Rock move appears to be a done deal, and I really hope that Myrtle Beach is as well.