According to a source with knowledge of the coming announcement, MiLB will officially confirm the contraction of the High Desert Mavericks and the Bakersfield Blaze from the California League on Monday afternoon. The two High-A level clubs have long been speculated for contraction, as a myriad of issues surrounding facilities and legal disputes have impacted each affiliate. This move will leave the California League with eight teams entering 2017.
The Bakersfield Blaze, currently the Seattle Mariners’ High-A affiliate, play in historic Sam Lynn Ballpark. Built in 1941, it is the oldest facility in the California League, and lacks some of the modern amenities that big league organizations seek in an affiliate, such as an on-site gym, and improved batting cages. A westward-facing ballpark that requires mid-summer games to start as late as 8:00 pm after waiting for the sun to go down, Sam Lynn arguably faces the most upkeep challenges of any facility in the league. It has also typically reported attendance figures among the Cal League’s lowest, though they have seen an uptick in attendance this summer.
Bakersfield’s demise has long been speculated, with rumors of contraction or movement going back decades. Earlier this year, Ballpark Digest reported that the Mariners were leaving Bakersfield at the end of 2016 after purchasing an ownership stake in the Modesto Nuts franchise, currently affiliated with the Colorado Rockies, also of the California League. Now, it’s official that Bakersfield will not be back in 2017 with a new organization.
The High Desert Mavericks, currently the Texas Rangers’ High-A affiliate, play in rural Adelanto, California at wind-swept Heritage Field—the most offensively-favored ballpark in professional baseball. That makes for a difficult environment in which to evaluate talent, but further than that, complications in High Desert have recently centered on an ongoing legal dispute between the club and the city of Adelanto. Though that dispute appeared to be settled ahead of the 2016 season, facility issues and player development challenges in a very unique, and difficult, market have left the Rangers seeking other options.
With the Mariners leaving Bakersfield for Modesto in 2017, it appears the Rangers are likely headed to the Carolina League. With them, the Houston Astros—currently affiliated with the Lancaster JetHawks, also in the California League—will likely move to the Carolina League, too. That would leave the Rockies the odd club out, and speculation from multiple reports has them set to align with Lancaster as the Astros vacate that affiliate after this year. From there, the California League will become a one-division, eight-team league.
Ironically, both Bakersfield and High Desert have been able to transcend affiliation issues this summer with stellar on-field play. Entering Sunday night, the Blaze are 30-26 in the second half, good enough to lead the Cal League’s North Division. Overall, they are 67-59, including an impressive 38-24 road record, and are a near lock to make the Cal League playoffs next month. The Blaze also tossed the first home no-hitter in the franchise’s history earlier this summer.
At 73-52 overall, High Desert has the best record in the Cal League in 2016. The Mavericks won the South Division’s first half, and will enjoy a first round playoff bye before the Divisional Finals set to begin on September 10.
Today’s Knuckleball will have more on these affiliation moves in the coming days.