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Who Has The Best Player-Development Facilities? We Rank From Bottom to Top, Part 4

The backbone of any successful MLB franchise is a successful player-development system. And these days successful player development means strong MiLB and spring-training facilities. We continue our ranking of MLB organizations by the quality of their player-development facilities with part four, covering organizations 12-7.

There are teams with some definite player-development philosophies, like the Atlanta Braves, who prefer owning and operating their affiliates, and the Chicago White Sox, who centralize affiliates for the most part in North Carolina and the South. Others, it seems, don’t have much of a philosophical bent and evaluate each affiliate separately. We know every MLB team wants the perfect player-development system, but perfection is hard to achieve. Hence these ratings, new for 2018.

No black-box methodology here. We asked former GMs, broadcasters past and present, and journalists with expertise in specific leagues to rank facilities based on four criteria: player facilities, fan experience, proximity and stability. Player facilities include clubhouses, workout spaces, quality of batting/pitching cages, meeting spaces and cafeteria/nutritional services. The fan experience covers the physical condition of the ballpark, concessions and in-game entertainment. Proximity covers to what extent players are shuffled around; being closer to the MLB parent and other MiLB affiliates is always a good thing. Finally, stability covers the length of the current affiliation deal and expectations of the future. We cover every level of MiLB affiliation (including MiLB teams owned by the parent), as well as spring-training facilities. Spring complexes are increasingly used as year-round facilities: after spring training ends, complexes are used for rehabs, extended-spring workouts and potentially MiLB play, as well as hosting Rookie-league games.

Each level of play was assigned a potential score in each category, with AAA and spring-training facilities receiving the highest number of potential points, decreasing by level of play. There are two teams with two Rookie-level affiliates—the Reds and the Royals—and that commitment to development is reflected in the scores. We asked our experts to limit their responses to ballparks and spring facilities they’ve actually visited and spent time in, and their responses are reported here in aggregated form. No single opinion dominates any ranking, as multiple feedbacks are reflected in every instance.

We present the rankings from bottom to top, with daily stories through tomorrow.

Goodyear Ballpark

12. Cleveland Indians

Strengths: Proximity, stability Weaknesses: fan experience

With a farm system largely built around Ohio teams with strong fan experiences and first-rate player facilities, no wonder the Cleveland Indians have a upper-level player-development facility system. Any ranking topped by Goodyear Ballpark, the Columbus Clippers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and the Akron RubberDucks (Class AA; Eastern League) is off to a great start. We’re now to the point in our ranking to where only a few points are between #12 and #8, so the emphasis is on strengths.

Level Player Facilities Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Columbus Clippers) 9 10 10 10 10
AA (Akron RubberDucks) 8 8 9 9 9
High A (Lynchburg Hillcats) 6 4 6 5 8
Low A (Lake County Captains) 5 5 6 7 7
SSA (Mahoning Valley Scrappers) 2 2 4 3 4
Spring Training 7 6 6 8 8
TOTALS 37 35 41 42 46

11. Detroit Tigers

Strengths: Stability, proximity

The Detroit TigersToledo Mud Hens (Class AAA; International League) partnership is one of the most mutually beneficial in all of baseball, and it really represents how the Tigers have put together their player development facilities system. The emphasis here is on stability and proximity: the Tigers don’t often change affiliates (and the last time they did, it was because there was an opening for their NY-Penn League team to move from a small city in the form of Oneonta to a former Class AA market and ballpark in Norwich, Connecticut). Upgrades to Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium have benefitted both the spring-training experience and the High-A affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers (High A; Florida State League).

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Toledo Mud Hens) 9 10 10 10 10
AA (Erie SeaWolves) 5 6 8 8 9
High A (Lakeland Flying Tigers) 7 6 6 8 8
Low A (West Michigan WhiteCaps) 6 6 6 7 7
SSA (Connecticut Tigers) 3 3 3 4 4
Spring Training 7 6 5 8 8
TOTALS 37 36 38 44 46


10. Pittsburgh Pirates

Strengths: Stability

When you look at the scores for the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliates, one thing stands out: the remarkable consistency when it comes to player facilities, fan experience and proximity. The total score is boosted by the presence of both Short Season A and Rookie affiliates, to be sure, but it’s no surprise that the scores are benefitted with a lineup that includes facilities for the Indianapolis Indians (Class AAA; International League) and the Altoona Curve (Class AA; Eastern League), as well as an upper-level spring training facility.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Indianapolis Indians) 8 9 9 10 10
AA (Altoona Curve) 6 7 8 9 9
High A (Bradenton Marauders) 7 6 6 8 8
Low A (West Virginia Power) 4 5 3 4 7
SSA (West Virginia Black Bears) 3 2 2 2 4
Rookie (Bristol Pirates) 2 2 3 3 4
Spring Training 8 7 7 8 8
TOTALS 38 38 38 44 50

Sloan Park 2018

9. Chicago Cubs

Strengths: Stability Weaknesses: Proximity

The Chicago Cubs have an interesting farm system when it comes to facilities; if only they weren’t scattered across the country. Individually, you have some great facilities in the form of Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League); Smokies Stadium, home of the Tennessee Smokies (Class AA; Southern League); Field, home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A; Carolina League), and Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs (Low A; Midwest League). Too bad they’re not closer together. Add in a great spring-training home in Sloan Park, and the Cubs are a top-10 MLB team on the player facilities front.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Iowa Cubs) 8 8 9 10 10
AA (Tennessee Smokies) 8 8 6 8 9
High A (Myrtle Beach Pelicans) 7 7 6 7 8
Low A (South Bend Cubs) 6 6 7 6 7
SSA (Eugene Emeralds) 3 3 2 3 4
Spring Training 8 8 7 8 8
TOTALS 40 40 37 42 46

JetBlue Park

8. Boston Red Sox

Strengths: Stability, proximity Weaknesses: player facilities

No surprise that one of baseball’s oldest teams would emphasize stability and proximity in its player development facilities, and the team’s rankings are also boosted with teams stressing the fan experience. Some of these issues will be addressed when the Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) settle on a new-ballpark solution.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Pawtucket Red Sox) 6 7 10 8 10
AA (Portland Sea Dogs) 7 8 9 9 9
High A (Salem Red Sox) 6 5 7 7 8
Low A (Greenville Drive) 6 7 6 7 7
SSA (Lowell Spinners) 3 4 4 4 4
Spring Training 8 7 7 8 8
TOTALS 36 38 43 43 46

Camelback Ranch 2018

7. Chicago White Sox

Strengths: Stability, fan experience Weaknesses: proximity

The Chicago White Sox oversee a stable player-development system, and that patience has been rewarded with teams building above-average facilities in CharlotteBirmingham and Winston-Salem, with a new modern ballpark on the way in Kannapolis. The relatively low scores for Centene Stadium, home of the Great Falls Voyagers (rookie; Pioneer League), drags down the total score, as a team in Montana really doesn’t fit with the southern strategy the White Sox employ for player development.

Level Player Facilities Fan Experience Proximity Stability Potential
AAA (Charlotte Knights) 10 10 8 10 10
AA (Birmingham Barons) 9 9 7 9 9
High A (Winston-Salem Dash) 7 8 8 8 8
Low A (Kannapolis Intimidators) 4 5 6 7 7
Rookie (Great Falls Voyagers) 2 2 2 3 4
Spring Training 8 7 6 8 8
TOTALS 40 41 36 45 46

Previous Player Development Facility Rankings

Part 3: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers

Part 2: Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants

Part 1: Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners

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