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Who Has The Best MLB Player-Development Facilities? Here Are The Top Six

Major League Baseball logoThe 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 end our ranking of MLB organizations by the quality of their player-development facilities with the top six organizations.

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. 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.

2015 Triple-A All-Star Game, Omaha

6. Kansas City Royals

Strengths: Stability, player facilities Weaknesses: Fan experience, proximity

We are at the point of our rankings where strengths and weaknesses are relative, and not many points separate #6 from #1. That’s abundantly clear with our listing for the Kansas City Royals player-development rankings. Really, there’s strength up and down the line: Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) works both for players and fans, making it an ideal top affiliate.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Omaha Storm Chasers) 8 9 9 10 10
AA (NW Arkansas Naturals) 7 7 8 8 9
High A (Wilmington Blue Rocks) 7 6 5 8 8
Low A (Lexington Legends) 5 6 5 6 7
Rookie (Burlington Royals) 3 2 2 3 4
Rookie (Idaho Falls Chukars) 3 3 3 4 4
Spring Training 8 7 7 8 8
TOTALS 41 39 39 47 50

Durham Bulls Athletic Park 2016

5. Tampa Bay Rays

Strengths: Stability, proximity Weaknesses Player facilities, fan experience

The whole Tampa Bay player-development plan relies on patient player development, which is why a stable farm system makes a difference. Having the two top affiliates perform at high levels helps the rankings — Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Durham Bulls (Class AAA; International League) and Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits (Class AA; Southern League), both excel.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Durham Bulls) 9 10 8 10 10
AA (Montgomery Biscuits) 8 9 8 9 9
High A (Chartlotte Stone Crabs) 6 5 7 8 8
Low A (Bowling Green Hot Rods) 4 4 5 7 7
SSA (Hudson Valley Renegades) 3 4 3 3 4
Rookie (Princeton Rays) 2 2 3 3 4
Spring Training 6 6 8 8 8
TOTALS 38 39 42 48 50

AutoZone Park, Memphis Redbirds

4. St. Louis Cardinals

StrengthsStability, proximity Weaknesses: Player facilities, fan experience

The Cardinals, like the Braves, operate under the philosophy that it’s best to have an ownership stake in player development; hence the minority ownership of the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and the outright ownership of the Springfield Cardinals (Class AA; Texas League) and the Palm Beach Cardinals (High A; Florida State League). What’s noteworthy is how the Cards’ player-development facilities have improved over the past few years, with upgrades in Memphis and Johnson City, and potential improvements in Palm Beach.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Memphis Redbirds) 8 8 9 10 10
AA (Springfield Cardinals) 7 7 9 8 9
High A (Palm Beach Cardinals) 7 6 6 8 8
Low A (Peoria Chiefs) 6 6 7 6 7
SSA (State College Spikes) 3 3 2 3 4
Rookie (Johnson City Cardinals) 3 3 3 4 4
Spring Training 7 7 6 8 8
TOTALS 41 40 42 47 50

Steinbrenner Field 2017

2 (t). New York Yankees

Strengths: Stability, proximity, player facilities Weaknesses: Fan experience

No surprise that a storied organization like the Yankees would stress stability in their player-development system. Outside of the organizations where the Yankees have a partial investment, however, there’s been plenty of improvement over the past few years, such as renovations at PNC Field, home of the Scranton-Wilkes/Barre RailRiders (Class AAA; International League) and George M. Steinbrenner Field, the team’s spring-training home and the regular-season home of the Tampa Tarpons (High A; Florida State League). And, of course, Riley Park, home of the Charleston RiverDogs (Low A; Sally League) is one of Minor League Baseball’s gems.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (SWB RailRiders) 8 8 9 9 10
AA (Trenton Thunder) 7 7 9 8 9
High A (Tampa Tarpons) 8 6 6 8 8
Low A (Charleston RiverDogs) 6 6 5 7 7
SSA (SI Yankees) 2 3 4 4 4
Rookie (Pulaski Yankees) 3 2 3 3 4
Spring Training 8 8 6 8 8
TOTALS 42 40 42 47 50

Bright House Field

2 (t). Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: Stability, fan experience Weaknesses: player facilities, proximity

Talk about consistency. There isn’t a weak link in the Phillies’ player-development facilities on any level; any MLB team would love to be playing out of any of these facilities, and that stability elevates the entire system. Heck, the Phillies have a Short Season A team hosting MLB exhibitions!

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Lehigh Valley IronPigs) 9 10 10 10 10
AA (Reading Fightin Phils) 7 9 9 9 9
High A (Clearwater Threshers) 8 7 5 8 8
Low A (Lakewood BlueClaws) 6 6 7 7 7
SSA (Williamsport Crosscutters) 3 4 4 4 4
Spring Training 8 8 5 8 8
TOTALS 41 43 41 46 46

Goodyear Ballpark

1. Cincinnati Reds

Strengths: Stability, fan experience Weaknesses: Proximity, player facilities

Again, a strong system from top to bottom, with a score boosted by two strong Rookie-level teams. Having a Louisville Slugger Field or a Fifth Third Field just down the road is definitely a plus, as are top-level facilities in Pensacola, Billings and Greeneville. Add in the historic value of playing out of Radiology Associates Field at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, home of the Daytona Tortugas (High A; Florida State League) and you have a player-development system at the top of our rankings.

Level Player Facilities  Fan Experience  Proximity  Stability Potential
AAA (Louisville Bats) 9 9 10 9 10
AA (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) 8 8 7 9 9
High A (Daytona Tortugas) 5 8 5 6 8
Low A (Dayton Dragons) 7 7 7 7 7
Rookie (Billings Mustangs) 3 4 2 4 4
Rookie (Greeneville Reds) 4 4 3 3 4
Spring Training 7 5 4 8 8
TOTALS 43 45 38 46 50

Previous Player Development Facility Rankings

Part 4: Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox

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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