Great news for baseball fans in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Colorado: the Pioneer League will transition from a Rookie-level affiliated league to a pro independent league with unique ties to Major League Baseball.
Seven of the eight teams of the Pioneer League–the Billings Mustangs, Grand Junction Rockies, Great Falls Voyagers, Idaho Falls Chukars, Missoula PaddleHeads, Ogden Raptors, Rocky Mountain Vibes–will keep their home ballparks and branding, while the Northern Colorado Owlz are moving to Windsor, CO from Orem, UT.
The deal struck between league owners and MLB is a unique one among MLB Partner Leagues, which includes the Atlantic League, Frontier League and American Association. It calls for MLB to provide initial funding for the league’s operating expenses, as well as install scouting technology in Pioneer League ballparks to provide MLB teams with first-class scouting information on Pioneer League players. The agreement will also include a procedure for player transfers to MLB teams, with the Pioneer League focusing on undrafted prospects that in the past would have been later-round picks in the 21st-40th rounds, as identified by MLB. (In other words, the same kind of players that would have ended up in the Pioneer League as an affiliated league.) The Leagues also will explore joint marketing, ticketing and fan engagement opportunities.
“Over the past year, we have worked closely with Pioneer League owners and elected officials to ensure the continued success of baseball in the Mountain West,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations, in a press statement. “We’re excited to support this new initiative and look forward to Pioneer League baseball returning in 2021.”
“We are very pleased that professional baseball is alive and well in Western Montana,” said Peter Davis and Susan Crampton Davis, Co-Chairs of the Missoula PaddleHeads, via press statement. “The decision to extend the decades-long relationship between MLB and the Pioneer League is not just great news for our communities, but also for the players and the game of baseball. Through this partnership, we see ourselves contributing to player development in more substantial ways, while also developing baseball fans for life.”
“I am very pleased to have the Billings Mustangs join our seven Pioneer League colleagues in this new league,” said Mustangs owner Dave Heller, via press statement. “The good news is our league remains affiliated with Major League Baseball, our fans still get to see the same high-quality professional baseball they have come to expect at a Mustangs game, and our young people in Billings will still be able to get autographs from future major leaguers. The only real difference is that the Mustangs will now be responsible for paying the players, coaches, trainer and manager. Most everything else remains the same. Most importantly, Billings will, for some major leaguers, still be the first stop on ‘The Road to the Show.’”
“We’re looking forward to being a member of the new MLB Partner League, the beginning of a new chapter in Mustangs history and the continuation of professional baseball here in the Billings community,” said Gary Roller, Mustangs General Manager, via press statement. “We believe the product on the field will be competitive, exciting and entertaining, and we as an organization remain committed to providing our guests with a quality, affordable experience each time they attend a Mustangs game.”
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