The Pioneer League, which includes the Rocky Mountain Vibes, officially lost its development license with MLB and announced plans Monday to move forward as an MLB “Partner League.” Here’s how that difference figures to impact the team and its fan experience in Colorado Springs.
WHAT WILL CHANGE
Players won’t all be part of MLB pipeline
Each Major League team will have just four affiliated minor league clubs in its player development system, down from what had previously been five to six per club. With fewer opportunities available to find playing time for prospects, teams will be able loan players to the Vibes and other teams in “Partner Leagues” for an agreed-upon amount of time to get game action.
The Vibes will scout their own players
The “Partner Leagues” will operate under parameters for filling the roster, including an as-yet unannounced maximum age for players. Within those rules, it will be on the teams to find and sign players. Contracts for players could then be sold to MLB teams. With players able to choose their destinations, it will be interesting to see if Colorado Springs, with the highest-altitude professional park in the country, finds itself at a disadvantage in finding pitchers.
Entertainment at the stadium
By being forced to get creative during the coronavirus pandemic, the Vibes found some ideas they’d like to continue. The popularity of drive-in movies has the team working on plans to implement a weekly summer movie night series (probably on blankets and lawn chairs instead of cars on the playing surface) as well as concerts and other non-baseball events.
WHAT WON’T CHANGE
Presumably, the quality of baseball
The rosters in the “Partner League” figure to be filled with players recently out of college or from other countries looking to establish a foothold in professional baseball, just as they were in at the Rookie League level. The end result of the loan program with MLB remains to be seen, but if it results in some recently drafted players being sent to the Vibes then the change would be negligible.
Fireworks, $2 Tuesdays and events like Bark at the Park were put on by the Vibes without assistance from MLB or MiLB, so a change in agreement doesn’t impact that. If anything, losing those ties allows the team freedom to explore options without the need for approval. A Rocky Mountain Oysters night with all the possibilities that could come with it that would have given MiLB pause? It’s a possibility now.
The possibility of future change
MLB is demanding higher standards in facilities and player accommodations from its affiliates. Should these new requirements put minor league teams out of business (that might already be happening in Fresno, Calif.), more shuffling might happen. And frankly, even if that’s not the catalyst, shuffling will happen down the line anyway. A return to Triple-A (no other level makes sense geographically) in Colorado Springs would seem unlikely as the reasons that caused the change remain, namely altitude, April/May weather and little civic interest in building a downtown stadium. But this is an ever-growing market, so never say never.