HOUSTON -- The trip from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues soon will be a short one for Astros players.
The Astros have reached an agreement with the ownership of the Sugar Land Skeeters for the former independent club to become Houston’s Triple-A affiliate beginning next season.
The Astros will acquire a majority ownership share of the Minor League team, the club announced Friday.
By putting their Triple-A affiliate in the Houston suburbs, the Astros will have their highest Minor League affiliate only 23 miles from Minute Maid Park. Houston also would own its three highest Minor League clubs: Sugar Land, Double-A Corpus Christi and Class A Advanced Fayetteville.
MLB is restructuring the Minor Leagues to reduce travel and will cut 40 teams in ’21, leaving 120 Minor League clubs that are affiliated.
The Astros signed a four-year player development contract with the Round Rock Express prior to the 2019 season and wound up playing only one season there after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the ’20 Minor League season. The Express are owned by Ryan Sanders Baseball, which includes Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and former Astros president Reid Ryan.
The professional baseball agreement between MLB and Minor League Baseball expired at the end of September, which voided the deal between the Astros and Round Rock. The Skeeters entered the Atlantic League as an expansion team in 2010 and play at 7,500-seat Constellation Field, which opened in 2012, and have long been seeking affiliation with a Major League club.
MLB has had the right to prevent a Minor League team from being in its market, but MLB can waive it if warranted. Among other MLB clubs to have affiliates in their market are the Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett), the Rangers (Double-A Frisco), the Mets (Class A Brooklyn) and the Indians (Class A Lake County).
Round Rock served as the Astros’ Double-A affiliate from 2000-04 and then as their Triple-A affiliate from 2005-10. Houston had its Triple-A team in Oklahoma City (2011-14) and Fresno (2015-18) before returning to Round Rock, near Austin.
Shortly after buying the Astros in 2011, Jim Crane expressed a desire to move the Triple-A club to the Houston suburb of the The Woodlands, but that would have required relocating an existing franchise. That never happened. The Astros purchased Double-A Corpus Christi in 2013 and founded the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, who competed for their first two years as the Buies Creek Astros (’17-18) while the ballpark was being built in Fayetteville, N.C.