TORONTO -- The Blue Jays announced Wednesday that they’ve issued an invitation to four Minor League clubs to become the organization’s affiliates under MLB’s new player development structure, which includes some reorganizing of longtime affiliates.
The Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats have been invited to remain the Blue Jays' affiliate at those levels, while the Vancouver Canadians have been invited as the Class A Advanced affiliate and the Dunedin Blue Jays will be moved to the Class A affiliate.
Vancouver’s jump from short-season to full-season ball is the most notable change here, as one of Minor League Baseball’s model franchises keeps its Canadian connection. Baseball fans in British Columbia have packed Nat Bailey Stadium for years, but now, the talent on the field in front of them will be even greater.
“The Blue Jays value the opportunity to continue strong associations with these four franchises. Foremost among them, the Blue Jays share a close affinity with the Vancouver Canadians and baseball fans in western Canada,” the club said in a statement. “As this country’s only Major League Baseball team, the club takes great pride in maintaining a west coast presence, introducing future Blue Jays players to Canadian fans, and helping grow the game nationally.”
Prior to this reorganization, Vancouver was often a landing spot for recent college draftees or younger prospects making the jump from Rookie ball. Now, as the Class A Advanced affiliate -- which Dunedin was previously -- the majority of the club’s top prospects will make a stop north of the border as they climb the ladder to the Majors.
The other major change comes with Dunedin’s shift to Class A, a move that makes plenty of sense for the Blue Jays given that their Spring Training home at TD Ballpark and new player development complex are there. This will now act as the entry point for nearly all of Toronto's prospects, with facilities that the club believes are among the best in baseball.
This structure also gives the Blue Jays the ability to focus their development system around that complex, particularly when young prospects are starting out in their careers. In October, club president and CEO Mark Shapiro spoke of the recent changes in coaching, training, technology and other areas of player development, all of which he feels can be centralized to benefit the players.
“For a certain age and level of players, the sentiment among the majority if not all Major League general managers has been, ‘We can do that better for our younger players at our complexes,’” Shapiro said. “That obviously is extremely helpful for us.”
A number of Blue Jays players, both in the Majors and Minors, have already been training at the club’s new complex this offseason, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. There are also larger groups of prospects going through player development programs.
Lost in this projected structure will be the Lansing Lugnuts, who had been the club’s Class A affiliate and have been invited to be an Oakland A's affiliate, and the Bluefield Blue Jays, a short-season club from the Appalachian League where many prospects got their start.
“With MLB’s new structure, the Blue Jays have parted ways with the Lansing Lugnuts and Bluefield Blue Jays, two teams and cities with which they have shared a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship,” the club said. “The club wishes to thank Lansing and Bluefield, as well as those teams’ staff and fans, for their commitment to Blue Jays player development through the years.”