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On the Brink of Elimination, Baseball's Mahoning Valley Scrappers Get New Life in Niles

Northeast Ohio gets to keep one of its rookie baseball teams, even though they’ll no longer be affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. The Mahoning Valley Scrappers were on the brink of being eliminated as part of a contracting of minor league baseball. They now join a new league of college prospects.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says it's the best-case scenario for the team that's been a part of Northeast Ohio's sports scene for more than 20 years.

Who are the Scrappers?

In their minor league system, the Indians currently have the Class AAA Columbus Clippers, the Class AA Akron RubberDucks and two Class A teams: High-A Lynchburg Hillcats for advanced prospects and Low-A Lake County Captains, with each team in a different league to go along with their class designation. These full-season minor league teams play a 140-game schedule.

Then there's the rookie league short-season teams, like the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Pluto says they played a roughly 70-game season in the New York-Penn League as an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. They've played in Niles since 1999.

Contracting the minor league system

Before the pandemic hit in March, there were talks of contracting the minor leagues. Pluto says the idea came from Major League Baseball's the Houston Astros.

"Through their analytics, they said every major league team should only have four full-time farm teams, and that there's no reason to have these rookie league teams, like in Mahoning Valley," Pluto said.

The idea was to have all other players stationed at a club's spring training complex in Florida or Arizona, saving teams money.

Pluto said he never believed Major League Baseball would go along with it, but it did.

As a result, 43 minor league teams will be eliminated, leaving 120 teams in the minors, with four affiliates for each major league team. The good news for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers is that they were saved.

The Draft League

The Scrappers will still have an affiliation with MLB as part of the six-team Draft League. The players will be college juniors and seniors with a high chance of being drafted. The season will run from May through July.

"The Major League Draft will be in July, so if you're like a real hardcore [fan] and want to play scout, you could do that," Pluto said.

The league is a partnership with Prep Baseball Report, which regularly hosts showcases for some of the nation's top high school baseball talent. College and pro scouts often come to find players they can recruit.

Best-case scenario for Mahoning Valley

Pluto says while he's not a fan of contracting the minor leagues, the Scrappers got a good deal out of it.

"If I had to pick any of these things to come out of it, this was the best because you'll probably see a level of ball that was very similar to what you were watching anyway, only these are players waiting to be drafted instead of players who were there immediately after they were drafted," he said.

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