Northwest League to High-A West

Derek Harper, Staff Reporter

The Northwest League saw quite a few changes during the off-season with Major League Baseball’s realignment of Minor League Baseball (MiLB). The Northwest League saw the loss of the Boise Hawks and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes as well as a rebrand to High-A West.

The league also moved up to the Single-A Advanced level, two steps up from Single-A Short Season, the previous level. Single-A Short Season also doesn’t exist any longer since that was one of the levels eliminated by MLB so the lowest rung is now Low-A full season. 

The California League was previously the Single-A Advanced league on the west coast. However, the league has now rebranded as Low-A West with the Northwest League becoming High-A West. The California League was moved down due to multiple factors including stadium standards.

The Boise Hawks joined the Pioneer League which used to be at the Rookie Advanced level of MiLB. After the league was cut from MiLB, they became an MLB partnered professional independent league. 

Salem-Keizer on the other hand formed their own four team professional independent league called Mavericks Independent Baseball League. The league is named after the old independent professional team, the Portland Mavericks.

The four team Mavericks Independent Baseball League will also include the Salem Senators and the Volcanoes Copa de la Diversion identity, the Campesinos de Salem-Keizer as a team. Copa de la Diversion is an initiative by MiLB to promote the sport and connect its teams to its Hispanic/Latino communities. The Senators is the name of a past minor league team that has called Salem home. 

When the initial cut list of MiLB teams came out, the Tri-City Dust Devils were on it. However, when the official announcement came out, Dust Devils fans got the relief they were hoping for learning that their team was safe from getting cut. It was announced that the team would be switching affiliates from the San Diego Padres to the Los Angeles Angels.

For Erik Mertens, the on-field host for the Tri-City Dust Devils and MiLB enthusiast, it was a confusing off-season.

“This whole plan came out in October of 2019 and then in November of 2019, they leaked out the first draft of the cut list and the Dust Devils were on it,” Mertens said. “But then just a few weeks after that everyone, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, came out and said that list is already outdated and that came to be true.”

Mertens explained how a lot of the teams that were on that list survived while others that weren’t on the list, did get cut. But for those in the Tri-Cities, they’re just relieved they still have a team and are ready to get back to the ballpark.

Former writer for the Athletic and Baseball Prospectus Jeff Wiser touched on everything that went down over the pandemic extended off-season which saw 42 teams get cut from MiLB.

“I think the Northwest League in particular was one of the leagues that was going to be a little vulnerable,” Wiser said. “Some of these leagues with teams in older stadiums in places where the attendance is not very good, the stadium hasn’t been rehabilitated, they were always just going to be a little vulnerable.”

With the jump from short season to High-A, fans have more opportunities to go and enjoy a day out at the ballpark.

“I think Minor League Baseball in all aspects, affiliated or collegiate wood-bat or independent, is a huge part of the Northwest culture,” Mertens said.

Wiser touched on why it’s exciting having High-A in the region now.

He said fans in the Northwest should be very excited with how many magnitudes better High-A baseball is compared to what it was before. 

“The rubber really starts to hit the road for players come High-A,” Wiser said. “You don’t make it to High-A and/or carve out significant playing time for yourself if your team doesn’t think that you can one day hack it and make it as a big leaguer.”