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Williamsport Crosscutters join new MLB Draft League

The Williamsport Crosscutters will be one of five founding members of the Major League Baseball Draft League when it begins play in May 2021, the team announced Monday morning.

In a reorganization of Minor League Baseball by Major League Baseball, the Crosscutters lost their affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies, but will now participate in a league providing exposure to MLB Draft-eligible college players. The Cutters will be joined in the league by the State College Spikes, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and the West Virginia Black Bears, all of which were members of the former New York-Penn League. The former Class AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, the Trenton Thunder, are also one of the league’s founding members, and Major League Baseball is currently in negotiations with a sixth team to join the league.

“Our goal was to remain viable in the Major League Baseball pipeline,” Crosscutters principal owner Peter Freund said during a virtual press conference Monday morning. “I don’t believe that what you will see on the field is going to be that different. There’s an argument to be made that the caliber of prospects showcased in this league might be of a higher caliber than what you’ve seen in the past. The way I look at this, our pipeline is going to be driven by Major League Baseball and all 30 clubs as opposed to just the Phillies.”

Since playing its first season in Williamsport in 1994, the team has been affiliated with the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cutters have been affiliated with the Phillies since 2007 and in 26 seasons since moving to Williamsport, the Crosscutters/Cubs have produced 119 future Major League Baseball players.

But in a reorganization of the minor league baseball system by Major League Baseball, MLB teams have been limited to just four licensed minor league affiliates and one complex team in either the Gulf Coast League or the Arizona League. And because the Philadelphia Phillies have either outright or partial ownership of the Lakewood Blueclaws, the Clearwater Threshers, the Reading Fightin’ Phils and the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs, the Crosscutters were left on the outside looking in for a spot in Major League Baseball’s prospect pipeline.

Freund said the options for the Crosscutters were limited. They could join an independent baseball league, such as the Atlantic League or the Frontier League, but in those situations the Crosscutters are responsible for paying the players and coaching staffs. And as one of the smallest minor league markets in the country, it was not a financially feasible long-term solution.

As a member of the MLB Draft League, players will be assigned to teams in the league by Major League Baseball with the help of Prep Baseball Report, one of the country’s biggest independent baseball scouting services. The goal for Major League Baseball is to have the nation’s top draft-eligible prospects as well as rising college seniors play in this new league as a final showcase leading up to the All-Star weekend MLB Draft in early July.

The league is scheduled for a 68-game season which would run from late May until early August. Some players would remain with their MLB Draft League team after being drafted to continue playing baseball for the remainder of the summer. Some of the higher draft picks may report immediately to their new professional teams.

“We’ve had a proud tradition of professional baseball in Williamsport dating back to the late 1800s. It is great to hear that this tradition will continue with the MLB Draft League,” said PA Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy in a release. “I will be excited to watch draft-eligible players show off their talents and then get to see them in the MLB in a few years.”

Both Freund and Crosscutters vice president of marketing and public relations Gabe Sinicropi said the gameday experience for fans won’t change. Sinicropi also said ticket prices will remain the same.

All that will change for the Cutters from a gameday experience is how the players are assigned to the team.

“We’re going to run our business the same way that we always have and providing fun, affordable family entertainment and memories for folks up and down the Susquehanna Valley,” Sinicropi said. The slight difference, the way I see it, instead of getting players right after they’re drafted, we’re getting them right before they’re drafted. It’s a few weeks difference and it’s the same type of player. In fact, there’s more potential higher round players on our team than in the past. It’s something that we’re obviously excited about.”

Read more about the Williamsport Crosscutters’ new home in Tuesday’s edition of the Sun-Gazette.

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