The Charleston RiverDogs have a new Major League affiliate, one with a history of providing the low-level Class A minor league baseball club with top talent.
The Tampa Bay Rays and RiverDogs officially announced a player development contract Wednesday. The Rays and the South Atlantic League's RiverDogs worked together from 1997-2004 before the RiverDogs signed on with the New York Yankees, a relationship that lasted until November of this year.
The upstart Rays ,while building a farm system from scratch, sent such top draft picks as Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton and Delmon Young to Riley Park.
As a much better Major League club consistently overachieving thanks to innovative analytics — the Rays lost to the Dodgers in the 2020 World Series — Tampa Bay will be drafting late in the first round in 2021. But Baseball America consistently rates the Tampa Bay farm system among the best.
The Charleston affiliation switch is a small step in Major League Baseball’s massive overhaul and contraction of a minor league system that began last spring but was slowed by a coronavirus that forced cancellation of the minor league season.
None of the five South Carolina minor league cities lost franchise ties to MLB as most cuts were below the Class A level. An official South Atlantic League name change, probably to Mid-Atlantic League, is likely.
The South Atlantic League's Columbia Fireflies also got a new affiliate Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals (the Fireflies had been a New York Mets affiliate).
The Greenville Drive (Boston Red Sox) and the high-level Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs) will stay with their parent clubs with Greenville moving up from low-level Class A to high-level Class A.
Best affiliate upgrade in South Carolina on Wednesday: The SAL's Augusta GreenJackets, who play in North Augusta, S.C., went from the San Francisco Giants to the Atlanta Braves.
Jeff Goldklang, president of the RiverDogs’ ownership group, said he was thrilled with the Rays, whom he called "consistently one of the best-run teams in all of Major League Baseball."
"The quality of prospects and on-field success of their farm teams is unmatched," said Goldklang, son of RiverDogs principal owner Marvin Goldklang, "and we can’t wait for our fans and partners to enjoy the Rays experience.”
Rays management was happy to move its low-level Class A team from Bowling Green, Ken., in the Midwest League.
"The Rays have great memories from our previous tenure in Charleston and are excited about the opportunity to renew that relationship,” Rays Director of Minor League Operations Jeff McLerran said. “Player Development is central to our goal of remaining atop the American League, and good development starts with good affiliate partners."
The RiverDogs or Charleston teams by other names (Royals, Pirates, Rainbows) have been in the SAL since 1980 and famed for creative promotions since co-owner Mike Veeck came aboard in the early '90s.
“Since 1994 we have centered our primary focus around providing affordable family fun for people of all ages and backgrounds in the Charleston area,” said RiverDogs President and General Manager Dave Echols. “MLB affiliations change, and we’re blessed to partner with one of the best. Rest assured, our mission will not.”
Minor league changes include slashing between 25 to 33 percent of teams below the Class A level in a move designed to cut costs and travel schedules.
Peter Freund, who is in a RiverDogs ownership group led by the Goldklangs and including comic actor Bill Murray, is also part of the new MLB Draft League. The concept includes six former teams from the dissolved New York-Penn League, including Freund’s Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters. The teams will be stocked with draft-eligible players hoping to improve their stock prior to the MLB Draft, which has been pushed back to the Major League All-Star Week in July.
Freund is the President of Trinity Packaging Corporation, a privately held plastics manufacturer headquartered in Armonk, N.Y.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff