The West Virginia Black Bears, the Class A team owned by Rich Baseball Operations, will have a new home in 2021 as part of the "MLB Draft League," which will become the first league in the country focused on top prospects who are eligible to be drafted by Major League Baseball clubs that summer.
MLB made the announcement Monday, unveiling another major step in its reorganization of the minor leagues. West Virginia will join fellow former NY-P teams Mahoning Valley, State College and Williamsport in the new league as well as the Trenton Thunder, who were dropped as a Double-A affiliate by the New York Yankees last month. A sixth team to be announced is also slated to be added.
MLB's plan for the minors is expected to drop the number of affiliated teams from 162 to 120, with many of the 42 dropped teams going into new ventures such as this one or college wood-bat leagues. Short-season Class A affiliated teams are being eliminated. The full roster of the 120 affiliates, which will include the Buffalo Bisons and Rich's Double-A Northwest Arkansas team, has yet to be announced.
Draft League plans include a 68-game regular season with an all-star break around the draft, which has been pushed back to July as part of the MLB All-Star Week festivities in Atlanta. Players will receive MLB-affiliated scouting in person and through technology as well as educational programming to prepare them for a professional career. Prep Baseball Report will provide support for staffing at the team and league level and will promote the league. PBR is one of the nation's premier scouting services.
The Black Bears play at Monongalia County Ballpark in Granville, W. Va., across the Monongahela River from West Virginia University in Morgantown. The 3,500-seat facility opened in 2015 and is shared with the baseball team from the university.
"First and foremost, this retains baseball in Morgantown and Monongalia County," Mike Buczkowski, president of Rich Baseball, said in a statement to The News. "The Black Bears have been an important part of the community and this announcement means we will continue to deliver outstanding baseball and family entertainment to our loyal fan base there."
"The ballpark continues to provide dividends to our local economy as it was one of the driving forces in the decision to bring a Major League Baseball Draft League team to Morgantown," said Shane Lyons, WVU athletics director and associate vice president. " ... The Mountaineers have a great relationship with the West Virginia Black Bears and Rich Baseball, and we look forward to continue working with them as they become one of the prestigious inaugural teams of this great new venture.”
MLB also announced on Monday that the Class A Pioneer League will be dissolved as an affiliated league and transition to an MLB-run "partner league" along with the Atlantic League, the American Association and the Frontier League.
The eight Pioneer League teams (Billings, Grand Junction, Great Falls, Idaho Falls, Missoula, Ogden, Northern Colorado and Rocky Mountain) will all participate. MLB announced in September that the Appalachian League will become the top wood bat league for college freshmen and sophomores.