Only two player signings highlight this week’s roundup, but plenty of conjecture fills the air around the Atlantic League. With most independent leagues already announcing 2021 schedules, all we have from the Atlantic League is a May 28th start date and 6 teams. It’s presumed that the league would be willing to move forward with only 6 teams, but they would prefer not to. 7 teams and a resurrected Road Warriors squad feels like an even less desirable option for the league office in Lancaster, considering the travel team’s historic trend of bad performances and the ongoing pandemic. So, ahead of planned expansion over the next several seasons, the question for 2021 is whether the Atlantic League will have 6 or 8 locations.
Of the 42 markets left unaffiliated by MiLB restructuring, only 12 are still in need of a league, and 3 of those are beyond the Atlantic League’s geographic reach. Taking a look at the remaining 9 locations, 3 stand out as not being at all feasible. Auburn, New York (former home of the Auburn Doubledays) exhibited very poor attendance in the New York-Penn League, comes with a track record of management issues, and has a ballpark that would need significant upgrades. Ownership in Jackson, Tennessee (former home of the Jackson Generals) has a myriad of legal issues to work through, and if you need to know why Norwich, Connecticut (boasting the Norwich Sea Unicorns) is unlikely, some research into the New Britain Bees saga may be all the information you need.
4 other locations, to varying degrees, serve as potential spots for future Atlantic League organizations. Hagerstown, Maryland (formerly the Hagerstown Suns) already has a conditional deal to join the Atlantic League, provided they build a new stadium. However, if the stadium gets approved and built, it will most likely be 2023 before it is ready to host games. Staten Island, New York (formerly the Staten Island Yankees) is in a similar circumstance, finding themselves in talks with the Atlantic League but needing major stadium renovations. Burlington, Vermont (formerly the Vermont Lake Monsters) is another potential ALPB market but comes with a far-from-ideal home field in a historic ballpark at the University of Vermont and they haven’t been reported to be in discussions with the Atlantic League. Lowell, Massachusetts (formerly the Lowell Spinners) has always enjoyed a strong fan-base and has a ballpark that would only need relatively minor renovations. However, Lowell is reported to be holding out for a chance to resume affiliation with the Boston Red Sox in 2022.
Finally, there seem to be 2 realistic options to fill open Atlantic League spots on short-notice in 2021. Lexington, Kentucky had consistently good attendance with the Lexington Legends and their market seems to have responded well during their first taste of indy ball (presumably tasting like whiskey) in 2020. Lexington not following their Battle of the Bourbon Trail partner, Florence, into the Frontier League’s 2021 batch was a surprise to many. With the Frontier League seeming content to stick to their 16-team structure this season, the Atlantic League might be the only suiter left for Lexington if the league is willing to stretch their current footprint. If the league expanded into Kentucky, it could embrace Charleston, West Virginia as well. The former home of the West Virginia Power has a quality stadium, but have struggled to consistently fill it with fans. If a strong re-brand and plan to grow the fan base can be arranged, Charleston could join in the Atlantic League, but likely only if the Atlantic League reached a deal with Lexington first.
It should be noted that we don’t know the financial backing or negotiables of any of these possible Atlantic League locations, but on the surface, Lexington and Charleston do appear to be the only 2021 expansion options for the league. Even if it remains a tad optimistic to project such things, an Atlantic League structure like the one below would add much-needed scheduling diversity to a season currently stuck at just 6 teams spread over roughly 700 miles. Long-term, bringing 8 teams into 2021 would also be a major step toward the league’s future expansion goal of at least 12-teams in order to remain competitive with other expanding independent leagues.
Rockers start push for 2021
with a familiar face
The High Point Rockers made their first signing of 2021, bringing back fan-favorite Quincy Latimore. The North Carolina native had a very good year as High Point’s leftfielder in 2019 and saw his power flourish, though his OBP didn’t seem to reach its full potential. Entering his age-32 season, projections neither see the potential for massive improvement nor noticeable decline. In a league where rosters fluctuate and youth is abundant, Quincy’s projected WAR may sell him a bit short. His consistent veteran presence anchoring the High Point outfield and lineup bring additional value that box scores don’t plainly show.
returns to the flock
The Long Island Ducks have re-signed the first Atlantic League pitcher of 2021, returning 2019 Atlantic League All-star Joe Iorio. Iorio’s All-star status was made even more impressive by the fact that 2019 was his first season with regular use in a starting rotation.
Joe’s K/9 took a hit in 2019, but that’s expected moving from a Frontier League bullpen to an Atlantic League rotation. Our projections value Iorio as a starter right now, but we may release an update as we get more info down the road. (He did have a sub-1 WHIP in relief in ’19, so bullpen use doesn’t hurt his value too considerably.) Joe was also tougher on lefties than righties in 2019 (holding lefty batters to .241/.276/.398 and righties .254/.303/.379). A substantial reason for this difference was lefties posting just a .253 BABIP in 229 PA (vs .301 from righties), meaning they weren’t finding a way to make solid contact against him even if they were getting bat on ball.