GRANVILLE, W.Va. – Major League Baseball announced Monday morning that the West Virginia Black Bears would be one of five founding members of the newly created MLB Draft League.
The league will begin its inaugural season in 2021 in six cities, including the Morgantown/Granville area at Monongalia County Ballpark.
12 Sports spoke with Mike Buczkowski, President of Rich Baseball Operations, who has overseen the WV Black Bears since he was promoted to his current role last year.
“First of all, it retains baseball in Morgantown and Monongalia County. The Black Bears will remain an important part of the community like we have been since 2015,” said Buczkowski. “We’re excited. We’re excited to have worked through this with Major League Baseball and the other teams that today joined the league.”
“We wanted to maintain baseball in Morgantown,” he continued. “We love the community. We think we’ve built a great following, and strong partnerships and relationships with many people there. And we wanted to find an opportunity to continue that.”
According to Buczkowski, the Black Bears have been in discussion with Major League Baseball about this move for, “several months.” The Black Bears future, along with the futures of nearly all Minor League Baseball teams, was uncertain due to Major League Baseball’s plans to change the structure of the MiLB system, which is likely to result in the loss of around 40 Minor League Baseball Clubs.
This move does end direct affiliation between the Black Bears and the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, it means starting in 2021, players who don the Black Bears uniform have the ability to be drafted by any of the 30 MLB teams across the country.
“Hopefully we’re going to see players here that are going to be drafted by .. could be anybody, pick your favorite team. You could see them play before they begin their professional journey with any of the 30 Major League clubs,” Buczkowski said.
The MLB Draft League season’s exact start time hasn’t been solidified yet, according to Buczkowski, though the season will follow a similar time frame that Black Bears fans are accustomed to. And it’s likely that fans will see Black Bears games being played earlier than normal.
Buczkowski says that the MLB Draft League season will likely in mid-to-late-May or early June.
However, an exact time can’t be set until a sixth team is added to the league, which league members are hoping to do in the coming weeks.
This means the MLB Draft League’s season could overlap with the West Virginia University baseball team’s season.
“We have a wonderful partner in West Virginia University and that baseball program,” Buczkowski said. “And it’s important that they keep the access when they need it, and then we fit in nicely when that season is over. We’re looking forward to continuing to be their partners. This really keeps alive what this partnership was intended to be from the beginning.”
“What I’m really looking forward to is perhaps the day where we have some WVU players, who are draft eligible, to be able to participate in this league and create an even more exciting local connection between that great baseball program and the Black Bears.”
The MLB Draft League will play a 68-game regular season.
MLB Draft League Opening Day rosters will be made up exclusively of players who are draft eligible for that year’s MLB Draft. This means the league will mostly be made up of collegiate players, but there could be a few high-end high school seniors in the mix, too.
The MLB Draft League’s all-star break is centered around the Major League Baseball draft.
The good news is, according to Buczkowski, all players who are drafted by any of the 30 big league clubs won’t immediately league their MLB Draft League team.
“Once a player is drafted, if they’re drafted and sign, then they would no longer continue after July in this league,” said Buczkowski. “But a number of players every year are drafted by MLB teams and they do not sign. Those players would continue to play in the league.”
Once players do leave the league, however, to join their MLB team’s minor league affiliate, they will be replaced by other players who were draft eligible that season.
Similar to the New York-Penn League, players won’t be able to join the MLB Draft League until their collegiate or high school season is over.
The basis of the league is to give MLB scouts a good look of draft-eligible players against other players of their caliber.
“Whether it’s like the NFL Combine, or the NHL Combine, the (NBA) G-League, this is going to give a chance for anyone who’s draft eligible to showcase their skills amongst their peers, amongst what will be identified as the top draft-eligible players around the country,” Buczkowski said. “It’s going to give MLB a long look at everybody before that draft. So, if you want to raise your draft status, this is the league to play in.”
Buczkowski said the Black Bears will be in contact with season ticket holders about the new league. The team will also be making announcements about future plans and promotions once a sixth team gets added and the schedule becomes clear.