By Wesley James
Blue Jays from Away
In the beginning...
Before Billy Beane and Bill James there was Branch Rickey. In 1947, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson into a very white Major League baseball.
But in the 1930’s, while with the St. Louis Cardinals, he also did something that changed baseball in another significant way - he formalized the minor league system. He also introduced the baseball helmet, drafted Roberto Clemente, introduced the first full spring training facility, and thought that on-base percentage was more important than batting average. But that’s another story
In a couple of weeks, Blue Jays From Away will publish our 2018 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, detailing every player the Toronto Blue Jays currently have signed to all levels of their system. Over 270 players on eight minor league teams currently populate the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system. All are hard working people with amazing stories.
Leading up to the release of our handbook we will publish articles profiling every team on each level of the minors, discussing important players and the history of each minor league affiliate. On each team we will discuss both those who made it to The Show and those who are still hoping to, as well as the story of each franchise.
The term “farm system” was a joke shared between professional players in the 1930’s while Branch Rickey said he was growing players “like corn.” At the time the minor league system was largely unaffiliated and filled with talent that was independently owned. The first commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, even tried to stop him from monopolizing the system, thinking that Major League teams owning the minor league system would negatively impact the majors.
In 1942, the Cardinals won the World Series with players farmed from his system, including Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. Branch Rickey won.
In many ways the players in the minor leagues now, like then, aren’t treated much better than corn. They largely exist as commodities that front offices hope will grow into something they can sell to fans, or other teams. And they come cheap, many are paid less than minimum wage. The minor leagues are filled with hard working people with fascinating stories, whose passion for the game drives them. Much of what we draw from is part of the story Rickey created in the 1930’s.
Of all professional sports, baseball has by far the deepest minor league system. There are five rookie leagues, including the Dominican Summer League, two class-A Short Season leagues, two class-A leagues, three class-A Advanced leagues, three double-A leagues, and three triple-A leagues - 247 teams in all.
The Blue Jays control eight. Our site profiles these eight teams throughout the year, sharing stories from all levels. If you follow the Blue Jays on your phone this spring, you might see names like Nash Knight or Patrick Cantwell pop up. Who are these people? When were they drafted? Who influenced them? Which school did they come from? Which country did they come from? Is there any hope they can make it to The Show? How do you even pronounce Jason Leblebijian’s last name? We got you covered. It’s all in the Blue Jay’s from Away Minor League Handbook.
There are 40 rounds of drafts in the current collective bargaining agreement and international players can be signed from outside of North American and Puerto Rico starting at age 16. These are the players in our manual and these players will populate the teams we will look at over the next couple weeks.
Next week: The DSL Blue Jays in the Dominican Summer League.
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The 2018 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is coming soon! Visit the Handbook page for more information!