The New Look Florida State League
In recent days, there’s been some major changes in the Minor Leagues. Among the leagues impacted by the restructing is the Florida State League. We learned that MLB would retain 119 franchises as affiliates. This is over a 40 team reduction from the 162 that played in 2019.
Farewell Stone Crabs, Fire Frogs
Among the franchises that did not survive the cut were the Charlotte Stone Crabs and the Florida Fire Frogs of the Florida State League. The Stone Crabs were an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays and played home games at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. This is also the home of Ray Spring Training. The Stone Crabs were previously an affiliate of the LA Dodgers. They relocated from Vero Beach in 2006, after the closing of Dogertown.
The Florida Fire Frogs were an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves and were already a franchise in transition. In 2019, the Fire Frogs would play their final season in Kissimmee and were scheduled to relocate. The Braves had left their Spring Training home at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, headed to North Port (Sarasota County). The Fire Frogs played just three seasons in Kissimmee and as a Braves affiliate. The Brevard County Manatees (Nationals) relocated to Kissimmee after the 2016 season.
Shifting to Low-A
The elimination of these franchises shrinks the size of the FSL down to ten teams. The changes also include changing the FSL from a High-A to a Low-A league. In many ways, this change makes sense. When teams leave Spring Training and begin the regular season, their top young prospects will begin their season at their Spring Training location. These tend to be the most elaborate facilities available with plenty of professional staff on hand. Nine of the ten remaining Florida State League franchises host Spring Training at their Florida facilities. Only Daytona (Reds), hold Spring Training in Arizona.
By in large, the Florida State League remains in tact. This is more than can be said about organizations like the New York-Penn League. The short-season A-ball league has been completely dismantled in the restructuring. These changes, however, could bring into question the future of Rays Spring Training. The Rays will stay in Port Charlotte, but will do so without a minor league affiliate that remains in the area throughout the season. The departure of Fire Frogs from Kissimmee and the Braves from Orlando (Lake Buena Vista), leave a major Spring Training gap in Central Florida. Only the Tigers, in Lakeland, continue Spring Training in the interior part of the state.
Saving the Tortugas
Despite the elimination of two franchises, the retention of the Daytona Tortugas was a win for the league. When MLB announced their plans to restructure MiLB, Daytona was on the list of franchises to be eliminated. The Tortugas front office and fan base launched a campaign to save the franchise. The commitment from the city of Daytona to upgrade the historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark certainly helped. So did their strong attendance figures. This combined effort helped save the franchise from elimination and secured their spot in the future of the FSL.
2021 and Beyond
As the Florida State League transitions from High-A to Low-A, the franchises will have to get adjusted to their place in the pecking order. As MiLB makes it’s plans for the upcoming season, decisions on attendance will likely be left up to the localities. Both college and professional athletics in Florida have had crowds in attendance over the last few months. This likely means we should see a semi-normal start to the FSL season. The return of play in the FSL is highly anticipated by the team here at Legends on Deck. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting on February 17th!
As a tribute to the Stone Crabs and Fire Frogs, below a short list of some past articles covering these franchises and their players:
Charlotte Stone Crabs
- Stone Crabs Prospects of the Week: 3B Kaleo Johnson and P Tony Romero
- FSL: Stone Crabs Beat Flying Tigers 7-3, to Finish the Week 4-3g a Push for a Second Half Title
- When Baseball is Really Just a Kids Game
- Prospects on Deck: RHP Jacob Faria — Rays
- Prospects on Deck: RHP Simon Rosenblum Larson — Rays
Florida Fire Frogs
- Florida Fire Frogs Set to Depart Kissimmee
- Fire Frogs Bring Baseball Culture Back to Orlando Area
- Fire Frogs Castro Has Monster Game at the Plate
- Prospects on Deck: Braves RHP Jaseel De La Cruz Tosses No No
- Prospects on Deck: RHP Ian Anderson — Braves