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Pirates adding extra minor-league team in Bristol, Virginia

Jared Wickerham

The Pirates announce that they're adding a team in Bristol, Virginia that will play in the Appalachian League in 2014.

Bristol was a White Sox affiliate in 2013. The Appalachian League is the same level (well, sort of -- see below) as the New York - Penn League, where Jamestown plays, and it's also a short-season league. The Pirates' contract with Jamestown carries through 2014, and the Pirates' language strongly suggests that the Pirates will just have an extra low-level team next year.

(UPDATE: Tim and I have been talking on Twitter about exactly what level the Appy League is. Technically, MILB lists the Appalachian League as a rookie-league team, just as it lists GCL teams, while it lists NYPL teams as short-season Class A. However, many teams do not have short-season Class A teams but do have teams in the Appalachian League. All teams have a GCL team or an Arizona rookie league team. So, functionally, many teams are going to use their Appy League affiliates as a short-season A league, a level higher than the GCL. Some teams already have an Appy or Pioneer League team in addition to a short-season team. But most don't, and instead have one or the other. So an Appy League team will essentially play NYPL-level competition, or just a notch below. It is certainly, in my view, closer in competition level to the NYPL than it is to the GCL.)

The other Appy League cities are Princeton and Bluefield, West Virginia; Pulaski and Danville, Virginia; Burlington, North Carolina; and Kingsport, Johnson City, Elizabethton, and Greeneville, Tennessee. They're all clustered pretty closely together geographically, so if you're anywhere near one of those cities, you'll be able to see a lot of Pirates minor-league baseball next year.

The Pirates didn't have many obvious prospects at Jamestown last year who didn't get significant playing time, but I've always wondered why more teams don't have two affiliates, either here or at the GCL level (which is lower). The lower levels often have tons of players fighting for limited numbers of at bats.

The Pirates took on a two-year deal with Jamestown after the 2012 season so they could eventually move their NYPL affiliate to Morgantown. The new ballpark in Morgantown is supposedly on track for 2015, but it's encountered some hurdles in the past. So, as WTM points out in the comments, the Pirates may be adding the Bristol team just in case Morgantown isn't ready to go on time. If the ballpark isn't ready, there's no great place to play minor-league baseball in Morgantown, since the existing WVU ballpark is worse than even some of the really poor minor-league parks I've seen. Of course, the Pirates could just be planning to have an extra low-level affiliate for the foreseeable future, which I think would be great.