Changes coming to Detroit Tigers’ minor leagues: Here’s what we know

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Tigers‘ farm system is shaping up to look different in 2021.

West Michigan, the team’s Single-A affiliate, is expected to become the High-A affiliate next season, a person with direct knowledge of the franchise’s minor league adjustments told the Free Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the decisions. 

The changes, based on an MLB proposal to restructure the minor leagues, are being made to implement a new player development model.

That means Lakeland, currently the High-A affiliate, is slated to become the Single-A affiliate, the source said, adding the Tigers will keep the Rookie Gulf Coast League and Dominican Summer League teams in place. Triple-A Toledo also will remain in its current capacity, as well.

The Tigers plan to finalize and announce the updates after Thanksgiving, the source said.

In 2020, minor league seasons were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tigers are expected to lose at least one of their nine affiliates. The Tigers’ Short-Season A affiliate in Norwich, Connecticut, previously known as the Connecticut Tigers, is expected to be unaffiliated with the franchise, the source said. The New York-Pennsylvania League, like the Appalachian League, could be converted to a wood-bat summer development league for college players, according to Baseball America.

Hanging in limbo is Double-A Erie, but the Tigers are “optimistic” about maintaining affiliation, the source said. The team was given $12 million from the state to upgrade UPMC Park. The finances for construction, according to a USA TODAY Sports, were granted before MLB targeted 42 teams — including Erie and Norwich — for contraction, according to Baseball America in October.

The Tigers believe these renovations will keep Erie affiliated with the franchise. In late October, MLB set new standards for facilities, and the organization thinks Erie’s upgrades will comply with the demands.

Tigers’ Double-A affiliate praying it won’t go extinct as minor leagues contract ]

“The SeaWolves have worked closely with the Tigers to understand MLB’s proposed new facility requirements,” SeaWolves president Greg Coleman said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “Recent renovations to UPMC Park meet the majority of the requirements. Additional standards will be met by a clubhouse renovation, which is expected to start soon. We are confident that these recent and forthcoming enhancements will ensure Erie continues as the Double-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

“Many teams throughout MiLB will need to make significant upgrades to meet the new facility requirements. We’re fortunate, thanks to support from Gov. (Tom) Wolf, Erie Events, and our state and local representatives, that we have a head start compared to most teams in meeting the new standards. We’re also very fortunate to have a supportive partner in the Tigers. We have a strong, 20-year partnership, and we expect that relationship will continue for years to come.”

If the Tigers end up losing Erie, they have backup plans, the source said, but because the organization is confident Erie will meet the standards presented by MLB, the source couldn’t provide details about the other options.

The Tigers have been affiliated with Toledo since 1987, Erie since 2001, West Michigan since 1997, Lakeland since 1963 and Connecticut (now Norwich) since 2010.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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