A New Affiliate Close to Home?
One interesting tidbit noted by Baseball America is that under this agreement, 42 current affiliates would be eliminated, with two Independent League teams joining affiliated ball. One of those two new teams would be the Sugar Land Skeeters, meaning there would be an additional minor league franchise with geographical proximity to the Astros.
If I’m Jim Crane, I’m jumping on the chance to have the Skeeters as one of my minor league teams. The location is a huge plus, and Constellation Field is a great facility. Local fans wouldn’t have to drive to Round Rock or Corpus Christi to see some of the team’s future stars in action.
Plus, Crane has already tried in the past to establish a Triple-A team in the Houston area, though he was not successful. If he gets an opportunity to bring the Skeeters into the fold, I would imagine he won’t hesitate.
As for the makeup of the team’s minor league affiliations, a lot of that remains up in the air. The Astros actually own the Hooks franchise, so the Hooks will certainly remain one of the team’s affiliates. There’s just no way to say for sure if Corpus Christi will remain a Double-A team or if it could shift to another level.
The Express are owned by the Ryan-Sanders Group, with Reese Ryan (son of Nolan and brother of Reid) serving as CEO. The Express signed a four-year agreement with the Astros prior to the 2019 season, which would bind them to the Astros through 2022. But if minor league realignment occurs, there’s a possibility that these affiliation contracts will be subject to change.
The fact that both Nolan and Reid Ryan’s positions with the Astros were recently reduced or removed altogether would complicate matters. If the Ryans want to move on, perhaps reuniting with the Rangers, then the Astros could have Sugar Land and Corpus Christi as their top two affiliates. If not, perhaps Sugar Land could be a Class-A team.
Much of this will depend on geography as well. If there’s no Class-A league in the general vicinity, it might not be possible for Sugar Land to be one of the team’s Class-A affiliates. The Astros’ current Class-A affiliates are in North Carolina and Iowa, simply because that’s where the leagues are.
But if given the option, I think Crane would choose the Skeeters over the Express. So the bottom line here is that while there is still much to be decided, affiliated minor league baseball could be coming to a stadium near you (if you’re on the southwest side of Houston).