What "Class A baseball" means
Last updated 5/9/2008 at Noon
The hardest part about explaining Class A minor league baseball is doing so without plagiarizing the work of the late Vern Luse, who compiled an authoritative history of minor league classifications.
A few changes have occurred since Vern’s death in 1989, so hopefully the Luse family will forgive me as I add some details about the Lake Elsinore Storm’s status in professional baseball.
Vern’s work noted the creation of the original minor league classifications: A, B, C, and D.
The classifications were based on the combined populations of the league’s towns, and in general the higher the classification (translating to the earlier in the alphabet) the greater the geographical range of teams and the more the players were paid.
Eventually, Vern noted, the largest Class A leagues became Class AA, and later the largest remaining Class A leagues became Class A1.
Class A1 eventually became the new Class AA and the Class AA leagues were reclassified as Class AAA.
In the early 1960s the Rookie classification was established while the B, C, and D classifications were consolidated into Class A.
Vern also noted the creation of the short-lived E classification, which saw only one league utilize that level.
The California League operated as a Class C circuit until the consolidation turned it into a Class A entity.
At the time of Vern’s death what is now the Lake Elsinore Storm franchise was the Palm Springs Angels, and the Padres’ California League farm team was located in Riverside.
Independent minor leagues have also been established in the years following Vern’s passing.
The way minor league players have reached the majors has also evolved over the years. At one time minor league teams sold the contracts of their players to major league organizations.
The “farm system” was gradually implemented; in some cases major league teams owned minor league franchises outright while other minor league teams had working agreements with major league “parent clubs.”
Nowadays most of the minor league teams operate by the working agreement, signing contracts with parent clubs to serve as an affiliate for a specified period of time.
The San Diego Padres have six farm clubs. The highest-level affiliate is the Portland Beavers in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.
Immediately below the Beavers is the Class AA San Antonio Missions club of the Texas League.
Class A includes both full-season and short-season leagues.
The Padres have two full-season Class A teams: the Lake Elsinore Storm in the California League and the Fort Wayne Wizards in the Midwest League.
Lake Elsinore is a level above Fort Wayne in the Padres’ organization, making the Storm the team immediately below the Missions on the advancement chart and thus the third level below the Padres.
Major league teams in other parts of the country use other leagues for their higher full-season Class A affiliate, which means that some leagues have both third-level and fourth-level (from the top) minor league affiliates.
In the early 1980s major leaguers began spending time in the minors on rehabilitation assignments.
Because of the proximity of Lake Elsinore to San Diego, the Padres often send recovering players to the Storm.
Sometimes those players return to the Padres straight from Lake Elsinore, while in other cases the player spends a short time in Portland to adjust to higher-level competition before returning to the majors.
Independent minor leagues are those with teams not affiliated with a major league club. The level of talent is approximately equivalent to Class A affiliated baseball.
On occasion, an independent league player will be picked up by a major league organization and assigned to an affiliated farm team.
The Eugene Emeralds play in the Northwest League, which is short-season Class A. The Peoria Padres play in the Arizona State League, which has Rookie classification.
Generally the Padres send drafted players with college experience to Eugene, while sending those signed out of high school to Peoria.
The Lake Elsinore Storm affiliate is thus essentially in the middle of the Padres’ development chain. Most players have experience in the minors but have not seen major league action during September callups or short-term replacement of injured players.
Some Storm players will end their professional careers at that level, while others will eventually ascend to the big leagues. It can be considered the level which separates the prospects from the suspects.