The whole foundation of the Atlantic League has been built around one idea: There are more qualified players than open roster spots in major league organizations. That’s why the Atlantic League can offer lower salaries (a league guideline is to keep salaries under $3,000 a month) than typical Triple-A salaries, and still field eight competitive teams in a non-developmental league. Players will take a short-term risk — playing for less money — for the opportunity to earn another shot at a Triple- or Double-A contract from a big league organization.
The league has had success, watching a player that has started the year in the Atlantic League reach the major leagues in four of the last five seasons.
By looking back at the last five years of player signings in the league, I attempted to find some trends. What club has sold the most player contracts to major league organizations during the last five years? What position has been signed most readily during the last five years? And are players with major league experience more apt to be signed out of the league?
Here’s what the numbers tell us:
During the last five years: Camden has sold the most contracts, right-handed pitchers have accounted for half of the contracts, more than half of all the contracts sold have been awarded to big league veterans and almost any team in the majors will offer an Atlantic League player a contract — except for the Minnesota Twins.
Looking solely at a five-year span 2007-2011, the Camden Riversharks have sold more player contracts (27) to major league organizations than any other club. While two franchises (Newark and Southern Maryland) that fielded teams during just four years of that same timespan posted the highest average number of players signed per year.
The breakdown, by total players sold to MLB organizations:
|Team||Avg. players signed/year||Total signed|
* Newark only fielded Atlantic League teams from 2007-2010, moving to the Can-Am League for the 2011 season.
** Southern Maryland only fielded Atlantic League teams from 2008-2011, joining the league as an expansion club in 2008.
+ Long Island’s Joe Valentine was signed by two different MLB organizations during the 2008 season. Both of his signings have been counted in the above table.
++ The all-travel, league-run Road Warriors fielded teams in 2007 and 2011.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story. Players have turned down contract offers. And in at least one instance that I know of, that same contract has been accepted by another player on another team in the league. So don’t expect the above table to decipher which teams have the best talent or best overall players. It only lists the number of contracts sold to MLB organizations.
The numbers are also limited to signings during the Atlantic League regular season. The league does not keep track of former players who earn free agent deals in the preseason or offseason.
There is some player overlap as well. Different teams have had the same player signed by MLB organizations. (For instance, Camden, Newark and York outfielder Val Majewski has been signed in each of the last four seasons). And a player like Jason Botts earned a contract from the Nats while playing for Camden one year (2010), and another contract from the Mets while playing for York the next year (2011). The problem I ran into was I couldn’t eliminate a player after his first signing, because he returns the next year as a different player. He’s a year older. And he is unlikely to be signed by the same organization that picked him up last year. If anything, the player may become less appealing the longer he plays. And each signing, each contract had to be accounted for.
Positions: Of the 174 affiliated contracts signed by Atlantic League players from 2007-2011, 50 percent (87 of 174) of them have been signed by pitchers. Right-handed pitchers have signed 33 percent (58) of the contracts, with left-handers signing 16 percent (28).
Outfielders accounted for 18 percent (31 of 174) of the contracts.
The remainder of the contracts signed: Shortstops (17 contracts), first baseman (14), catchers (11), second basemen (8) and third baseman (6).
Big league time: Of the 174 contracts sold during 2007-2011, 56 percent (97 of 174) have been signed by former big league players.
Most active MLB organizations: The Phillies have signed 14 players during the last five years, the most of any major league organization from 2007-2011. The Minnesota Twins are the only major league team not to sign an Atlantic League player during this stretch.
Here’s a breakdown of MLB organizations and the number of Atlantic League players they have signed since 2007:
Blue Jays 6
White Sox 6
Red Sox 4