Pioneer League Getting Creative in First Season as Partner League

When Major League Baseball cut ties with 42 Minor League Baseball clubs, one of the first leagues it was known to be moving to an independent partner league was the Pioneer League. With teams in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana, it was one of the vastest geographical leagues in the low minors. It kept all the teams from its last affiliated season with the exception of the Orem Owlz who are moving to Colorado and taking the season off to return in 2022 and adding the Boise Hawks from the Northwest League.

One of the big pieces of news out of the Pioneer League heading into the season was a rule change that eliminates extra innings and replaced it with a home run derby to determine the winner. It came on the first weekend of the season, when outfielder Manny Olloque sent the Rocky Mountain Vibes home winners against cross-state rivals, the Grand Junction Rockies at the Vibes home ballpark, UCHealth Park.

UCHealth Park has one of the more whirlwind past few seasons as it was the host of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in 2018, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers at the time. They then moved to Amarillo and moved down to Double-A while San Antonio got the bump up to Triple-A and the Helena Brewers, of the Rookie level Pioneer League, moved to Colorado Springs where they were rebranded as the Rocky Mountain Vibes. With no baseball in 2020, transitioning to independent ball means the ballpark in Colorado Springs has had their primary club play in three different levels in three seasons. Now, per league sources, the second team to join the league in 2022 along with Orem is currently in negotiations to be a brand new ballclub sharing a ballpark with the Rocky Mountain Vibes.

Editor’s Note: We acknowledge the denial of this by Vibes’ leadership. While nothing is official, multiple people have reported recent discussions.

They are also one of the more interesting stories in this first season as they have found a way to offset the cost and are an unofficial minor league club for the Mexican League team Acereros de Monclava. The team that has former big leaguers like Addison Russell and “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon on their club this season, has their younger players cutting their teeth in “independent” ball.

While Rocky Mountain has a vast majority of players hailing from Mexico and double-digit teenagers on the club, there are some notable names scattered across the league. On Ogden, there is a household name, even if it is his father’s, with Miguel Tejada Jr., and the pitching coach for Grand Junction is the former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.

You won’t find any former big leaguers between the white lines as the league has a three-year of professional experience maximum (not counting clubs in winter ball or the Caribbean Federation, hence some players on Rocky Mountain in their later 20s). That said, keep an eye out for roster updates mid-season as the league is hosting tryouts for undrafted players July 24 & 25 and it is expected to see some notable names for fans of college baseball signing following those tryouts.

Shaun Kernahan is the MLB Draft correspondent for Prospects1500. When not at a game, chances are the TV and/or tablet has a game on and he has a notepad out taking notes. When not scouting draft prospects, he is the Director of Baseball Operations for the Mile High Collegiate Baseball League, a collegiate wood bat league in Colorado. Shaun can be found on Twitter at @ShaunKernahan.


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