The Carolina League is a minor league baseball affiliation which operates in the South Atlantic Coast of the United States. Before 2002, it was classified as a "High A" league, indicating its status as a Class A league with the highest level of competition within that classification, and the fifth step between Rookie ball and the major leagues. Although Minor League Baseball, the umbrella organization for minor leagues that are affiliated with Major League Baseball, has eliminated the distinction between High-A and other full-season A leagues, most major-league teams still use such leagues as a standard promotion step. A few draftees, generally those taken in the early rounds of the draft and those with significant college experience, will be assigned to a High-A team upon signing a professional contract, but most players do not reach the High-A level until their third or fourth year of professional play.
The organization that later became the Carolina League formed in 1945, just as World War II was ending, and consisted of only two teams based in southern Virginia. Historically, however, as many as 12 teams in a given year have competed for the Carolina League pennant, and most of the league's teams have represented towns and cities in North Carolina. Today, the league consists of eight teams in a region stretching from Delaware to South Carolina, and is divided into a Northern Division and a Southern Division. The division champions from the first half and second half of each season compete in a best-of-five divisional playoff, with the winners advancing to the best-of-five league championship, the winner of which receives the Mills Cup.
A few of the many Carolina League players who have gone on to star in the Major Leagues are: Johnny Bench (Peninsula, 1966), Wade Boggs (Winston-Salem, 1977), Barry Bonds (Prince William, 1985), Rod Carew (Wilson, 1966), Dock Ellis (Kinston, 1965), Dwight Evans (Winston-Salem, 1971), Dwight Gooden (Lynchburg, 1983), Andruw Jones (Durham, 1996), Chipper Jones (Durham, 1992), Willie McCovey (Danville, 1956), Joe Morgan (Durham, 1963), Dave Parker (Salem, 1972), Tony Pérez (Rocky Mount, 1962), Andy Pettitte (Prince William, 1993), Jorge Posada (Prince William, 1993), Darryl Strawberry (Lynchburg, 1981), Bernie Williams (Prince William, 1988), and Carl Yastrzemski (Raleigh, 1959).
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