Minor league baseball

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Minor league baseball is a hierarchy of professional baseball leagues in North America and South America that compete at levels below that of Major League Baseball. All of the minor leagues are operated as independent businesses, and many are members of Minor League Baseball, an umbrella organization for leagues that have agreements to operate as affiliates of Major League Baseball. Several leagues, known as independent leagues, do not have any links to Major League Baseball. Many alumni of independent baseball, however, have worked their way to the major leagues and many former MLBers play in independent baseball. In minor league baseball, many of the highly touted prospects fail to impress, and many players who are not so well known succeed.

Each league affiliated with Minor League Baseball comprises teams that generally are independently owned and operated, but always, with the exception of the Mexican League, directly affiliated with (and occasionally named after) one major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). Major and Minor League teams may enter into a PDC for a two- or four-year term and may reaffiliate at the expiration of a PDC term, though many relationships are renewed and endure for extended time periods. For example, the Omaha Storm Chasers (previously known as the Royals or Golden Spikes) have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since the Royals joined the American League in 1969, but the Columbus Clippers changed affiliations for the 2007 season from the New York Yankees to the Washington Nationals, and are now, beginning in 2009, affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. A small number of minor league teams are directly owned by their major league parent club, such as the Springfield Cardinals, owned by the St. Louis Cardinals, and all of the Atlanta Braves' affiliates except for the Lynchburg Hillcats. Minor League teams that are owned directly by the major league Club do not have PDCs with each other and are not part of the reaffiliation shuffles that occur every other year.

The purpose of the system is to develop players available to play in the major leagues on demand.

Today, 20 minor baseball leagues operate with 246 member clubs in large, medium, and small towns, as well as the suburbs of major cities, across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela.

Minor league baseball also goes by the nicknames the "farm system," "farm club," or "farm team(s)" because of a joke passed around by major league players in the 1930s when St. Louis Cardinals' general manager Branch Rickey formalized the system, and teams in small towns were "growing players down on the farm like corn."

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