Staff and wire reports

Williamsport and State College will have professional baseball again this summer after Major League Baseball announced Monday it is creating a minor league for top eligible prospects leading to the summer draft.

The wood-bat MLB Draft League is launching with five teams and could add a sixth, MLB said Monday. Teams will play a 68-game regular season that includes an All-Star break coinciding with the draft in early July.

The founding members of the MLB Draft League are located in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey: the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears, and the Williamsport Crosscutters. MLB said it is in discussions with a sixth team that it hopes to announce soon.

Teams in the MLB Draft League are going to communities that lost franchises when MLB began shrinking the affiliated minor leagues from 160 to 120 teams. The reduction this offseason followed the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governed the relationship between the majors and minors. MLB has planned to eliminate the separate governing body of minor league baseball.

“We are ecstatic to have Williamsport continue to be a gateway to the Majors in the all-new MLB Draft League, and cannot wait for another season of Crosscutters baseball,” Peter Freund, president and principal owner of the Crosscutters said.

“Ask anyone from Williamsport and they will tell you that the Cutters are more than just a baseball team,” U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, whose 12th District covers Lycoming and parts of Centre county. “They are a cornerstone of our community, providing affordable family entertainment for our region. This partnership will bring new life to the Cutters and ensure that Williamsport remains the baseball capital of the world.”

The season will run roughly from late May through mid-August, broken into halves. The first half will be a showcase for draft-eligible high school, college and junior college players. Following a multi-day break for the draft, rosters will be restocked with the best players passed over by MLB teams who are still interested in signing.

The start of the season will overlap with the College World Series, meaning some top players won’t be able to join until after opening day, similar to other college summer leagues such as the Cape Cod League.

MLB’s push to shrink the minors had drawn criticism from many in minor league communities, including politicians. A trio of U.S. senators — Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — praised the MLB Draft League as a way to keep high-level baseball in their communities.

“I’m glad that MLB listened,” Brown said. “The formation of the MLB Draft League is good news for baseball and for fans in the (Mahoning) Valley, who will get to continue to see high-level prospects in their own backyard and rally around the Scrappers again soon.”

“This is really great news for the Crosscutters organization as well as north central Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Gene Yaw, a Republican from Lycoming said. “The possibility of not having a professional baseball team in Williamsport, the home of Little League Baseball, was a major concern. Now, the MLB Draft League presents an opportunity to grow the game, while safeguarding the Cutters’ presence in our region.”

The draft league will be operated by Prep Baseball Report — a scouting, events and media organization focused on youth ball — and former Cape Cod League coach Kerrick Jackson has been appointed president.

MLB said in a statement that players will “receive unprecedented visibility to MLB club scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes.”

Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball economics and operations, called the venture a “one-of-a-kind league” that will allow fans to “see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns.” He added that MLB is committed to “preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States.”

MLB announced in September that the Appalachian League, formerly a Rookie-level affiliated league, would be transformed into a wood-bat college summer league.

The Associated Press’s Jake Seiner contributed to this story.

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