Minor league baseball returning to Trenton as it lands founding team in MLB Draft League

Wood-bat league to feature top prospects playing in N.J., Pa., W.Va. and Ohio

Minor league baseball is returning to Trenton. And it will feature top prospects — and wood bats.

Weeks after the city lost its longtime Double-A team, Trenton was announced as one of five cities that will be part of what is being called the MLB Draft League, a wood-bat league for top prospects.

The teams will play a 68-game regular season that includes an all-star break that would coincide with the draft in early July.

Teams are being awarded to communities that lost franchises as MLB moved to shrink the affiliated minor leagues from 160 to 120 teams this offseason following 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.

The founding members of the MLB Draft League are located in Ohio, Pennsylvania (State College and Williamsport), West Virginia and New Jersey. MLB said it is in discussions with a sixth team that it hopes to announce soon.

“‘The Thunder Makes, MLB Takes.’”

— Greater Trenton CEO George Sowa

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 multiday 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 college players won’t be able to join until after opening day, similar to other college summer leagues like the Cape Cod League.

The 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.”

Trenton Thunder General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Hurley said the team is thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of this new league.

“The new MLB Draft League will showcase the best prospects in baseball eligible for the MLB draft,” he said. “Thunder fans will get to know these players as they begin their path as future stars of Major League Baseball.”

Trenton has had a summer team since 1980. When the New York Yankees announced earlier in November that they would be moving their Class AA affiliate to Bridgewater, Thunder owner Joseph Plumeri said the departure would be devastating to the city and the organization’s longtime employees.

“This is about more than baseball; the Thunder is a pillar of the Trenton community,” Plumeri said. “My heart breaks for the thousands of stadium workers, fans and residents of this great city. This move by the Yankees removes a key source of income for Trenton.”

Monday’s announcement was met with joy by numerous Trenton-area officials:

  • Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes: “For legions of Trenton Thunder fans, the development of a new league showcasing up and coming talent will be a real thrill. Major League Baseball’s success is built on a thriving minor league system, and, for 27 years, Thunder supporters have visited our Capital City, warmly welcoming new players and proudly cheering others on to the big leagues. Mercer County has made wise investments into the ballpark — benefiting both the fans and players — and the new Trenton Thunder team will be developed in a first-class facility. This news is a win for everyone: the Thunder, Mercer County, the City of Trenton and, especially, baseball fans. We look forward to a great season.”
  • Greater Trenton CEO George Sowa: “This is great news for the Thunder and proves the resiliency of the city of Trenton and Mercer County. The Thunder has a rich history as a winning franchise, which provides family entertainment at an affordable price in a great location for baseball fans throughout the region. Trenton’s rich industrial heritage proved ‘Trenton Makes, the World Takes.’ This tradition continues with the creation of the MLB Draft League as ‘The Thunder Makes, MLB Takes.’”

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