For the last four years, the Milwaukee Brewers have had the pleasure of housing their Triple-A affiliate in lovely Colorado Springs. Tucked up over a mile high in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs is a lovely municipality known for its incredible views from Pike’s Peak. In terms of baseball, however, it was a less-than-ideal environment for player development.
Pitching at Security Service Field, the highest-altitude ballpark in the country, was a nightmare for just about any hurler that took the mound. Just ask Taylor Jungmann or Jorge Lopez (or maybe don’t). According to the latest three-year minor league park factor data available online (covering the 2014-16 seasons), no ballpark in the Pacific Coast League, or Triple-A baseball in general, was more conducive to run-scoring than Security Service Field. Though the park plays close to neutral in terms of home runs, base hits, including those for extra bases, have been more likely to fall in at Security Service Field than any other ballpark at the highest level of the minor leagues. The park factors in play in Colorado Springs make it difficult to evaluate pitchers, who don’t get the same break on their offerings at altitude, but also the hitters. The inflated batting statistics made journeymen like Nate Orf and Christian Bethancourt look like stars this season, and a previous study indicated that playing in an extreme hitters park can be negative for the offensive development of younger prospects.
Beyond the on-field issues, there were some logistical problems with the Colorado Springs location as well. Milwaukee obviously utilizes a good amount of their minor league depth and has constantly sent players back and forth from Triple-A to the big leagues over the past few years. Players that got the call to Milwaukee would have to drive more than an hour to get to Denver, and then from there they would have to catch a flight to either General Mitchell Internationa; (in Milwaukee) or O’Hare International (in Chicago). The led to a lot of long travel days for individuals like Adrian Houser, who vomited on the mound at Miller Park after enduring the journey. The altitude also had negative affects on player’s bodies. Manager Rick Sweet once noted that it could take up to a week for a player to re-acclimate to being so far above sea level, but that the team was rarely there long enough for an individual to complete the process of re-adjusting to the low oxygen environment before heading out on another road trip.
|Security Service Field (PCL)
|Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium (TL)
Going forward, however, Milwaukee won’t have to deal with having their highest affiliate in Colorado Springs any longer. The Elmore Group, owners of the former Sky Sox franchise and a few other minor league ballclubs, have done some shuffling of their assets. Their Double-A team in San Antonio is moving to a new park in Amarillo for 2019, so the group decided to pack up the Sky Sox and move them into the old facility in San Antonio. There the team is being re-branded as the new Missions, effectively elevating the franchise that existed as a Double-A affiliate for 50+ years to a Triple-A club. Though Milwaukee’s player development contract with the old Sky Sox expired after this season, the front office’s relationship with the Elmore Group helped the two sides broker a new two-year PDC that will keep the Brewers’ top affiliate in San Antonio for the next two years.
No longer will the minor leaguers have to deal with acclimating to the high altitude, or long drives to catch even longer flights when getting the call to The Show. And no longer will the players be trapped in one of the most challenging playing and evaluating environments in the country. Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium figures be a significant departure from the high-scoring environment in Colorado Springs, as the park factors actually favor pitchers a bit more than they do hitters. Only Arkansas was less conducive to scoring among Texas League affiliates from 2014-16, and the park in San Antonio was also less apt to allow base hits than the average Texas League park. San Antonio has tended to be very suppressive to home runs, again coming in ahead of only Arkansas according to the park factors.
The Pacific Coast League still favors offense on the whole, but at least at when they are at home, Milwaukee’s scouts will be able to get a much more accurate read on their pitchers than they could in Colorado Springs. The minor league hitters may benefit from the change of scenery, too, at least from a developmental standpoint. The only real drawback to the move is that Wolff Stadium isn’t considered to be a “state of the art” facility, and the Elmore Group has been seeking a new stadium in San Antonio for nearly a decade now. The city has steadfastly refused to kick in any money for a stadium, however, as their eye is on a possible MLB club if the long-rumored expansion ever comes to fruition.
As part of the PDC, the Elmore’s have at least committed to investing in few million dollars worth of upgrades to the existing facility to get it up to the Triple-A standard. With a fluid ballpark situation, Milwaukee’s stay as an affiliate in San Antonio may not last longer than the two years of the contract that they just signed. But rest assured, the situation ought to be a monumental improvement over Colorado Springs.