Could the Jumbo Shrimp be headed for Triple-A?

A pending realignment of minor league baseball has led to speculation that the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp could be promoted from class Double-A to Triple-A, the highest level in the minors. Could it happen?

Background: Reorganization

Minor league baseball is undergoing a potentially seismic shift affecting teams throughout North America. One possible change receiving increasing attention is the potential move of the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp from their current Class Double-A status up to Triple-A, the highest level in Minor League Baseball.

This possibility was first speculated upon by Craig Mish of the Swings and Mishes podcast in October 2020, and on November 2, Ballpark Digest included it as a probable change in a report based on conversations with major and minor league insiders. Since then, speculation has continued online, including in The Jaxson’s forums. “It’s no secret within baseball circles that Jacksonville will likely move up to Triple-A,” says Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest.

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp declined to comment for this story.

Courtesy of Visit Jacksonville.

In years past, the minors operated separately from Major League Baseball, with whom they affiliate through a Professional Baseball Agreement. Minor league teams are currently divided across 14 leagues within several levels of play (Triple-A, Double-A, and multiple Class A levels), and each team in the U.S. and Canada affiliates with a major league franchise. The Jumbo Shrimp have been the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins since 2009.

The previous Professional Baseball Agreement is at an end, and the MLB has been clear it wants more direct control over the farm system. Among its goals: realigning leagues, teams and affiliations so that farm teams are more geographically accessible to their big league patrons.

Jacksonville and the AAA conversation

A packed house at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Courtesy of Visit Jacksonville.

Jacksonville is no stranger to the Triple-A discussion. The Jumbo Shrimp’s attendance is consistently among the highest in Double-A baseball, especially since owner Ken Babby took over in 2015. The metropolitan area’s population and continued growth put it well within Triple-A territory; other Triple-A markets in the Southeast include Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Norfolk, Memphis, and Nashville. The move would also benefit the Marlins. According to Ballpark Digest, if Jacksonville moved to Triple-A, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos would likely replace them as Miami’s Double-A affiliate.

“While the geography is a little challenging, Jacksonville is certainly a Triple-A market, and by adding Jacksonville and Pensacola as affiliates, the Marlins strengthen their presence in Florida,” says Reichard.

Another factor in the Jumbo Shrimp’s favor is their stadium. 121 Financial Park (formerly the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville) is widely recognized as one of the best in minor league baseball. Built in 2003 as part of the Better Jacksonville plan, the $35 million, 11,000-seat stadium is the largest in Double-A baseball and was specifically designed with the possibility of a move to Triple-A in mind.

My father John Delaney, Mayor of Jacksonville from 1995-2003, was responsible for the Better Jacksonville Plan and the baseball stadium. “We built the park to be able to quickly meet Triple-A seating with a modest investment,” he says. “The stadium is one of the nicest anywhere; I am biased but I like it better than Camden Yards which was the inspirational model.”

Next page: The road to AAA runs through Wichita