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Split Season Baseball

To anyone ever involved with sharing a candy bar, pizza, or perhaps custody of young children, even though the portions may not have always been in half, the split that you received was never-the-less enjoyable.

The Williamsport Crosscutters and fellow members of the MLB Draft League may be feeling the same way as the league’s “second half” got underway on July 7. More correctly defined as a split-season, the Draft League’s first 30 games were played as a collegiate summer baseball league to serve as a showcase for top draft-eligible prospects leading up to the MLB Draft, which was held July 9-11.

When play resumed, the remaining 50 games will be played with paid players who have exhausted their amateur eligibility.

The do-over may serve the Cutters well, as the team finished the first 30 games in the basement of the six-team league. The players currently playing in Williamsport were assigned in the same manner as those who played the first part of the season. The MLB Draft League invites players to be part of the league. After that player pool is determined, the players are assigned to the rosters of the league’s teams by distributing the players by position.

Although it is rare, there are instances where a team retains a player(s) from the first part of the season. Last season two such players played for the Crosscutters. But those circumstances can only occur if the player has exhausted their college eligibility. Since the second phase of the season is comprised of players that are getting paid, those with college eligibility remaining don’t play in the league. This summer, first-baseman E.J. Taylor, who played for the Cutters last year, has returned to Williamsport for the second part of the season.

Those players on MLB Draft League rosters for the first 30 games of the season with college eligibility remaining and not drafted by MLB teams retain eligibility to go back to school to play.

The MLB Draft League lived up to its name during the Major League Baseball 2023 draft held last week, as a total of 46 players were selected. Drafted players that wore the Crosscutters colors this season included outfielders Stanley Tucker (Boston) and Colson Lawrence (Miami); pitchers Riley Gowens (Atlanta), Tyler Kennedy (Pittsburgh), Jack Wenninger (New York Mets), and Jatnk Diaz (Detroit); and two-way player Ryan Ignoffo (Miami).

Shortstop Sabin Ceballos, who played for the Cutters in 2022, was drafted in the third round by Atlanta, and 2022 outfielder Matthew Etzel was a tenth-round selection by the Baltimore Orioles.

Players drafted by MLB teams in last week’s draft would be reporting to the parent club’s affiliated minor league teams rather than the Draft League. Depending on circumstances, discussions are being held with Major League teams regarding the future possibilities of some drafted players playing in the Draft League.

For the Crosscutters, the big difference in the second part of the season is their responsibility to pay the players.

“For the final 50 games of the season, we pay the salaries of the players and per diem,” explained Crosscutters Director of Marketing Gabe Sinicropi. “We provide some meals but must also pay per diem. During the first 30 games, we provided the players a pre-game snack, a post-game meal, and housing.”

The split-season format used by the Draft League allowed the Crosscutters to play for the league championship last year as the team won the second-half title. This year it is again giving the locals a second chance.

“This year, I love it because of our record in the first half,” Sinicropi remarked about the split season. “It’s great to start 0-0 in the second half. I think it takes some time for fans to get used to it because we never had that. Many minor leagues operate with two halves to the season. It gives every team a new lease on life with new rosters. Last year it worked to our benefit as we had a good second half and qualified for the league championship game, which features the winners of each half.

“This year, attendance is a little better than last year, and revenues are up. From a fan’s standpoint, our earlier start times allow folks to get home earlier, and with the pitch clock, game lengths are shorter. To me, the crowds seem to be louder lately, and despite the record, we had some really good players in the first half. Statistically, we had players in the top five in the league offensively and had 11 players selected for the MLB Draft league all-star game at the end of the first half.”

With six weeks of baseball still on the docket, interspersed by the August 20 Little League MLB Classic featuring the Phillies and Washington Nationals, there is plenty of time to venture out to Bowman Field and spend an enjoyable summer evening.

Those nine former drafted Crosscutters will always have special memories of the opportunity provided to them by the Memorial Park ballyard.