With the Nashville Sounds and the Oakland Athletics parting ways at the conclusion of their four-year player development contract at the end of the 2018 season, the A’s have announced their new player development partner: Las Vegas. The new deal runs through the 2020 season.
“It is an incredibly exciting time to partner with the Las Vegas 51s,” Athletics Executive VP of Baseball Operations Billy Beane said in a statement. “Their ownership group is committed to providing a first-class environment for our players, which includes the grand opening of the Las Vegas Ballpark for the inaugural season of our affiliation. We’re looking forward to working closely with Don Logan and his staff as we both work towards putting a championship club on the field.”
The deal has several benefits for Oakland. First: Travel time will be shortened. While the club touted Nashville’s central location as a plus — they could call up prospects from anywhere in the country and not face inordinate travel times — it’s still a long way from home base. Given the amount of moves the A’s have made with pitchers this season, having prospects close at-hand would be a plus.
“The proximity with the Bay Area to Las Vegas will also provide the opportunity to move players much easier regarding the roster transactions from the Triple-A to the Major League level,” 51s President/COO Don Logan said in a statement. “McCarran International Airport has non-stop flights to the numerous PCL markets, as well as the big cities, that enables our team to have the best travel in the 16-team league. This will be a great situation for our fans to watch top prospects in the A’s system as well as players on Major League rehabilitation assignments showcase their talents in the Las Vegas Ballpark.”
Second: Like the Sounds when they first partnered with the A’s, Las Vegas will be moving into a new stadium. The 51s are getting out of aging Cashman Field (built in 1983) and into a $150 million, 10,000-seat stadium in Summerlin at the start of next season.
“The A’s have enjoyed great success at the Triple-A level with their minor league system which has been second to none,” Logan said. “The new PDC will provide a tremendous environment for the players with the state-of-the-art amenities that will enhance player development with the indoor hitting cages, mounds and workout areas in the Las Vegas Ballpark.”
There is a potential drawback, and it’s something beyond either club’s control. While the Pacific Coast League has long been known for its offense, several cities are a bit more hitter-friendly than others, and Las Vegas is one of them.Cashman Field was just shy of 2,000 feet above sea level, and the hot and dry weather is very conducive to offense. While the 51s were the player development partner of the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto regularly had their best pitching prospects skip Triple-A.
Oakland and Las Vegas have a bit of a history. While Mount Davis was being constructed in the spring of 1996, in preparation for the Oakland Raiders’ second season back after returning from Los Angeles, the A’s began their season with six games in the desert.
Oakland opened with the Toronto Blue Jays at Cashman Field on April 1 in front of 7,294 fans, with a pre-game ceremony featuring an Elvis impersonator. They lost 9-6 in the the first major league game played at a minor league park since Sept. 3, 1957, when the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 3-2 in 12 innings at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J.
Since moving to Oakland, the A’s have been affiliated at the Triple-A level with Nashville (2015-18), Sacramento (2000-14), Vancouver (1999, 1978, 1968), Edmonton (1995-1998), Tacoma (1981-1994), Ogden (1979-80), San Jose (1977), Tucson (1973-76) and Iowa (1969-72).