All About Rookie League Baseball

Two Rookie Leagues: Arizona League and Gulf Coast League

Maryvale Baseball Complex
••• Maryvale Baseball Complex. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 

If you want to be a baseball player in the major leagues, there is a natural progression that most players follow and that is a path through the minor leagues or "farm system" as it is colloquially known. Sure, you can skip the minors, but that is rare. It has only occurred eight times since 1980, and only twice since 2000. Within the minor leagues, there is a ladder system. The lowest rung is the rookie leagues.

Learn more about the rookie leagues, their teams, the season, and where the teams play.

Rookie Leagues

The rookie leagues are run by Minor League Baseball. This lowest level of minor league baseball consists of two domestic leagues, the Arizona League and Gulf Coast League, and one foreign-based league, the Dominican Summer League. Leagues at the rookie-level play a shortened season, starting in mid-June and ending in late August or early September. 

The players in this league are usually from other countries or drafted high school and college players from Major League Baseball's June draft. Major league baseball players may also play in these games as part of a physical rehabilitation assignment, for example, after recovering from injuries. 

The Arizona and Gulf Coast leagues play a 56 to 60-game schedule. These leagues are usually called "complex-based leagues" because games are played at their affiliated clubs' spring training complexes.

Although most teams are affiliated with a professional major league team, most are not owned by them. They have affiliation contracts with the teams. Team rosters comprise newly drafted players who are not ready for a higher level of play. These leagues are intended almost exclusively to allow players to hone their skills, emphasizing skill-building versus competitive play.

The current minor league classification system, from top to bottom, is triple-A (AAA), double-A (AA), class A-advanced (High A or A+), class A (Low A), class A short season, and rookie. Rookie is further informally subdivided into rookie advanced, complex-based rookie, and international summer baseball.

Rookie Games

At these games, no admission is charged and no concessions are sold. No stats are officially recorded. Most all seating is bleacher-style seating. You can bring your own food and refreshments. Alcohol is prohibited. Teams do have post-season playoffs in September.

There are often five or more games being played on any one day in various parts of the league. All games start at 7 p.m. local time unless otherwise specified. Check your local newspaper or Minor League Baseball schedule to find the dates and matchups of the rookie games.

You have to look around for these games. Many of them will be played on practice fields at the home stadium facility if they are not being played in the actual stadium. These night games are usually easy to find, look for the fields with the lights on.

You can usually tell the teams apart based on their jerseys, which usually have their home team affiliation logo.

Also, the home team wears white pants and the visitors wear gray pants.

The Arizona League

Games are played from mid-June until the beginning of September, and the league's season consists of 56 games. There are 18 teams in the Arizona League. All of the stadiums are in Arizona. The Arizona League's current playoff format has been used since the league realigned into three divisions in 2013: East, Central, and West divisions. 

The six teams who win their division in the first and second half of the season qualify for the playoffs. If a team wins both halves, the next best team in that division by overall record qualifies for the playoffs. The top two teams by overall record receive a bye to the semifinals. All playoff games are single elimination, with the exception of a best-of-three final.

DivisionArizona League TeamMLB AffiliationStadium/Location
EastAngelsLos Angeles AngelsTempe Diablo Stadium/Tempe
EastAthleticsOakland AthleticsFitch Park/Mesa
EastCubs 1Chicago CubsSloan Park/Mesa
EastCubs 2Chicago CubsSloan Park/Mesa
EastDiamondbacksArizona DiamondbacksSalt River Fields at Talking Stick/ Scottsdale
EastGiants BlackSan Francisco GiantsScottsdale Stadium/Scottsdale
EastGiants OrangeSan Francisco GiantsScottsdale Stadium/Scottsdale
CentralBrewersMilwaukee BrewersMaryvale Baseball Park/Phoenix
CentralDodgersLos Angeles DodgersCamelback Ranch/Phoenix
CentralIndians 1Cleveland IndiansGoodyear Ballpark/Goodyear 
Central Indians 2Cleveland IndiansGoodyear Ballpark/Goodyear
Central  RedsCincinnati RedsGoodyear Ballpark/Goodyear
CentralWhite SoxChicago White SoxCamelback Ranch/Phoenix
West MarinersSeattle MarinersPeoria Sports Complex/Peoria
WestPadres 1San Diego PadresPeoria Sports Complex/Peoria
WestPadres 2San Diego PadresPeoria Sports Complex/Peoria
West RangersTexas RangersSurprise Stadium/Surprise
WestRoyalsKansas City RoyalsSurprise Stadium/Surprise

Gulf Coast League

The league plays a 60-game season that runs from mid-June to late August. Teams in the league are divided into four divisions: East, Northeast, Northwest, and South. There are 18 teams. All of the stadiums are in Florida.

The four division winners play in a one-game semifinal. The team with the best regular-season record plays the division winner with the lowest record, while the division winner with the second-best record plays the division winner with the third-best record. Should the Northeast and Northwest Divisions finish first and fourth, the semifinal matchups place first vs. third and second vs. fourth. The semifinal winners meet in a best-of-three game series for the Gulf Coast League championship.

DivisionGulf Coast League TeamMLB AffiliationStadium/Location
EastAstrosHouston AstrosFITTEAM Ballpark/West Palm Beach
EastCardinalsSt. Louis CardinalsRoger Dean Stadium/Jupiter
EastMarlinsMiami MarlinsRoger Dean Stadium/Jupiter
EastMetsNew York MetsFirst Data Field/Port St. Lucie
EastNationalsWashington NationalsFITTEAM Ballpark/West Palm Beach
NortheastBravesAtlanta BravesChampion Stadium/Lake Buena Vista
NortheastPiratesPittsburgh PiratesPirate City/Bradenton
NortheastPhillies EastPhiladelphia PhilliesCarpenter Complex/Clearwater
NortheastTigers EastDetroit TigersPublix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium/Lakeland
NortheastYankees EastNew York YankeesGeorge M. Steinbrenner Field/Tampa
NorthwestBlue JaysToronto Blue JaysBobby Mattick Training Center/Dunedin
Northwest Phillies WestPhiladelphia PhilliesCarpenter Complex/Clearwater
Northwest Tigers WestDetroit TigersPublix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium/Lakeland
NorthwestYankees WestNew York YankeesGeorge M. Steinbrenner Field/Tampa
SouthOriolesBaltimore OriolesEd Smith Stadium/Sarasota
SouthRaysTampa Bay RaysCharlotte Sports Park/Port Charlotte
SouthRed SoxBoston Red SoxJetBlue Park at Fenway South/Fort Myers
SouthTwinsMinnesota TwinsLee County Sports Complex/Fort Myers