Probably nothing irks a minor league baseball player more than the question, “When do you turn pro?”
Minor leaguers go to spring training, swing a wooden bat and take home a check just like their Major League Baseball brethren. In fact, all minor league players have been signed by and belong to a major league club.
It works like this:
Amateur players out of high school or college are either good enough to get drafted by one of the 30 major league teams or impressive enough in a tryout to draw interest as a free agent. Either way, they will sign a contract and be assigned to their new team’s minor league system, going through organizational spring training and then receiving their first assignments.
Minor league classifications range from rookie level to Class AAA. The Arkansas Travelers and Northwest Arkansas Naturals play in the eight-team Class AA Texas League.
There are 30 major league teams so there are a corresponding 30 teams in two Class AAA leagues, three Class AA leagues and 60 for Class A leagues. The A level is broken into Class A and Class A Advanced, also known as “high A.”
Each major league organization has at least two rookie-level teams.
The newest, most inexperienced players are assigned to a rookie team or low Class A team, though many start at high A, and some, like Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, are deemed good enough to start at Class AA.
A major league team can call a player up from any level as long as he is on the 40-man roster, but usually prospects spend at least a year or two working their way up the ladder, gaining experience against the improving level of competition.
If a player progresses as projected, he will eventually arrive with the major league team that signed him. Or he could be traded as a minor leaguer and break into the big leagues with his new club.
There are many variables affecting a minor leaguer’s salary — his draft status, the classification he is in and his years of experience — but it is meager compared to the big leagues, where the minimum is more than $400,000. Most minor league players earn between $1,000 and $2,500 monthly on a standard six-year minor-league contract, and that includes even the highest draft picks.
However, the top prospects usually earn a signing bonus, sometimes exceeding $1 million, that they can spend as they see fit. Former Arkansas Traveler Mike Trout, this year’s Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Angels, got a signing bonus of $1.215 million.
Once they join the major league club’s 25-man roster, players begin to earn big-league money. Depending on their value to a team, contracts may be renegotiated before their six-year deal is up. That’s when the multimillion-dollar contracts come into play.