The Texas Rangers are coming to Myrtle Beach - literally.
The Rangers and Myrtle Beach Pelicans, who share common owner Chuck Greenberg, announced Friday a four-year agreement for the Pelicans to become the Advanced Class A minor league affiliate of the Rangers.
The deal begins Oct. 1 and runs through the 2014 baseball season and replaces Player Development Contracts the Pelicans have had with the Atlanta Braves since their inaugural season in 1999.
As part of the agreement, the Rangers are scheduled to play an exhibition game at BB&T Coastal Field at the tail end of spring training on March 29 against an opponent to be determined.
Greenberg, the principal owner of the Pelicans since 2006 and managing partner and CEO of the Rangers since the Rangers Baseball Express investor group he heads acquired the Rangers at auction on Aug. 5, said he expects much of the Rangers' major league roster to participate in the game.
"I don't know exact numbers but it will be a strong representation," Greenberg said. "It will not be token at all."
The Rangers have their final exhibition game before the 2011 regular season at their new Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, Texas, the following day, and are expected to have a game the previous day. Greenberg said the Rangers are hoping to stay in Myrtle Beach the night before and night of the game.
"In this day and age there are very few major league exhibition games in a minor league park, and when there is one, it's a burden to the players," Greenberg said. "This is not. This is something they're excited about."
Greenberg said he tried to bring a major league exhibition game to Myrtle Beach in recent years. "There would never have been a major league exhibition game here as long as we stayed with the Braves," Greenberg said. "I know because I asked every single year. ... I respect that. That's in their best interest. But it's in the best interest of the Texas Rangers to play a major league exhibition game right here in Myrtle Beach."
Rangers players and personnel may also make appearances in Myrtle Beach this winter - likely in December and January - as part of the offseason Rangers Caravan program, in which players, executives or broadcast personalities will have speaking engagements at schools, chamber events, etc. In addition, Greenberg expects the Rangers to routinely send major league players rehabilitating from injuries to Myrtle Beach.
"It was a natural fit [to align with the Rangers] but it was something we considered very, very seriously," Greenberg said. "... Having a major league exhibition game here, having an appearance from the winter caravan, the improved flow of information, and just a closer relationship between two front offices that will all be part of the same family, that's an advantage that, with no disrespect to the Braves, there was no way they were going to be able to match. So we could not be more excited about this."
Despite being one of the youngest teams in the majors, the Rangers have the largest division lead of any team, and the success and talent is filtered throughout their system.
The Rangers' minor-league system, headed by Director of Player Development Scott Servais, was named the best in baseball by ESPN the last two years, and was ranked first in 2009 and second in 2010 by Baseball America.
Texas had a club-record six of their seven minor-league affiliates reach postseason play and all but one club finished with a record above .500.
"I can tell you that if the Rangers weren't as strong as they were at the minor league level, we wouldn't have [purchased them]," Greenberg said. "The track record the Rangers have for scouting and developing and acquiring young players who grow through the farm system is unparalleled right now in baseball."
The Pelicans should be competitive in 2011. The Rangers' Low A team in Hickory, N.C., that will feed the Pelicans went 75-64, and Myrtle Beach will likely host some players from the rookie Class A-Short Season Spokane Indians squad that reached the Northwest League Championship series.
There will also be an easy commute for players being promoted from Hickory to Myrtle Beach.
"The best four teams [in the system] this year were all at a level below high Class A so that's the wave of talent that's on the way to Myrtle Beach," Greenberg said. "So I think the quality of baseball is going to be significantly improved in the coming years."
A number of talented players have passed through Myrtle Beach in the past couple years, including Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel, who are currently playing for the Braves just a year removed from BB&T Field. But the Pelicans have endured two of the worst seasons in franchise history in the past two years, going 58-82 and 53-84.
"With no disrespect to the Braves, the quality of baseball you're going to see on the field here next year is going to be a significant improvement over what you saw this year," Greenberg said.
Pelicans general manager Scott Brown said there will be no changes in the Pelicans front office solely because of the change in parent clubs. The coaching staff will be assigned by the Rangers, so for now, Rocket Wheeler, a Pawleys Island resident who has managed the Pelicans for the past five seasons, is a Braves employee who won't be eligible to manage the team.