With minor league baseball back, a look at where players with Connecticut ties have started their seasons.

Minor league baseball is back!

There are fewer teams, fewer leagues and different league names, but it’s back.

Perhaps no professional athletes were hurt more by the COVID-19 pandemic last year than minor-league baseball players. While the four major pro sports leagues ambled on with varying semblances of seasons, and other leagues (WNBA, PGA Tour, pro tennis, etc.) also pieced together seasons, the entire minor-league slate was scrapped.

It affected thousands of players, including dozens with local ties. Other than a handful of top prospects and some veteran journeymen who worked out at “alternate training sites” throughout last season, ready to help out their big-league clubs if needed, minor-leaguers were forced to find unique ways to continue to work out, keep their arms or their batting eyes in shape while losing an entire season of competition.

And they did. Now, they’re back. Look no further than Hartford, where the Yard Goats returned to playing before 100-percent capacity at Dunkin’ Donuts Park on Wednesday and are no longer requiring masks for fully-vaccinated fans.

Minor-league baseball is very different from what it looked like only a little over a year ago. The Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston’s longtime Triple-A affiliate, are now in Worcester (not a result of COVID-19, but rather typically inept Rhode Island politics). They’re called the WooSox now, and they no longer play in the International League. That’s been re-named Triple-A East. The Pacific Coast League? Triple-A West. Catchy, huh?

The Eastern League, home of the Yard Goats, is now divided into two divisions: Double-A Northeast and Double-A Southwest. And there’s a whole lot of other new league names, as well.

There are 11 fewer teams, as well, as Major League Baseball has streamlined its minor leagues and reduced some of its finances — issues that were in the works before the pandemic. Remember the Norwich Sea Unicorns, previously known as the Connecticut Tigers and serving as Detroit’s Class-A short-season affiliate? They’re now a Futures Collegiate Baseball League team, axed by MLB.

So, it’s a different landscape. But minor league baseball is back. And with that brings the return of this weekly report on minor-league notes column. This week, we take a look at where players with Connecticut ties (either high school or college) have started their respective seasons. There are at least 30 players with local ties currently in the minor-league ranks and three of them are from Wallingford. That number was four up until last week, when P.J. Higgins got his long-awaited first big-league promotion with the Cubs.

TRIPLE-A

  Monroe’s Thomas Milone is hitting a solid .327 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees’ affiliate.

  A pair of former Sacred Heart University standouts are with Toledo, the Tigers’ affiliate: Zack Short, a shortstop who made his big-league debut earlier in the month for a pair of games with Detroit, and righthanded reliever Jason Foley.

  John Andreoli (UConn) spent the past week with the Padres but on Wednesday was sent back down to El Paso, where he’s teammates with Shelton’s Mat Batten, a former Quinnipiac standout.

  Another ex-Quinnipiac star, Thomas Jankins, is pitching at Nashville (Brewers).

DOUBLE-A

  Milford’s Joe Zanghi is with Binghamton (Mets), where he’s joined by Windsor’s Matt Cleveland.

  Cheshire’s Wes Robertson is at Chattanooga (Reds).

  Seymour’s Nick Kuzia is with San Antonio (Padres).

  Wallingford/UConn product Sal Gozzo is at Reading (Phillies).

  Greenwich’s J.T. Hintzen is hurling at Biloxi (Brewers), as is ex-Quinnipiac standout Robbie Hitt.

  Max McDowell (UConn) is at Somerset (Yankees).

  Manchester’s Tim Cate, a lefty out of UConn and a 2018 second-round draft pick, is at Harrisburg (Nationals)

  Both Waterford’s Nolan Long and Lakeville/UConn product Wills Montgomerie are with Tulsa (Dodgers).

  Ex-UConn hurler Patrick Ruotolo is with Richmond (Giants).

  Former Sharon and UConn standout Willy Yahn is at Bowie (Orioles) .

  Newtown’s Kyle Wilcox is with Arkansas (Mariners).

HIGH-A

  Trumbull and Yale product Simon Whiteman is hitting a robust .346 as a shortstop at Eugene (Giants), where he’s teammates with ex-UConn hurler John Russell.

  Seymour’s Joe Kuzia, Nick’s older brother, is at Hickory (Rangers).

  Waterford’s Mike Burrows has yet to allow a run in two starts with Greensboro (Pirates).

  Former UConn fireballing reliever Jacob Wallace is with Greenville (Red Sox), after being traded by Colorado last September as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Kevin Pillar to the Rockies.

  Former UConn ace Mason Feole is working his way back from Tommy John surgery with Fort Wayne (Padres).

  Suffield’s Jack Patterson on the 60-day injured list with South Bend (Cubs).

  Former UConn hurler PJ Poulin is with Spokane (Rockies).

  Waterford’s Tom Sutera is on the injured list out on the Jersey Shore (Phillies)

SINGLE-A

  Seymour’s Jake Walkinshaw is pitching for Stockton (A’s)

LOW-A

  Fairfield’s Stephen Paolini, a 2019 fifth-round draft pick, is with Augusta (Braves).

  Wallingford’s Zach Hart is pitching at Lynchburg (Indians), while fellow Wallingford product Jake MacKenzie is a shortstop at Salem (Red Sox).

  Stamford’s Montana Semmell is on the 60-day injured list with Tampa (Yankees).

  Ex-UConn shortstop Anthony Prato is with Fort Myers (Twins);

  Recent UConn grad Nick Krauth is Down East (Rangers)

  Yale products Griffin Dey is with Lakeland (Tigers) and Kumar Nambiar with Stockton (A’s).

david.borges

@hearstmediact.com