After a 2020 Minor League Baseball season that didn’t exist, Major League Baseball is reportedly planning on having a season next year for the minors – but it’s not going to quite look the same. Danny Vietti of CBS Sports is reporting that organizations are planning to start Minor League spring training on April 1st and have opening day on May 1st and play a 120 game schedule.
This plan brings about a lot of questions. Some of them I’ve thought of, and I’m sure there are some that I haven’t that you may also think of. The first thing that I thought of is how spring training is going to work in this scenario. Usually the first “cuts” of big league camp take place around the time that minor league camp is getting underway so that those guys can just go to the backfields and continue to prepare for the season. Now? There’s no backfield action to join in on where there are 150 players already going. The first cuts are usually a handful of players. It’s hard to put together a situation where seven players who were just cut get to work out in a way that keeps them ready to go.
So do they just sort of remain in big league camp, but not really play in games or fully participate in workouts? With minor league camp not starting until the day that the big league season is set to start, that means that minor league games in camp probably won’t start until about mid-April. If guys that are cut don’t get to really play in games after they are cut from big league camp, and then get called up for an injury replacement on, say, April 8th, there’s a chance that they may not have faced “game setting” pitching for three weeks. That doesn’t seem like the most ideal situation. Perhaps there’s more to this plan than the report indicates, which isn’t much other than the start dates – but that’s a big question that needs an answer.
A May 1st start date for Minor League Baseball is only about three weeks later than usual. There have been more than a few years where the season has begun in the second week of April. Cutting the season back by 20 games, with a three week late start would only push the season an extra week or two into September depending on how the schedule played out with off days and an All-Star game. For some teams that could lead to some rather cold games down the stretch (looking at you, Buffalo).
On more of an ancillary side of things, holding big league camp and minor league camp at different times takes away something that has been talked about as being rather valuable – bringing minor leaguers over to big league camp for a day. Usually these guys don’t get into games, but they get the full experience around the big league guys and can see how they go about their business, go about preparing for games, handle batting practice, etc. That’s something that will disappear with the two holding camps in different months.
While there does appear to be a COVID-19 vaccine (or multiple ones) on the way, there also seems to be a pecking order on who is in line to get it first. Professional athletes are pretty far down the list, for the most part, given their age and relative health compared to the rest of the population. And as such, it’s likely that there will still be some restrictions in place when it comes to packing people into places in large numbers – meaning it still makes some sense to hold the two camps separately.
With all of that said, if things go as hoped with regards to a vaccine, pushing the season back a month for the minor leagues could – in theory at least – mean that there’s a chance for at least some limited seating being available when the season begins. For the minor league teams, and not the big league teams or the players/coaching staff/other field and player related staff, that is a big deal as these teams work on thin margins in normal times.
Of course, we still don’t really know which teams are all going to continue to exist in the 2021 season. We still don’t know where all of the teams that will exist will fall in terms of leagues or even levels as much of that is still being worked on, or probably is finalized and just isn’t announced. For those keeping track at home – we’re still getting plenty of rumors and speculation, including conflicting reports on who is going to be affiliated where (the latest was about Spokane where one report from SCNG has the team as the new Dodgers Advanced-A affiliate, while another report from Baseball America’s JJ Cooper says that report in incorrect). Ballpark Digest was the first that I saw report that they were expecting an announcement on all of the affiliations around December 1st. Other reports have now said the same thing. Mark your calendars, I guess – maybe we’ll find out then.