The rumor that the 2021 Minor League Baseball season would be delayed is mostly true. Low-A, Advanced-A, and Double-A will begin later than usual. Major League Baseball sent out a memo to minor league teams on Monday with the information, which was first reported by JJ Cooper of Baseball America.
There’s some more information at the link (you need to be a subscriber to read the entire piece), including that the season could go into October. The minor league season typically ends for full-season teams the first week of September.
There could be some interesting things as a result of Triple-A beginning “on time” and Double-A not. One that may not effect the Cincinnati Reds, but could many other teams, is how it relates to the 40-man roster players and their starting point in the 2021 season if they don’t make the big league club. Cincinnati doesn’t have any players that seem like they would be slated for non-Triple-A or MLB time when the year begins, but some teams may. Thanks to many trades over the last few years, the Reds don’t have a lot of guys from the lower levels who were added to the 40-man roster who were in “protect from the Rule 5 draft” area.
Sometimes you will have players that fall into that area, though, and you will have guys in Low-A who are on the 40-man roster. Players that are on the 40-man roster are automatically invited to big league spring training. And now that we’re seeing teams below the Triple-A level who won’t likely see their regular season begin until May, it would seem that in many cases teams wouldn’t just tell a guy that, he, now your spring training is from February 18th through May 1st, and would instead send *most* guys to Triple-A for the time just to play. That wouldn’t apply for everyone – that jump would simply be too large for a small handful of guys.
Another situation to wonder about is how spring training is going to work. Usually the first cuts of the spring from the big league club begin around the time that minor league games begin on the backfields. Triple-A and MLB seem like they are going to start spring training at the same time this year. That provides the big league teams a place to still be able to call players up when needed, who are ready to go. That’s good planning. It’s necessary planning. But what about if the Triple-A team needs to make moves? Will rosters for Triple-A teams be expanded for the first month of the year to compensate for a situation where they have injuries or big league call ups necessitate enough players to fill out a team? They can’t reach down to Double-A the first week of April if needed, especially if it’s for a pitcher who hasn’t even really begun being stretched out because their spring training began a week earlier.
Another issue that could pop up with regards to pitchers. Guys who begin the year in Triple-A, but wind up in Double-A later in the year, could in theory at least, wind up playing a Major League Baseball length season that starts in April and ends in October. The work load for pitchers is certainly something that will need to be watched for guys that may fall into this area.
All of this could still change. While there’s now multiple vaccines available, the roll out is off to a slow start, and even in the best case scenarios, it was going to take time to get it where it needs to be before things “return to normal”. For now we are all still kind of at the mercy of the virus and the spread. As we’ve seen throughout the summer, fall, and now the winter in American sports – players and coaches are contracting the virus and it’s leading to postponements and cancellations of games. We’re now out of that situation yet and it isn’t likely that we will be int he next five weeks as the start of spring training begins.