In a typical season, spring training camps begin in mid-late February and feature a large swath of players with varying levels of experience. Given the uncertainty associated with COVID-19, however, MLB is considering a staggered start to 2021 spring training for minor-league players, reports Evan Drellich of the Athletic.
If MLB were to adopt a staggered reporting system, higher-level players (likely those at Triple-A or in the majors) would be the only group to report to spring training at its typical start date, Drellich reports. Lower-level players would report to spring camps only after the higher-level players have dispersed to start their regular seasons (MLB’s Opening Day is currently scheduled for April 1), thus minimizing human contact.
Of course, delaying the start of lower-minors players’ spring training would necessitate delaying the start of their regular season. They would still need a few weeks, at minimum, to work their way into game shape. Drellich suggests a potential mid-May start date for lower-minors teams in this scenario.
Nothing is yet set in stone, it should be noted. It’s not even guaranteed we’ll have minor-league games in 2021. The timetable for widespread deployment of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is far from certain, as is the extent of varying municipalities’ willingness to sign off on minor-league play next season. Indeed, using the 2020 alternate site system again remains a possibility, per Drellich. The resources available to MLB teams for testing and distancing procedures generally aren’t available to minor-league owners. That creates further challenges in guaranteeing those players’ safety, as Drellich discusses with MiLB player advocate Garrett Broshuis.
All this comes during a time of uncertainty about the relationship between MLB and MiLB. The Professional Baseball Agreement that links the parties expired this month. Drellich notes there’s an expectation that a new PBA will come together this winter. That agreement will almost certainly involve the contraction of some teams at the lowest levels, a move MLB angled for even before the pandemic began.