While we recently learned that spring training and the MLB 2021 season are set to begin on time, the same cannot be said for the minors. MLB informed teams at the Double-A and Single-A levels that their seasons will be delayed, writes Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper. MLB wants to mitigate the number of overall bodies sharing space at spring training facilities. With that in mind, players at the Double-A and Single-A levels will wait until Major League players as well as those slated for Triple-A have departed their facilities. Presumably, that means Triple-A will aim for a more traditional start to their season.
Cooper provides additional information from the memo, writing, “Additionally, the memo told minor league teams to expect their schedules to run until as late as Oct. 3, a full month after regular season games normally end in early September. It is also expected there will be no minor league playoffs in 2021. With a delayed start, those playoff dates will be exchanged for more dates for all teams.”
After a year with no minor league baseball at all, this news comes not as a surprise, nor an inconvenience, but closer to, as Cooper describes it, a “relief.” Minor league teams do not have nearly the resources to stay socially distanced as players at the Major League level. Travel between cities will be a particular concern for teams as MLB puts together the minor league schedule. From MLB’s perspective, the slow roll-out is an opportunity to establish their new development system incrementally, which could ultimately provide a runway to make further changes to former norms.
With a new 120-team MLB-run minor league system kicking-off, this year will prioritize providing a space for competitive, developmental play for those players trying to make their way to the big leagues. Playoffs will, at some point, return to the minor league system, but for now, the focus is safely providing venues for minor league players to get back on the ball field without overtaxing the now-cohesive overall structure that encompasses both Major and minor league baseball leagues. The delays also gives more time for vaccines to be distributed, which in a best case scenario, could allow for fan attendance at minor league facilities sometime down the line.