Report: Delayed start to 2021 minor league season below Double-A originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
After the strangest 2020 MLB season in history, it looks like the 2021 season will still be dealing with the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic. Fans have wondered how the upcoming season will play out, and the first pieces of information are starting to come out about how the league plans to alter its operations to stay as safe as possible.
According to reporting from Baseball America, one area that will be impacted yet again is the minor league system. In 2020, that meant an entirely canceled season. In 2021, it means a delayed start for the lower levels of the organization.
Breaking: Spring training for players at Double-A and below will not begin until after MLB and Triple-A players have departed from camps.
As such, the 2021 minor league season at Double-A and below will have a delayed start.@jjcoop36 has the story.https://t.co/XofqreIPYo
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) January 5, 2021
According to the report, Major League Baseball informed teams earlier this week that "spring training for Double-A and Class A players will not begin until MLB and Triple-A players have departed from spring training."
The idea behind this change is simple - to increase social distancing. It's an obvious change, limiting the number of players and potential interactions at spring training.
The question now becomes how will teams adjust to this information? The Orioles are currently in a state of rebuilding, meaning they are focused on minor league development, but they also are starting to call up more and more prospects to the Major League team. Will teams like them change which prospects are assigned to which levels of the organization, in order to keep them ready earlier in the season?
It may also incentivize teams to keep prospects at the lower levels, so they won't be tempted to promote them prior to any deadlines that might impact future free agency years. Team control is unfortunately one of the primary factors that goes into prospect callups these days, so having a built-in excuse to keep minor leaguers down an extra month could benefits teams like the O's in this way.
Most of the Orioles' top prospects are either at the lower levels or in Triple-A or the majors already, but names like Adley Rutschman - a top-five prospect in all of baseball - present an interesting case. Fans are expecting (hoping?) to see Rutschman in Baltimore this year, but he's never played above Class A, and almost certainly won't begin his season any higher than Double-A. That could mean he'll be less likely to make his debut in 2021 if his spring training is delayed, not to mention the fact that he'll miss out on getting to face Major League-caliber pitching during exhibition games.
It remains to be seen how exactly it will play out across baseball, but this is just one decision that will impact the present and future of the sport for years to come.