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MLB to delay start of 2021 Double-A, Class A seasons

In an effort to ensure that spring training camps remain socially distant, MLB will wait to start minor-league spring training until big-leaguers and Triple-A players break camp.

Minor League Baseball: Florida Fire Frogs at Charlotte Stone Crabs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Double-A, Class A Advanced, and Class A seasons will begin after the start of the MLB season, Major League Baseball informed minor-league teams in a memo issued Tuesday. Baseball America’s JJ Cooper was the first to report the news:

There are numerous benefits to this plan. First, it allows for better social distancing — particularly in clubhouses, where a lack of space has always been an issue with massive spring training rosters — and limits the chances of a massive COVID-19 outbreak occurring within an organization. In addition, it increases the chances that minor-league teams will be able to play most or all of their seasons with fans in the stands, as there’s optimism that most of the country will be vaccinated by mid-summer. That’s a crucial element to the survival of the minor leagues, as teams rely very heavily on ticket sales without big TV deals, extensive merchandise sales, or billionaire owners well-equipped to withstand loss of revenue.

If MLB moves forward with its shortsighted plan to limit September call-ups in 2021 and beyond, it could have a positive effect on the major leagues as well. This plan calls for the minor-league season to last through early October — a month later than has traditionally been the case — so instead of having potential big-league contributors staying in shape in an “alternate site” type camp, teams could simply send any players on the big-league bubble to Double-A and have them face live pitching and hitting in September. For that reason, it might actually make sense for MLB to implement this schedule for the long term, though it has the unfortunate side effect of eliminating the minor-league playoffs.

On the other hand, it’ll be interesting to see how the decision affects major-league spring training. It still remains unclear whether there will be a strict limit on the number of players invited to big-league camp. With the way teams approach camp these days, limiting the workloads of all pitchers and starting position players, it’ll be nearly impossible for MLB clubs to play a standard spring training schedule — particularly any split-squad games — without having lower-level minor-leaguers on hand. Without an extensive group of pitchers (and enough backstops to catch their bullpen sessions), it’s difficult to envision a scenario where teams will be able to play exhibition games on a daily basis. However, the issue could be solved rather easily by allowing players who aren’t necessarily slated for Triple-A to attend major-league camp as non-roster invitees, then having those players report to minor-league camp as big-league camp breaks.