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Minor League Primer: Changes and Thoughts

2020 was dumb and long and awful, and it seems like it’s been a lifetime since the last minor league game was played. It’s at this point in time when you can say something cute like “I’m old enough to remember when Palm Beach was the Cardinals High-A affiliate” or something even cuter like “I’m old enough to remember when the Cardinals had two extra short-season clubs.”

Whether you are just trying to be either the cutest/funniest person in the room or you’re just trying to inform, the reality is that the minor leagues will make their 2021 debut on May the 4th (be with you) in a different capacity than when they left the field in September of 2019.

For all of baseball, it was the elimination of the short-season clubs as part of minor league contraction. State College and Johnson City are no longer affiliated with the Cardinals. Instead, both cities will house wooded bat leagues for college-age (and high school age in some cases) players.

For the Cardinals specifically, the major change is that Peoria and Palm Beach have swapped spots in the hierarchy of levels within the organization. Once Low-A, Peoria is now the High-A affiliate. Good for them. This is also a smart and strategic move for clubs like the Cardinals, who can now keep their younger players at Palm Beach near the spring training campus, offering more closely monitored programs and development.

Minor league rules and divisions have changed, as well.

All of this information has been widely reported at this point, but I wanted to put as much of it in one concise spot as possible. I'm sorry to be retreading old/reported ground. Feel free to skim through, beyond the picture of the rosters, to my thoughts if you'd like.

Triple-A Memphis was once a part of the Pacific Coast League. They are now a part of something awfully titled “Triple-A Southeast Division.” There, they will have the privilege of sliding into bases that are 18 square inches, up from the standard 15 square inches.

Double-A Springfield, once in the Texas League, is now in Double-A Central’s North Division, which really is as dumb as it sounds, because I know that you are asking yourself "is that as dumb as it sounds in my head?" There, they’ll deal with the biggest rule change of all of the rule changes in my opinion, as they experiment with trying to combat the shift. To start the year, a Double-A team can’t have more than four players on the infield and all four of those players must have their feet on the dirt. There is a chance (and it’s believed by many that it’s all but set in stone) that this will end up with the full elimination of the one-side of the diamond heavy shift at Double-A by their All-Star break, but I guess we will wait and see.

Now High-A Peoria moves from the Midwest League to the High-A Central League. There, it’s left-handed pitching that will have to deal with the brunt of the rule change that will take place. Here, a pitcher must step off of the rubber when pitching out of the stretch to throw to a base. No more of that “isn’t that a balk?” from lefties throwing over to first. There also won’t be that one, quick, turn to throw to second without stepping off first. It's kind of a big change, all things considered. As you'll notice, all of these a lot of these rule changes are intended to get the running game going more in baseball. We'll see how that works.

Low-A Palm Beach, formerly of the Florida State League, will now be in the Low-A Southeast Division. Here, a pitcher will be able to step off of the rubber twice from the stretch without having to throw over to the bag. If a pitcher attempts the throw over a third time, and doesn’t pick off the runner, a balk is called and the runner is awarded the next base. In addition to this rule, Low-A Southeast will have automatic balls and strikes called. So, that’s a big one there.

The GCL affiliate is still in place, as are the two DSL affiliates.

On Friday via Twitter, the Cardinals' affiliates released their rosters. I'm hopeful to write about that soon if I can find time. Thanks to Ryan Herrera on Twitter, that complete list of the four rosters can be found in the picture below. It's all subject to change (and will be changing shortly), so please keep that in mind when looking it over. Keep it handy!

On a personal note, I am very excited for the beginning of the season. A part of me cannot believe that it is actually going to happen. I’m sad that there are less minor league teams than there were at the end of the 2019 season. I’m sad that so many towns across America will no longer have affiliated baseball. However, I am hopeful for the success of the leagues that will be replacing the affiliation, and I’m even more hopeful that Major League Baseball doesn’t find some way to screw those leagues up.

I just want to remind everyone once again that it’s been nearly 20 months since the last affiliated minor league game took place, the 2019 Arizona Fall League withstanding. Many of these players didn’t play any type of organized competitive baseball over that time, spring trainings withstanding. Yes, some of these players were working out at the team’s alternate site. Also, some of these guys did play overseas during the Caribbean Winter Leagues, and some of them did play Independent League Ball when that season went live. And as you suspected, all of these players trained relentlessly during this period to get as ready as possible for opening day on Tuesday.

But expect some rough times. Expect to get overly excited about prospects who fizzle out, and overly upset about prospects who will soon find their footing. This season, to me, has all of the trappings of conflicting results and successes/failures. It feels, to me, like the 2020 MLB season. You remember that one: The shortened one where a lot of really good players did poorly and maybe some less talented players enjoyed some helium. Let's exercise patience with our emotional excitement over what the players are doing at the onset of the season. There is a lot of rust to be knocked off.

Above all else, remember to enjoy Minor League Baseball!!! If you can, pack up your family and make the drive to the nearest city that has a minor league team. Support that community. Support that team. Minor League baseball is a beautiful thing. It’s the throwback romantic baseball atmosphere that we all remember getting excited about as a kid. It’s the promise of potential and a brighter future. It’s baseball at its most natural, even with the rule changes.

Long Live Minor League Baseball.

Now, let’s get these kids some type of representation so that don’t continue to get screwed over in the long run by the owners.

Thanks For Reading!!

Kyle Reis


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