Yesterday, Major League Baseball’s extreme makeover of the Minor Leagues continued as MLB introduced new rules to try this upcoming season.
In a statement on Thursday, the “changes behind tested are designed to increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”
Some of the changes will be only in effect in certain leagues. For example, at the Triple-A level, bases will be bigger, expanding first, second and third from 15 by 15 inches to 18 by 18. The reasoning behind this change stated by MLB is that by making this change, MLB is hoping to reduce player injuries and collisions. Additionally, the league hopes that the shortened distance between bases will “have a modest impact,” which could lead to an increased amount of stolen bases and infield hits.
Another league-specific change will be using the league’s automatic ball-strike system at some of the Low-A Southeast games. The automated ball-strike system is the closest that computer “umpires” have come to Major League Baseball. However, this system has already been used in the independent Atlantic League and had mixed feedback.
“We are listening to our fans,” said Michael Hill, MLB senior vice president of on-field operations. “This effort is an important step towards bringing to life rules changes aimed at creating more action and improving the pace of play.”
“The game on the field is constantly evolving, and MLB must be thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball — a version that is true to its essence and has enough consistent action and athleticism on display to entertain fans of all ages,” said former Red Sox and Cubs executive Theo Epstein, now a consultant to MLB.
“These rules experiments will provide valuable insight into various ways to create a playing environment that encourages the most entertaining version of the game. What we learn in the Minor Leagues this year will be essential in helping all parties chart the right path forward for baseball.”
As announced, the start of the Minor League schedule will be delayed until around the first week of May. We also have noted that Major League Baseball has already shrunk the number of Minor League teams from 160 to 120 this offseason due to the Professional Baseball Agreement’s expiration governing the relationship between MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which operated the minors. MLB has since assumed full control of the enterprise.
Here are the changes — and the leagues in which they will apply:
- Slightly larger bases with a less-slippery surface (all Triple-A leagues)
- A requirement that all four infielders have their cleats within the outer boundary of the infield dirt when the pitch is delivered (all Double-A)
- A requirement that pitchers must step off the rubber to attempt a pickoff (all High-A)
- A limit of two pickoff attempts per plate appearance (all Low-A)
- A 15-second pitch clock (Low-A West only)
- An automatic ball-strike system (Low-A Southeast only)