And what a world series it was. The Tampa Bay Rays and eventual champion Dodgers having to play all but the wild card games in a neutral site and on and on and on we go. We have heard all of this stuff every day for the better part of the year now and I believe my head will explode if I have to read or write any more about any of what we observed with the 2020 baseball season.
On to 2021! So what can we expect to see next year? Will MLB keep any of the changes they put in place for this abbreviated season or will they go back to what was in place in 2019? The big question still is the pandemic. Will we be safe by February or March so the teams can have a normal spring training or will we have another delayed start? Lots of questions to ponder.
Will we see a normal 162 game schedule with fans allowed in the ballparks or will we see more creative cardboard cutouts filling the seats? Hey, can I reuse my cutout or do I need to spend another $150? By the way, I see that season ticket holders are being asked to purchase their seats now for the 2021 season.
That aside, what about all the players in the minor leagues who did not play anything but meaningless inter squad games this year. This is not what player development is all about. The players drafted last year who are at the lower levels, especially the rookie and A levels, will lose the most this year. One of the reasons there were so few rounds in the 2020 draft, was because MLB knew that if they drafted more players they would have to spend millions to pay, outfit and feed them every day as well as taking care of them when injuries occurred. Plus the need for a full coaching staff at every level would add to the cost of developing these young players.
The time lost in development can not be made up and if you add the possibility that there will be a repeat of this year in 2021, the damage to their progress will have an impact that would see the development of prospects, the next generation of big league players, set back again. We could be seeing players being released before they were given the opportunity to learn their craft.
Talking to people involved with the lower levels of the game, they all said the same thing. That these young players at every level have been working hard but feel they are just spinning their wheels. Being coached using Zoom, Skype and FaceTime has been very difficult. The ability of these professional coaches to hold a players hand and push on a finger to show how to throw a certain pitch can not be done from 3000 miles away on the internet. Those hands on things are happening rarely because of the pandemic protocols established by MLB.
A source high up with the Rays for their instructional league in Port Charlotte, Florida told me this week, “It has become difficult to keep these guys focused. As the frustration of not being able to play games against future competition from other organizations builds, I am afraid some of them will lose their enthusiasm. Hopefully we will be able to become more creative if we have to do all of this again in 2021. Also, we have no idea what affiliates we will be losing next year as per the MLB mandate to the contraction of minor league teams. We have no idea where these guys are going to play. If we lose a bunch to independent leagues, we will be relying on those leagues to develop them and they can be signed by any other club because they will be free agents. Those independent league clubs are trying to make money and do not have the luxury of time on their side. It takes us time to slowly bring along a pitcher 2 innings at a time. They will be looking at him as a guy who needs to give them innings. It is a mess.”
These questions may not seem as exciting as what is happening on the big league stage but it will impact the quality of what we expect to see in the major leagues. No other professional sport spends the amount of time, in most cases, years developing players like baseball does. Hopefully this will be just a bump in the road for these young prospects and this pandemic nightmare ends soon.