Minor League Baseball last week announced three rules changes that will take effect for the 2019 season. However, two of these rules are just “tweaks” to existing rules and the other one likely will not have much or any impact.
The most controversial one is that MiLB is adopting the “pitchers must face three batters” rule at the Double-A and Triple-A level. It’s the same rule that Major League Baseball is adopting for the 2020 season. However, unlike MLB where such a rule could have a major impact on strategy, it isn’t likely to have much or any impact on the minor league game.
As JJ Cooper pointed out in this article for Baseball America, minor league teams simply do not use one-out specialists like the major league teams do. This makes sense: the primary purpose of the minors is not to win ballgames but to develop major league talent. It doesn’t do anyone’s development any good if they’re only facing one hitter from the same side as they are throwing. Cooper looked through the entire 2018 Pacific Coast League season and found just five times the rule would have applied.
The second rule is a tweak to the extra-inning rule where the runner starts on second. This rule would only apply to Double-A and Triple-A and only in games between two National League affiliates, because it involves a pitcher batting. Under the old rule, the runner who starts the inning on second base is the batter who made the final out of the previous inning. With the new rule, if the pitcher made the final out of the previous inning, then the player who batted immediately before the pitcher will be placed on second base.
The final rules change is reducing the number of mound visits allowed at the Double-A and Triple-A have been reduced. Visits in Triple-A have been reduced from six to five. Mound visits in Double-A have been reduced from seven to six. The number of visits in High- and Low-A have been reduced from ten to nine. There are still no limit on mound visits in Short-Season A ball or rookie ball.
Minor League President Pat O’Connor said, “Placing a runner on second base in extra innings accomplished the intended goals and created instant excitement in extra innings, but in a few instances exposed pitchers to serving as baserunners, which was a concern of our partners at Major League Baseball, so this amendment to that rule is an easy and practical solution.” He added, “Pitchers facing a minimum of three batters at the advanced levels will limit the number of pitching changes and help keep the game moving at a steady pace, while also providing valuable data for Major League Baseball as they review the impact it has on the pace of play.”