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Most of the 2021 Minor League season will be delayed

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Because of COVID restrictions, most of the minor league season has been delayed.

Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs
Al Yellon

Those of you hoping to make it out to South Bend, Myrtle Beach or Tennessee this spring to see the baby Cubs playing there are going to have to wait a little while longer. Major League Baseball told all minor league teams on Monday that all levels of baseball below Triple-A will not start on time. (Baseball America subscription required.)

As MLB currently envisions the 2021 season, Spring Training is currently scheduled to begin on time in February. But COVID protocols means that teams’ Spring Training facilities will not be able to accommodate both the major and minor league players and maintain safe social distancing practices. So the current plan is for the major leaguers (the 40-man roster and the non-roster invitees) to report as normal and the minor league players will not report until after those players break camp for MLB and Triple-A. Thus, the minor league season will need to be delayed for at least three-to-four weeks, starting in the first week in May.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Major League Spring Training will start on time in 2021, so that could delay the start of the low minors even further. And there’s no guarantee that Triple-A will start on time either. The article linked above notes that since Triple-A teams generally fly commercial rather than charters, MLB might not consider it safe for the Triple-A teams to play until the pandemic gets more under control.

The minor league teams, for the most part, are fine with this. No one, according to that article, actually wants the season to start in early April. Minor league attendance generally doesn’t pick up until school gets out at the end of May anyway, so some teams are even hoping that the start of the season gets pushed back to Memorial Day. On top of that, there are many places in the country that will probably still have restrictions on in-person gatherings in April and May.

To make up the missing date in April, the minor league season is expected to last until October, just like the Major League season. Also, the minor league playoffs will be cancelled in 2021 and instead every team will get extra dates in the fall. Those fall games also give minor league teams a chance to have those lucrative “school field trip” games in the fall rather than in the spring.

Of course, this delay also gives Major League Baseball more time to figure out what they’re going to do with the minor leagues this year. While MLB has issued 120 invitations to teams to play in organized ball in 2021, they have yet to send out the Professional Development Licenses, or the contracts that all the minor league teams have to sign before the season starts. Minor league owners do not know at this point what is going to be in those contracts, which has some of them worried. Starting the season later gives teams more time to deal with whatever turns up in those contracts. It also gives them more time to sell tickets and make sponsorship deals after a lost season.

We already knew that the 2021 minor league system was going to be radically different than the 2019 season or any season before that. But the changes will be even more radical than we thought they would be because of the pandemic. But they are planning on getting in a full minor-league season (sans playoffs) at this time. Of course, current events could lead to more changes down the line.