After a dismal 2020 in which the organized minor leagues were cancelled everywhere, Major League Baseball has announced the schedule for the upcoming 2021 Minor League season. The new Triple-A leagues will all start their season on April 6, which is pretty much when they would have started in years past. The other minor leagues, Double-A, High-A and Low-A, will return to action on May 4. The Triple-A season will last for 142 games and the lower levels will play 120 games. The Minor League season will end on September 19 for all teams. As previously announced, there will not be any Minor League playoffs in 2021.
One other new change for 2021 is that teams are scheduled to play a six-game series against one team every week with Mondays off. While this has the advantage of limiting unnecessary travel during a pandemic, it does appear that this change will be permanent.
The Iowa Cubs will start their season on the road at Louisville on April 4, a team that they have not played since the old American Association folded after the 1997 season. Their home opener will be April 13 against the Toledo Mud Hens. The Iowa Cubs have never played an official game against Toledo.
There is some bad news for Cubs fans from other parts of the country as Iowa will only be playing six other teams in 2021: Louisville, Toledo, Columbus, Indianapolis, Omaha and St. Paul. Only Omaha is a carryover from the old rivalries of the Pacific Coast League. Obviously this is good players as it cuts down on travel time, but it’s not good for fans who want to see a wide variety of prospects from around the majors. The plan for now is that this limited number of opponents is just for 2021 to limit travel in a pandemic, but obviously the plan for 2022 is still undecided.
You can find the complete Iowa Cubs schedule here.
The Double-A Tennessee Smokies start their season on May 4 at home against the Montgomery Biscuits. They will be playing the same teams that they played in the Southern League in 2019 and before, other than the Mobile BayBears having moved north to Madison, AL. They are now the Rocket City Trash Pandas. This change would have been in place for the 2020 season had the season been played.
It should be noted that the May 4 Opening Day will allow teams to have their annual Star Wars “May (the) 4th be with you.” promotions. Yes, this is a big deal to teams as it is normally one of the most popular promotions in Minor League Baseball.
The complete Tennessee Smokies schedule is here.
The South Bend Cubs have gone from being the Cubs low-A affiliate to the Cubs High-A affiliate. (And as an aside, it is good to see MLB officially adopt the colloquial names for these league levels rather than insist on officially calling them “A Advanced” and “A.”)
South Bend will open at home on May 4 against the Quad City River Bandits. The South Bend Cubs schedule will include the Quad Cities, Beloit Snappers, Ft. Wayne TinCaps, Lansing Lugnuts, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Lake County Captains and Peoria Chiefs. Bad news for Michigan Cubs fans as the SB Cubs are not scheduled to play Great Lakes or West Michigan in 2021. At least there is still Lansing on the schedule.
The complete South Bend schedule is here.
Finally, the now Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, having flipped levels with South Bend, will open the season on the road on May 4 at the Charleston River Dogs. Their home opener will be on May 11 against the Augusta Green Jackets. The Pelicans will now play in a league that is a combination of teams from the old Carolina League and the old South Atlantic (Sally) League.
In addition to Charleston and Augusta, the Pelicans will play the Down East Wood Ducks, Columbia Fireflies and Lynchburg Hillcats at home in 2021. They will play the Salem Red Sox and Fayetteville Woodpeckers on the road in 2021. They are not scheduled to play Delmarva, Fredericksburg, Carolina, Fayetteville or Kannapolis in 2021.
The complete Myrtle Beach schedule can be found here.
As always, these schedules are subject to change. But with the news on the pandemic improving every day, it does appear like we are going to have minor league baseball again in some form in 2021. And that’s good news for every one.