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MLB will use its new rules in the Arizona Fall League

Plus, some news about a Cubs prospect who won’t make it to the AFL after all.

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Earlier this month, Major League Baseball announced several rule changes to take effect with the 2023 regular season. Briefly, they are:

  • A pitch clock
  • Limitations on defensive shifting
  • Larger (18 inch by 18 inch) bases

There’s going to be one other potential future rule change for MLB regular season games which is going to be tested in two parks in the Arizona Fall League, per a MLB press release:

The Automatic Ball-Strike (“ABS”) Challenge System that began in the Florida State League in 2022 will be implemented on the experimental level at the Arizona Fall League for games played at Salt River Fields and Chase Field. Batters, Pitchers, and Catchers will have the opportunity to challenge an umpire’s ball or strike call if they feel it is incorrect. All challenges will be evaluated by the ABS system to determine the outcome. Both teams are allowed three challenges and will be awarded their challenge back if correct.

Salt River Fields is the home field for one of the AFL’s six teams, the Salt River Rafters, and as such it will host 15 games. There will be a tripleheader of games at Chase Field Saturday, October 15 involving all six teams, and a similar tripleheader of games is shown as “Location TBA” on the AFL schedule. That could also wind up being played at Chase Field.

So MLB officials will have another sample of games where ball and strike calls can be challenged. In addition to the Florida State League, this system has been used in some Triple-A games, as I wrote here earlier this month.

The key to not having that system slow games down is that batters, pitchers or catchers have to immediately challenge the umpire’s call — no waiting for managers or coaches to contact the video room. In practice, as I wrote in that earlier article, this works quite well and most such challenges are finished within 30 seconds. The wrinkle I like about this is that if a challenge is correct, the team retains it, so it could theoretically have unlimited challenges if their players challenge correctly. In practice, this will likely correct the most egregiously bad calls — like a couple made in the ninth inning Sunday at Wrigley Field.

I note all this because a change like this is not subject to MLB’s Competition Committee, which had to approve the changes already announced. If MLB wants to institute such a ball-and-strike challenge system, all it has to do is give 45 days’ notice to the MLB Players Association. I hope they do so for 2023; it will be a step in the right direction as we wait for them to perfect the automated strike zone.

If you’d like an even deeper dive into what these new rules might mean in 2023 and some of the potential unintended consequences, Jayson Stark at The Athletic has just that today (subscription required).

One last note about this year’s AFL concerning the Cubs:

I had written last week that seven Cubs would go to the AFL this year, including Miguel Amaya, but he’s not listed on the roster above, and so it appears only six Cubs prospects will play in the AFL. This is yet another setback for Amaya, who has played only 63 minor league games since 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and now, this ankle injury. He will turn 24 in March and the Cubs will soon have to make a decision whether to keep him on the 40-man roster.

As always, we await developments. Arizona Fall League play begins two weeks from today, Monday, October 3.