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Expanded spring training could delay 2021 MiLB season opener

Major League BaseballA potential overhaul of spring training — forced in 2021 by COVID-19, but one that may end up being used in the future — has MLB and Triple-A players arriving in February, and remaining minor leaguers reporting in April, resulting in a later start to the 2021 MiLB season.

The topic was discussed in previous Ballpark Digest Broadcaster Chats; this is a story based on a piece we ran last week on our Spring Training Online site.

The possibility of two separate spring-training sessions cuts down on the number of players in camp in any given time. Right now the major leaguers report for duty in mid-February, along with select minor leagues and camp invitees. After the beginning of March minor leaguers report to camp, where they embark on their own training schedules and games. When everyone is in camp, it can make for a lot of players spending a lot of time in very close quarters, depending on the team arrangement. One-location camps like Camelback Ranch-Glendale or JetBlue Park force a lot of interactions between players when the camps are at capacity, but it’s not clear that teams with separate minor-league facilities fare any better: We know a Yankees farmhand was diagnosed with COVID-19 after training at the New York minor-league camp.

One familiar and effective COVID-19 mitigation measure is separation, so an issue on the player side is how to achieve separation. The obvious answer: don’t fill the camps to capacity. So a solution floating out there is to run spring training in shifts. Major leaguers and Triple-A level players would start camp at the usual time and complete the schedules already announced. Minor leaguers, however, would not report to camps until the major leaguers break camp for the April 1 season start. Games could be played in front of fans at the spring-training ballparks. This wouldn’t be an extended spring as has been held in the past; this would be a second phase of spring training. It’s also done in service of a potential shift of the Minor League Baseball season opening to the beginning of May. Generally, no one is a huge fan of games starting in early April: the weather in most of the country is chilly and unpredictable, and no owner will shed a tear in losing those April games, especially if the season is extended past Labor Day.

Again, we’re just reporting on some of the talk floating around out there, and there currently is no firm game plan in place. The 2021 baseball season is a series of moving targets complicated by a variety of factors–some related to health, some related to player development, some related to the reorganization of Minor League Baseball–so your best bet is to be as flexible as possible.

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