Baseball America reported today that, while the 2020 MiLB season remains dead and the Arizona Fall League in question, there are glimmers of hope for minor-leaguers not chosen to train at the alternate site. MLB has issued a memo to clubs allowing them to re-open instructional leagues, which will give minor-leaguers a chance to face off against other professionals rather than well-intentioned friends and family members or that one guy from their high school who coulda totally gone pro if he didn’t [play a different sport] [need to take over the family business] [sprain his pinky toe] [suck].
Before being approved to begin instructional baseball, clubs must submit a plan to MLB that includes specific COVID-19 safety and testing protocols (at least twice/weekly testing) as well as an overview of the day-to-day operations of the program—when it will run, how many players total will be involved, how many players will be on the field at one time, where the players will live and eat, etc.
The instructional league can start September 18 at the earliest, and teams will be allowed to play against other clubs. Clubs can use either their alternate training site, spring training site, or both, but if using the alternate site, the team must be eliminated from post-season contention and the alternate site no longer used to house the player pool. Players invited to instructional league cannot be on a team’s 40-man roster (exceptions to be made on a case-by-case basis, as in the case for injured players, likely), and will be paid at a rate commensurate with where they would have been assigned in a normal minor-league season, in addition to receiving housing and meal allowances. Clubs are not allowed to require participation in the league.
To the frustration of scouts (who will be allowed in limited numbers at these games), the Mariners quit doing instructional league baseball in the fall of 2016, opting instead for a series of minicamps such as the much-ballyhooed Gas Camp or High Performance Camp. While it’s possible the Mariners could continue to eschew games against other clubs, to not participate would be to put their prospects, most of whom have been sitting at home for the past six months, at an extreme developmental disadvantage.
For the Mariners, it’s likely that they will utilize their Peoria complex, as Tacoma is limited size-wise and also geographically distanced from other clubs. The Mariners might still use Tacoma as a site for higher-level prospects while sending lower-level prospects to Peoria, but since the spring training complexes are used for instructional league baseball anyway, it just seems to make sense as the food and housing infrastructure is already in place there.
It remains to be seen how clubs will approach this opportunity. The stipulation that clubs must pay minor-leaguers in accordance with their expected level might impact some clubs that are crying poor, although the Mariners have already committed to paying all their minor leaguers a stipend through the end of the season. We know Dayton Moore, GM of the Royals, has expressed frustration that minor-leaguers are essentially losing a full year of development, so I’d expect the Royals to field a robust instructional-league program. On the other hand, the Angels, despite promising to pay their minor leaguers through August, apparently haven’t even done that.
For many minor leaguers, this news comes as welcome relief after months of working out and trying to stick to a program with no end goal in sight. September 18 just got circled on a lot of calendars.