11 Predictions For How New Roster Limits Will Change MiLB


Image credit: Oklahoma City Dodgers manager Travis Barbary makes a pitching change in a September 2023 game. (John Williamson/Four Seam Images)

No one can fully predict what will happen with the reduced 165-player minor league roster limits, but baseball officials weighed in with predictions for 2024, some of which we heard over and over.

Surprise Pitchers Emerge

Almost everyone we asked said they believe that some pitchers will benefit from the reduction in the total number of arms each team can carry. A later-round pick or less-touted international signee who would have been slotted into a low-leverage relief role in the past will get to either start or jump into a tandem-starter role under the new roster restrictions, because teams will need them to handle more innings. 

Given a chance to start and work more consistently, some of those pitchers will prove they are worthy of a larger role. Some may develop a pitch that they wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work on in a smaller role. Others will stand out because of their ability to shoulder a heavier workload without seeing their stuff diminish.

The change should give some pitchers a chance to shine.

“We’ll probably get surprised by a few guys during the year. That is one of the positives of this,” one pitching coach said.

More Tandem Starters

Using piggyback starters in Class A has become more popular in recent years. The idea is to have two pitchers working four to five innings an outing each and usually alternating who starts and who enters in the middle innings. Using tandem starters keeps any young pitcher from logging too many pitches in a start, but it allows a team to keep more pitchers on a starter’s development track.

This year, it will also be a potentially useful way to cover innings.

Partner Leaguers In Demand

Pretty much everyone expects the partner leagues will become a robust source of stretched-out and available arms if a team gets crushed by injuries. Less charitably, some also admit that these are the pitchers who will most likely be asked to carry heavier workloads to fill necessary innings to ensure the team’s best prospects aren’t overworked.

Versatile Position Players

Multiple teams said they expect to carry an extra pitcher (or two) on minor league rosters, especially early in the season. That will in many cases mean that teams will carry one or even two fewer position players. The player who can play anywhere on the field will have more value as a farm director’s friend by filling holes whenever and wherever they arise.

Fewer Players Get Cut In Spring Training

A quirk of the new rules is that players cannot be moved to the 60-day injured list until mid March. If a team has 10 or more players slated to move to the 60-day IL, then the drop from an offseason limit of 175 players to an in-season one of 165 players could largely be handled by those IL moves. Where in the past teams came to camp with 15-20 extra players who had to be cut before Opening Day, nowadays there’s no need to make significant spring training cuts. And with teams worried about covering innings and at-bats in case of injuries in April—before partner leagues start up in May to provide another source of reinforcements—players who may have been cut in the past will be kept around as roster insurance.

Putting The Ball In Play

We’ll have to see if this prediction comes true, but some coaches suggested the new roster limits could play a role in helping reduce the trend toward pitchers throwing fewer and fewer innings while emphasizing strikeouts.

“The sinker is going to make a comeback because you have to get quick and easy outs,” one pitching coach said. “It’s been all four-seam fastballs, power curveballs and sliders and no constraints. So many pitches and games were played a particular way. Now you may need to sneak outs quickly. We’ll see the comeback of the changeup and sinker. We’re all going to see the rollover ground ball on the second pitch of an at-bat as a positive.”

Bye Bye To The Org Catcher

In the past, many teams have carried an extra catcher or two on the roster who served in a role much like a hockey team’s emergency goalie. The catcher might travel with the Triple-A team or stay back in the complex. Unless there was an injury or spot created by a promotion, they wouldn’t be on the active roster. But they were around to catch bullpens—or catch rehabbing pitchers at the complex—and handle some of the grunt work to keep the regular catchers from wearing out.

There’s still a need for catchers to handle these jobs, but with spots on the 165-player roster at a premium, those jobs may turn into seasonal staff positions where a recent college catcher is hired to handle the role, without ever being signed as a minor league player.

The Developmental List Withers

In recent years, many organizations have made liberal use of the developmental list. Teams are allowed to take a player off the active roster to work on adding a new pitch, tweaking a swing or becoming proficient at a new position. Because they aren’t on the active roster, they can work on becoming comfortable with the new skill before they are thrown back into actual games.

Notable recent examples include the Rangers sending righthander Jack Leiter to the developmental list three times in 2023 as he worked on his delivery, and the Astros using a month on the developmental list to help outfielder Corey Julks tap into his power more consistently.

The developmental list still exists, but those players still count toward the 165-player limit. So if a team is tight up against the roster, there will be less ability to take a healthy player off a team for a few weeks during the season to try to make significant development changes.

“We will lose some developmental opportunities,” a farm director said. “It definitely will make projects like that tougher. We’ll have to work around it and do what’s best for the players.”

Cut-Down Days Move To July

If spring training is less likely to see the mass releases of the past, the situation will be reversed in July. Teams who are up against the 165-player limit will have to clear 15 to 20 roster spots or more to have the room to sign their draftees. In most cases, that will mean fringe roster players get a couple of months to make their case for sticking around post-draft. But there are coaches and front office officials who worry that they will need to release productive org players at midseason to make the numbers work.

More Position Players Pitch

If a team gets hammered with rainouts, injuries or extra-inning games, there won’t be as many readily available pitchers to bring in as reinforcements. That means that teams may be even more willing to turn to a position player to pitch if a game begins to get out of hand.

It’s been a staple in the minor leagues long before position players pitching became commonplace in the majors, and it may become even more so in 2024.

The Long-Shot Who Will Never Get Their Shot

There is some truth to MLB’s often repeated point that there are players in every organization who have little to no chance to reach the majors. A reduction of 450 minor league roster spots does not mean that 450 potential big leaguers are being cast aside.

As one GM put it, there are always players in your organization that you know you could let go if needed. Those are going to be the vast majority of players caught up in these cut downs.

But there are undoubtedly going to be a few players who could have clawed their way to the majors in an alternate universe who will never get the chance now that rosters are being reduced, much in the same way as there were potential big leaguers who hung up their cleats when a 40-round draft was turned into a 20-round draft in 2021.

Some players who don’t get drafted decide to stick it out and play in the partner leagues, formerly known as independent leagues. The same will be true of players who get released to get to these roster reductions. 

But some will decide that this being released is their off-ramp from baseball. And past history shows that there will be some potential future big leaguers who will now walk away to never fulfill that dream.

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