How Will The MLB Lockout Affect The Minor Leagues?
There are a lot of questions raised by the Major League Baseball lockout. Today we want to answer as best we can, or at least raise the questions about, what the lockout means for the minor leagues.
1. Will the minor leagues still play without MLB baseball?
As best they can without offending MLB, minor league teams will be making clear over and over that this lockout will not affect their ability to play games.
The regular season of Triple-A baseball begins on April 5. The rest of the full-season minors (Double-A and the Class A levels) begins on April 8.
The minors will not have players currently on 40-man rosters, but otherwise the minors will roll along somewhat as normal. In 1994, the minor leagues got some additional attention from baseball-starved fans.
Don’t expect any teams to tap into the anger towards MLB with their promotions, however. MLB has to approve all promotions, so don’t expect to see any “Mad At Manfred” promotions.
2. What happens to prospects on the 40-man rosters?
They’re stuck. While their minor league teammates who aren’t on 40-man rosters can continue to play and develop, they are locked out.
Even if the lockout just stretches for a few more weeks, they will lose development time in the minors while they get into game shape. And if the lockout stretches for a while, those prospects could lose several months of games. For many of them, that would be a second interrupted season in three years, joining the 2020 pandemic-canceled season.
3. What happens when spring training (eventually/hopefully) begins?
No one really knows. It depends a lot on how long it takes for the two sides to come to a deal. A deal next week means there’s very little impact. Spring training will start later than normal, a week of games will be lost, but otherwise normalcy will largely resume.
But come April, the Low-A Southeast teams could find themselves kicked to the backfields (probably) if MLB spring training arrives in Florida and Arizona at that time. After all, every Low-A Southeast team other than Daytona shares its park with an MLB team’s spring training site. In the case of Jupiter, it could have two spring training teams (Marlins and Cardinals), two Low-A teams (Jupiter and Palm Beach) and two extended spring teams (Marlins and Cardinals) trying to share one oversized complex.
If the lockout stretches to May, the problem becomes the weather in Arizona. The weather in Arizona in March is wonderful. By late May, temperatures touching 100 degrees are possible. By June, the highs can reach 115-120 degrees, which makes it a little unpleasant to do the morning work that is part of spring training, even if the games themselves are moved to the evening.
No matter when it happens, spring training becomes very different. To ease players into action, teams usually rely heavily on bringing up players from minor league camp (and bringing minor leaguers to big league camp) for spring training. If those players are already playing around the minors, MLB teams will have to rely on 40-man roster players, potentially non-roster invitees (see the next question) and extended spring players.
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4. What happens to players who signed minor league deals with MLB spring training invites?
Again, we don’t know.
Those players can go out and play minor league games since they signed minor league contracts, but what happens if spring training begins? Do they stay in Triple-A or do they then head to spring training to compete for big league jobs?
Also, while it makes some sense to be in spring training to compete for a job, the downside is players get paid for Triple-A games, but they don’t get paid for spring training games.
5. What happens to the Rule 5 draft?
When the lockout stretched into January and February, the expectation was that the Rule 5 draft would happen soon after the CBA deal was reached.
But if the lockout stretches for another month, it becomes hard to see how a Rule 5 draft could work. The minute minor league games are played, it becomes much more complicated. Protection lists were made in November 2021. MLB teams will dread the idea of having players show they have taken a big step forward and then be made available for an in-season Rule 5 draft.
A shortened season also makes the supposed penalty of picking a Rule 5 pick (carrying them on the active roster all year) a smaller one.
If this happened last year, Astros outfielder Jake Meyers, Twins infielder Jose Miranda and Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel would have been among the players who could have quickly pushed themselves into Rule 5 consideration.