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Nine Things To Know In The Minor Leagues For 2022



1. Normalcy returns

Welcome to a needed return to normal around the minor leagues.

For fans who caught a few games late last season, they may not have even noticed, but for players, coaches and especially minor league operators, 2021 was anything but a routine season. There were a wide array of coronavirus mitigation measures, some of which changed throughout the season. Many teams had significant attendance restrictions, especially during the first months of the season. The season started a month late because of coronavirus as well.

Even if the 2021 season had been normal, it wouldn’t have been normal because of the pandemic-canceled 2020 season. Front offices were gutted by furloughs and layoffs, and teams were unable to staff back up for a normal offseason because of the uncertain start to the 2021 season. Similarly, revenue wasn’t close to normal because teams had to provide make-goods on tickets and advertising purchased for the 2020 season.

On top of that, there was also a massive adjustment after MLB took over the governance of the minors and eliminated 40 affiliated teams.

This year hasn’t been entirely normal either. The MLB lockout didn’t directly affect the minors, even if MiLB teams had to spend plenty of time reassuring fans that their Opening Day would take place on schedule—lockout or no lockout.

But this is the closest to normal since 2019. And the hope around the minors is that this year will be the year where the biggest worry is rain in the forecast. After two very difficult years, everyone involved in the minors could use a break.

2. New names and faces to learn

The cycle of prospect life ensures that there will always be a steady stream of top prospects graduating, but this year will have more turnover than most.

Of the top 10 ranked on the Top 100 Prospects, all but Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe had reached at least Double-A in 2021. By this time next year, nine of the top 10 prospects should have graduated, paving the way for extreme turnover to the top of the Top 100. Here is how the top 10 looks heading into this season:

Rk Player, Pos, Team Highest Level

1. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles Triple-A

2. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners Double-A

3. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals Triple-A

4. Riley Greene, OF, Tigers Triple-A

5. Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Tigers Triple-A

6. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles Double-A

7. Gabriel Moreno, C, Blue Jays Triple-A

8. Shane Baz, RHP, Rays MLB

9. CJ Abrams, SS, Padres Double-A

10. Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees High-A

The 2022 season will be the first chance for fans to get a look at some of the top 2021 draftees. The later draft date meant that for a number of top draftees, their pro debuts had to wait until this year. That was the case for four healthy first-rounders: Rangers righthander Jack Leiter, Tigers righthander Jackson Jobe, Royals lefthander Frank Mozzicato and Guardians righthander Gavin Williams.

3. Everything that was old is new again

While there will be new prospect names to learn, everyone can go back to calling leagues by the names they have been called for decades. After a one-year hiatus, MLB announced that all full-season leagues are returning to their traditional names in 2022. So banish any memory of Low-A Southeast. Thankfully, that league is once again the Florida State League.

2022 League 2021 League Teams    

International Triple-A East 20

Pacific Coast Triple-A West    10    

Eastern Double-A Northeast    12

Southern Double-A South    8

Texas Double-A Central    10

Midwest High-A Central    12    

Northwest High-A Northwest    6

South Atlantic High-A East    12

California Low-A West    8

Carolina Low-A East    12

Florida State Low-A Southeast    10

The Rookie-level Arizona Complex and Florida Complex leagues will keep with their new names, rather than resurrecting the Arizona and Gulf Coast names.

MLB said that it took until this year to have the rights to all the league names to reuse them, which explains the one-year gap. Those leagues are treating last year as part of their long histories, so for example, Double-A Akron will be regarded as the 2021 Eastern League champion after winning the Double-A Northeast title.

4. New playing rules

In 2022, during certain Low-A Florida State League games, the home plate umpire will call balls and strikes, but both teams will get three chances to appeal to the automated ball-strike (ABS) system if they believe the ump missed the call.

If ABS rules that the home plate umpire was correct, the team loses that challenge. If the ABS overturns the call, the team keeps the challenge.

The new appeal system is the most significant of the experimental rules changes that are being adopted around the minors in 2022.

The ABS system that was used in the FSL last year will also come to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League—beginning May 17—and Charlotte of the Triple-A International League all season.

The computerized system uses the Hawk-Eye system of multiple cameras to track the ball and where it crosses the plate.

Another change will continue to prepare teams for what seems like the eventual limitation or elimination of extreme defensive shifting.

In Double-A, High-A and Low-A, teams will be required to position four players on the infield dirt and two apiece on either side of second base and only as deep as the end of the dirt. In other words, teams can still pinch for double plays and hug the lines to guard against extra bases, but the days of crowding one side of the infield for extreme pull hitters are over.

Since 2018, Triple-A and Double-A teams have used pitch clocks of 15 seconds when nobody is on base and 20 seconds with runners on. It was added to the Low-A California League in the middle of the 2021 season, and garnered positive reviews from coaches and league officials.

Now, pitch clocks will be added to parks at all levels of the minors.

The pickoff limitation rule, which was used in the Cal League last year, will also be used with all leagues using a pitch clock. The pitcher may step off the rubber or attempt a pickoff up to three times per at-bat. If the third attempt is unsuccessful, the runner will be allowed to advance.

The final rules change, which was tested in Triple-A in the middle of last season, will be the move to larger bases in an effort to increase stolen base attempts and infield hits as well as reducing collisions around the bases. The size of the bags increased from 15 square inches to 18 square inches in the first half of the Triple-A East season and the second half of the season in the Triple-A West.

5. An all-star break without the game

This year’s schedule includes a four-day break in the middle of the season. Across the entirety of the full-season minor leagues, no games are scheduled from July 17-20, coinciding with the MLB all-star break.

But don’t call it a minor league all-star break, because it’s not going to be filled with all-star games. There has been some discussions of the possibility of some leagues holding all-star games, but most have decided against the idea, which does require approval from MLB teams.

Instead, it’s going to be a four-day midsummer break while the big leaguers are also on break.

6. Two new logos, one new-ish ballpark

Just two minor league teams are changing names for 2022.

The Triple-A Sugar Land Skeeters, an identity carrie doer from the club’s days in the independent Atlantic League, have been renamed the Space Cowboys.

The High-A Beloit Snappers are assuming the nickname Sky Carp. The club opened new ABC Supply Stadium on Aug. 3 last year.

7. MiLB.TV

Eventually, it’s likely that MLB will find a streaming/network partner to air MiLB games. But heading into the 2022 season, the way to watch minor league games on your television is through MiLB.tv.

A few teams are adding broadcasts this year—most notably Low-A St. Lucie and Visalia and High-A Vancouver—and MLB has steadily increased the expected standards for broadcasts. Teams must broadcast in high definition, have at least four cameras and on-screen graphics.

MLB has been pushing the remaining roughly 20 holdouts to add broadcasts. Having everyone producing broadcasts would help as MLB tries to find partners to air or stream minor league games.

The biggest holdouts have been MLB-owned teams. St. Lucie is now the second Florida State League club to add TV broadcasts, joining Bradenton. Of the 20 teams unlikely to have broadcasts this year, 10 are MLB owned.

Dodgers

Prospect Report: Dodgers' Stone Hammers Hitters

Gavin Stone had yet another excellent outing and Hunter Goodman is a Low-A name to watch.

8. Waiting on a new brand

When MLB took over the governance of the minors, it emphasized that it would bring its marketing muscle to bear to help promote the minor leagues and bring in additional revenue. One of the examples of that was to be a push to find a title sponsor for the minor leagues.

Initially, minor league teams were told that the rebranding would be announced in December 2021. Then it was pushed back to March 2022. As of right now, it’s not clear when a rebranding will occur.

A hurdle that MLB is likely facing is the difficulty of offering naming rights to something that is so easily understood by its current name. Minor League Baseball is the official brand name of affiliated minor league baseball. But the minor leagues—note the lowercase—is also the name by which the minors have been colloquially known for well over a century, even when the actual official name of the governing body of the affiliated minor leagues was the National Association.

The Minor League Baseball name wasn’t applied officially until the rise of the independent leagues in the 1990s. Then, MiLB was adopted to ensure that indy leagues would be seen as different from the affiliated minor leagues.

The rebrand of the NBA’s development league from the “D League” to the Gatorade-sponsored “G League” involved changing one letter in a league that had been founded in 2001. Getting fans to comfortably adopt a new name for the century-old minor leagues will be much tougher, especially since the term “minor leagues” is the logical companion of the major leagues.

9. New promotions

This year, Minor League Baseball has announced “The Nine,” an outreach initiative focused on the Black community. Over the season, MiLB teams will highlight the best Black players of their team’s history, as well as civil rights leaders of its 120 teams’ communities.

It will also work to bring Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) programs to minor league communities.

In action, it will share similar aspects to “Copa de la Diversion,” the season-long minor league initiative of outreach to Latino communities that was developed in 2017.

The Nine draws its name from the jersey number Jackie Robinson wore in 1946 in his year with the Triple-A Montreal Royals.

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