Players Will Benefit From New Minor League Landscape In 2021

Image credit: (Photo by Christopher Morris/Getty Images)

This is part of a series evaluating the ramifications of MLB’s overhaul of the minor league system. To see all the stories, click here. 

Players will undoubtedly benefit from the changes to the minor leagues.

Their pay will increase. They will play in ballparks with improved lighting, better weight rooms and batting and pitching tunnels. They will be eating nutritious food provided free of charge by their MLB teams. They will be getting dressed in upgraded clubhouses.

When MLB first unveiled proposed changes to the minor leagues in late 2019, MLB officials publicly stated that one of the reasons for the shakeup was to improve the quality of life and development for players and staff.

There are a lot of tweaks that should do just that.

In their first year of Rookie ball, players will see their pay bumped from $290 to $400 a week. The pay for first-year Class A players will go from $290 a week to $500. Double-A pay will jump from $350 a week to $600, while Triple-A pay will jump from $500 a week to $700.

Players’ paychecks will also get a boost from another change. For decades, minor league players have paid dues to clubhouse managers, who are then responsible for providing food for the players.

Now, those clubhouse dues have been banned. MLB teams will be responsible for providing meals for players and the staff when they are at the ballpark. Minor league teams will be responsible for providing snacks.

The switch will save players money, and it will also likely lead to them eating healthier food. MLB teams will have plenty of developmental incentives to help young, growing players receive the nutrition they need. That’s why some teams had already adopted this policy before it became mandated by MLB.

Minor league player salaries have long been entirely the responsibility of their MLB teams, so the raises that players will receive in 2021 could have been issued earlier.

That’s also true of another upgrade that will be less obvious. As part of the updated facility standards, lighting will be significantly upgraded. All full-season teams will now be required to meet what had been the Triple-A lighting standard, which was 100-foot candles of lighting in the infield and 70-foot candles in the outfield. Foot candles are the industry lighting standard, where 100 is equivalent to the light level on an overcast day.

The dimmest Class A ballparks will become twice as bright. Before long, most minor league parks will switch to LED lighting, which is also more efficient.

MLB has laid out improved facility standards that every one of the 120 licensed affiliates will be required to meet. The list of teams cut includes some with parks that were near-universally considered among the worst in the minors.

Players’ travel should also improve. Teams will be required to use two buses instead of one on road trips. On longer trips, teams will have to use sleeper or luxury buses. And for trips longer than 350 miles, teams will be required to travel by plane unless the travel day is followed by a day off.

Of course, fewer teams will mean fewer players, which means the draft will be cut to fewer than 40 rounds. MLB teams will be limited to having 180 players assigned to domestic minor league affiliates during the season, which also means there will be fewer jobs for coaches. Those who remain will be treated better, but fewer amateurs will have a chance to be drafted.

The remaining players will have the option to play in a professional partner league, which were formerly deemed independent leagues. Players in those leagues will not get the pay raises affiliated players will receive in 2021. In some cases, those players will play in ballparks of teams that didn’t receive a PDL invitation from MLB.

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