The start of the 2021 minor league season will be delayed, according to a report from Baseball America. J.J. Cooper reports was memo was sent to minor league teams this week notifying them that spring training won’t begin for Double-A and A-ball players until MLB and Triple-A players have concluded camp, to allow for more social distancing. This would push the season for those leagues back to May, with plans for a full season lasting until October. There will be no playoffs for those leagues, although they may have a longer regular season schedule.
This implies that Triple-A will have their regular schedule, but Cooper points out complications. Triple-A players travel on commercial flights, which may still be an issue this spring, and may lead to MLB setting up an “alternate site” as they did last year. Cooper also mentions that MLB is considering a uniform schedule for minor league teams that would include one day off each week for travel, with six games each week.
Minor league teams did not play any games last year, leaving many teams in precarious financial situations. MLB has also upended the minor league system, cutting affiliations with 42 teams and ending short-season rookie ball leagues in an attempt to consolidate and control minor league clubs. The Royals will have two new affiliations in A-Ball with the Quad City Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) in the High-A Midwest League, and the Columbia (SC) Fireflies in a Low-A league.
These delays have also had a huge impact in the development of minor league players, many of whom have not played in a live game in over a year. The Royals did host an alternate site for some minor leaguers this summer, as well as two camps for minor leaguers this fall, and some players are participating in winter leagues in the Caribbean.
MLB has tentatively scheduled spring training and regular season t start on time for 2021, although there have been some anonymous executives who have grumbled that the season will not start on time. Owners cannot unilaterally shorten the season without consent of the union unless there is a national emergency, which seems unlikely considering that MLB already played a 60-game season under the pandemic.