photo: John Mozeliak via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
On Tuesday evening, Jeff Passan of ESPN disclosed news that Major League Baseball has made a decision to delay the scheduled April 6 start to the Triple-A season for at least a month. In the interim, MLB teams will revert to the alternate camp model first deployed in 2020.
Alternate sites are coming back — and the AAA season, which was scheduled to begin April 6, will be delayed for at least a month, sources tell ESPN.
News at ESPN on the reason for delay, the wait for vaccines and how this alt site will differ from 2020's: https://t.co/zRRT6mn7Nz
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 2, 2021
This means that the reserve players who are most likely to be called upon to backfill needs at the major league level will be scrimmaging daily against others in the organization while remaining ready for possible promotion.
As opposed to Triple-A business as usual, alternate camp assignees will not be traveling on commercial flights and staying in distant hotel rooms, but will be in an environment where testing and protocol management will be more controllable. For some organizations, it will also put their reserve players closer to the major league city. But perhaps the biggest factor is a hope for mass vaccinations to be complete by May, though no specifics are yet available to support this.
In 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals’ alternate camp had been at Hammons Field in Springfield, MO. However, there are potential conflicts with the Missouri State University baseball team that share the facility with the Cardinals. As a result, the organization is investigating potential alternate-alternate sites.
The source of the players assigned to alternate camp will be some of the remainder of the 67 players currently in big-league spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida, who do not make St. Louis’ 26-man Opening Day roster.
Others from the 67 may remain in Florida, where they could play intrasquad games or perhaps even compete against nearby teams such as the Marlins. These remaining players should be augmented by the scheduled arrival of Double-A and A players in Jupiter in early April.
If all goes well, the teams at all four full-season levels – Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Class-A will begin their regular seasons on May 4.
Passan mentioned the possibility that the lost April month of Triple-A games could be tacked onto the back end of the schedule in September. However, given the schedule as-is already runs through September 19, the number of games added on may be fewer than the 24 or so that will be lost in April.
So, the essence of this most recent change is that play at Memphis’ AutoZone Park will start at least a month later than planned, but other levels of the minor league system are not affected at this time. The MLB-reserve players will still get in their work in the alternate camp instead, albeit not against external competition, while other players currently in big-league camp will remain in Florida, with the potential for more extensive game play during April.
Triple-A players will most likely receive fewer official league games to further their development in 2021, especially in April, but as long as the minor league seasons can really kick off on May 4, this recent news is not overly concerning to me.
Wednesday mid-morning, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak met with the media via Zoom to explain these plans in detail and field our questions. Following is my summary of his comments.
Last year used Springfield, but looking to see if something closer makes more sense. Have to consider potential conflicts with Missouri State using the facility as well. Will work this out in the next 5-7 days.
In alternate camp, they won’t play games (against external competition) because of limited roster spots. So it may make sense to keep some players in Jupiter. They could play against others nearby, like the Marlins.
Alternate camp will be up to 28 players, five of whom will travel with the MLB team as the road taxi squad. Feels comfortable with players already in (Jupiter) camp to source it.
Hopes alternate camp model will not persist after this year. Not that beneficial. Was needed in 2020 but two months of instructional style not that helpful (compared to games).
Don’t overthink alternate camp. It is used as insurance for the MLB club. Plan is to start minor league season.
Don’t assume which players will be assigned to alternate camp. Will depend. No plans to sign minor league free agents to augment roster.
No news on player vaccination, but when that occurs, they could move more freely.
Alternate camp staff will be the Triple-A coaches, who will then move with players to Memphis (when the minor league season begins).
Chance that some of the April games may be added onto the back end of the Triple-A schedule. No news of any change to Double-A or A schedules.
Roster mechanics for alternate camp are transactional. 40-man players will need to be optioned out, recalled, etc. Same as in 2020.
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