Major League Baseball has informed minor-league teams that the 2021 Double-A and Class A seasons will have their starts delayed, according to J.J. Cooper of Baseball America. MLB has decided that players at the Double-A and Class A levels will not report to spring training until after both MLB and Triple-A players have departed from camp.
The delay allows for accurate enforcement of social distancing among other coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measures, Cooper adds. This would result in several minor-league players waiting until late March or early April to report to spring training. As of now, the 2021 MLB spring training is expected to begin on time.
This past offseason, MLB began its restructuring of minor-league baseball. As a result, all 30 MLB franchises will have a Triple-A team, a Double-A team, a high Class A team and a low Class A team. Every franchise will also include a variety of developmental teams in their new minor-league system. As a result of the league's restructuring, the number of affiliated minor-league franchises -- i.e., those minor-league teams that operate under the organizational umbrella of an MLB franchise -- were reduced from 160 to 120.
MLB also announced the formation of the MLB Draft League, which will afford a summer-league opportunity to draft-eligible players hoping to improve their stock. The Draft League intends to field six teams who play a 68-game season in locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey. To go along with the new MLB Draft League, the Appalachian League and Pioneer League were both repurposed, and each lost its affiliate status in favor of being known as a "league partner."
The coronavirus pandemic certainly played a part in accelerating the new Minor League Baseball reconfiguration. The 2020 Minor League baseball season was canceled due to COVID-19. Because minor-league players are bound by their Uniform Player Contract, they were not able to collect unemployment benefits while baseball was on hiatus. The 2020 season cancelation and this recent news of a delayed start for the 2021 season will leave many players in limbo.