MLB spring training is going to have a twist in 2019:. Pace of play has long been something on the forefront of sport, and one of the ways to speed things up could be by adding a timer to pitchers during at-bats.
MLB is going to roll the clock out with a three-phase approach, according to a release from the league office. It will be a 20-second timer.
Per the release:
1. In the first spring training games, the 20-second timer will operate without enforcement so as to make players and umpires familiar with the new system.
2. Early next week, umpires will issue reminders to pitchers and hitters who violate the rule, but no ball-strike penalties will be assessed. Between innings, umpires are expected to inform the club's field staff (manager, pitching coach or hitting coach) of any violations.
3. Later in spring training, and depending on the status of the negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association, umpires will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.
The pitch clock has been an important initiative for commissioner Rob Manfred, but the league office has faced some push-back from the MLBPA. Pitchers would have some grace, and per the release, rule would call for "the batter to be in the batter's box and alert to the pitcher with at least five seconds remaining on the timer." The pitcher could also be in the middle of his windup when the clock expires (so pitchers with longer windups won't be punished).
The ideal incorporation of the pitch clock would be a seamless transition where additional ball-strike penalties are never assessed, and pitchers adhere to the clock as. Also worth noting, per the release is that there would be a fresh 20 seconds when the pitcher reentered the dirt circle on the mound and the catcher was in the box and the clock wouldn't be used coming off of foul balls, mound visits or umpire timeouts.
It's also possible, per ESPN's Jeff Passan, that the clock will carry into the regular season -- although that would be contingent upon how negotiations with the MLBPA go.
As of now it's an unknown system, but the league and the players will try to iron out the kinks throughout spring training. Negotiations, of course, will come into play for the third phase as the press release mentions, not to mention regular season incorporation. But there's no question that the league will have an eye on game length as spring training progresses -- although the amount of action will also be something to keep an eye on.