The alternate site is returning to Major League Baseball in 2021. The Triple-A season will be delayed at least one month, reports ESPN's Jeff Passan, and MLB will send reserve players to the alternate site early in the regular season. The number of players allowed at the alternate site this year is unclear at this point, though Passan says it figures to be two dozen or so.
Last season, the minor-league season was canceled and MLB clubs stashed extra players at the alternate site and only players at the alternate site could be called up to the big leagues. Most were injury replacements and spare players, though many teams also sent top prospects to the alternate site. Alternate site teams did not play each other. They were instead limited to workouts and intrasquad games.
Pushing the Triple-A season back accomplishes a few things. First and foremost, it gives players and staff (and fans) more time to receive the COVID-19 vaccination before beginning the season. It also allows more time for the infection rate to drop across the country as more people get vaccinated. Long story short, delaying the season makes everyone safer.
Secondly, it avoids potential COVID-19 exposure through travel. Triple-A teams fly commercial and MLB's health and safety protocols essentially prohibit players from mingling with the general population. Calling up a minor leaguer who spent the last few weeks flying commercial around the country and putting him in an MLB clubhouse defeats the purpose of the protocols.
And third, delaying the season allows Triple-A teams to play more games with fans in attendance. The Triple-A season was initially scheduled to run April 6 to Sept. 19. Move it back to, say, early May through mid October, and that equals more games with as much attendance as possible. Gate revenue is the lifeblood of minor-league franchises. They don't have lucrative broadcast deals.
The Double-A and Single-A seasons are scheduled to begin May 5. Currently only MLB and Triple-A players are allowed into spring training due to COVID protocols. Once they break camp at the end of the month, Double-A and Single-A players will report. That limits the number of personnel at each team's complex during the pandemic.