MLB will use independent Atlantic League as testing ground for robot umpires, other aggressive rule changes

Major League Baseball announced that it will partner with the Atlantic League (independent) this season for an experimental round of rule changes. The following new rules will be in place for the 2019 Atlantic League Championship Season: 

  • Home-plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system
  • No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues
  • Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured
  • Increase size of first, second and third base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square
  • Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball)
  • Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45
  • Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or slope

This is a scene, man. "Robot" umpires, completely eliminating strategic mound visits, a minimum of batters per inning, the bases get bigger, attempting to ban the shift and the mound moved back to 62 feet, six inches. 

If MLB even attempted to enact all of these changes at once, there would be mass hysteria among players, managers, coaches, fans and media and probably even people who have never even heard of baseball. Some of this is incredibly drastic. What's the goal here? 

"This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety," said Morgan Sword, MLB's Senior Vice President, League Economics & Operations. "We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League."

I won't argue that the things Sword mentions are unimportant. That is stuff that baseball could certainly use and would increase the viewing pleasure. 

Let's also note that this is an experiment. The Atlantic League isn't affiliated with MLB -- well, until now and in this aspect only -- and this is only to see if these rule changes help to achieve the goal set out. There's really nothing wrong at all with seeing how much any of these affect the game. 

For now, I'm going to guess this is how I'll fall:

  • Anything that helps with the strike zone is good.
  • I'm fine with fewer mound visits and have wanted this for years. 
  • I don't like a minimum on pitchers. Here's more on that, as I've already covered it
  • Increasing the size of the bases is fine. 
  • Just make sure the infielders have at least one foot on the dirt and let them play anywhere within the infield, please. I hate trying to slot them into specific areas. 
  • Time between innings is whatever.
  • I think many people would be against moving the mound back, but it would definitely cut down on strikeouts and increase offense without fundamentally affecting how we view the game. Aside from the strike zone help, this is my favorite idea. 

To reiterate, none of these are coming to the majors in 2019 and probably not even in 2020, but these are things the league is seriously considering, otherwise they wouldn't be using the Atlantic League as a guinea pig. There's nothing wrong with the rest of us seeing how the game looks with these implementations, either. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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