Major League Baseball is set to conduct a number of rules experiments during the 2021 minor league season, among them the use of larger bases, as well as restrictions on defensive positioning.
Saying it is interested in more game action, as well as pace of play in the era of deep pitch counts, rising strikeouts and home runs, MLB will have multiple levels of the minor leagues experiment with different changes.
“The game on the field is constantly evolving, and MLB must be thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball — a version that is true to its essence and has enough consistent action and athleticism on display to entertain fans of all ages,” former Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations and current MLB consultant Theo Epstein said in a release.
“These rules experiments will provide valuable insight into various ways to create a playing environment that encourages the most entertaining version of the game. What we learn in the minor leagues this year will be essential in helping all parties chart the right path forward for baseball.”
At Triple-A, the bases will be enlarged to 18 square inches from the typical 15 square inches. Aside from a safety measure, MLB wants to see if the slight distance reduction between bases will increase steal attempts, as well as what impact it will have on close plays like force outs.
The Double-A level will be asked to undertake defensive position restrictions. All four infielders will be required to have their feet on the infield dirt at the pitch, putting an end to an infielder shifted into a short outfield position.
In the second half of the season at Double-A, a decision will be made on an additional change that would require two infielders to be stationed on each side of second base at the pitch, eliminating an overloaded shift.
Pitchers will be impacted by a change at the high Single-A level. Pitchers will have to first disengage with the rubber in order to throw to a base while holding on a runner, with a penalty of a balk for non-compliance.
When the same step-off rule was used in the Atlanta League in 2019, it created an increase in stolen-base attempts and success rate.
At all low Single-A leagues, pitchers will be limited to two step offs or pickoff throws in a single at-bat. A third attempt would be allowed if it is successful, with a balk called if it is not successful.
At the low Single-A level in the Southeast, there also will be expanded use of the Automatic Ball-Strike System to assist home plate umpires. At low Single-A leagues in the West, additional time restrictions between pitches will be enforced.
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