According to a report by Baseball America, Major League Baseball sent a memo to minor league teams on Monday informing them that the 2021 minor league season at Double-A and the Class A levels will be delayed.
The Spokane Indians are expected to begin play this year in full-season Class A Advanced as an affiliate for the Colorado Rockies in a truncated six-team Northwest League after the realignment and classification adjustments instituted by MLB last month. Full-season leagues (132 games) normally start in mid-April.
The Indians club declined comment on the report.
The MLB memo stated spring training for Double-A and Class A players will not begin until after MLB and Triple-A players have departed from spring training.
“The delay will allow for more social distancing during a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the world,” the report said.
MLB hasn’t announced if spring training will begin on time. In addition to the pandemic, there has been increased tension between the league and the players association on player safety and whether fans will be allowed back in stadiums this summer. Big league pitchers and catchers normally report to spring training facilities in mid-February.
Even if spring training begins on time, which seems unlikely, many minor leaguers normally wouldn’t report until late March or early April.
Any delay could push back the start dates for the lower minor leagues until at least May, and possibly later if the big leagues don’t start on time. Most full-season minor leagues usually start play in mid-April.
The Baseball America report also said the MLB memo “told minor league teams to expect schedules to run until as late as Oct. 3, a full month after regular season games normally end in early September.”
The memo also said that it’s likely that there will be no minor league playoffs in 2021 due to the delayed start of the season.
MLB reportedly still hasn’t sent out the Professional Development License that will govern the agreement between MLB and minor league teams. According to a Baseball America report in December, MLB did not expect that process to be completed until late January or February. That process could be delayed as well.
With the restructuring, MLB is requiring major stadium upgrades for all affiliated teams, including: stadium lighting, clubhouse square footage, separate clubhouse facilities for female staffers/coaches, separate dining facilities, and enclosed/covered batting and pitching tunnels.
This is the first season the Indians were scheduled to play a full-season schedule since 1982, when they were a Triple-A affiliate of the California Angels.