Boston Red Sox

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For those expecting to catch a minor league baseball game at some point this year, expect things to look a little bit different (and not because of COVID). On Thursday, Major League Baseball announced it will be testing a number of ‘experimental playing rule changes’ at various minor league levels this season.

Included on the list are a variety of different changes – some to make the game more small-ball friendly, others for player safety, and of course, to increase the pace of play. Each concept was created through “extensive fan research and opinion gathering from on-field and executive personnel,” according to the league’s release.

“While none of the rules changes is guaranteed to eventually be implemented at the big league level, each was deemed worthy of more serious scrutiny by MLB’s competition and playing rules committees, who will report their findings to the Major League clubs after the conclusion of the season,” the release notes.

Perhaps the most jarring change will come at the Double-AA level, where all four infielders “will be required to have both feet completely in front of the outer infield dirt boundary when the pitch is delivered.” This is to limit teams from over-shifting, and by extension create more opportunities on balls put in play. Depending on how the initial experiment goes, a second level of the change could be implemented, restricting alignments to a maximum of two players on each side of second base.

The Triple-AAA level will see a change to the field itself. Instead of the standard bases, which measure 15 inches square, the league will use 18 inch bags at first, second, and third (home plate will remain unchanged). On top of that, the new bases will be made of a material less slippery when wet.

With these changes, the primary goal is to make bang-bang plays safer. More space on the bag means runners are less likely to step on the ankle of a player trying to cover the bag, and the new material means they’ll be less likely to slip. A secondary change comes from the larger bases slightly decreasing the distance between each base, which could lead to a few more infield singles and stoles bases.

All four levels of A ball will see various pace of play initiatives. At High-A, pitchers must step off the rubber completely to make a pickoff throw. Across Low-A, pitchers will be limited to two pickoff attempts per plate appearance. Low-A West will feature a 15 second pitch clock (down from the 20 seconds that’s been in testing since 2015), while Low-A Southeast will continue testing the automated balls and strikes system – or ‘robot umps’ – that baseball has been experimenting with for the last few years.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.