New Minor League Rules for 2021

MLB announced several rule changes that will be tested in the minor leagues during the 2021 season.  These tests are aimed at creating more balls in play and action on the basepaths, improving the pace and length of games, and reducing player injuries.

Here are short thumb nails of each.  Full descriptions with intended results are in an article posted on MLB by Anthony Castrovince.

  • Triple-A:  Larger bases.  Slightly larger bases with a less-slippery surface.  Base size increased from 15″ square to 18″ square.  (It appears from Castrovince’s description that one expected result will be that the bases are a little closer, which makes sense.  The distance between home plate and the corner bases will be shorter, too.)
  • Double-A:  Defensive Positioning.  A minimum of four players on the infield.  Four infielders must have their feet completely within the outer boundary of the infield dirt.  Depending on first-half results, this may be modified to require two infielders on either side of second base.
  • High-A:  Step Off Rule.  Pitchers must step completely off the rubber prior to throwing to any base.  The snap throw by a left-handed pitcher followed by the step off is prohibited.
  • Low-A:  Pickoff Limitation, Pitch Timer, ABS.  A limit of two step offs or pickoff attempts per plate appearance.  On the third attempt, if the runner is not thrown out, the move is ruled a balk and any runners are automatically awarded the next base.  Depending on the preliminary results of this change, MLB will consider further reducing the limitation to a single step off or pickoff per plate appearance.
    • Low-A Southeast (Old Florida State League), ABS.  An automatic ball-strike system will be implemented in selected Low-A Southeast games.  The Hawk-Eye tracking system will be used to deliver an audio signal to the home-plate ump, who will then relay the ball or strike call.
    • Low-A West: A 15-second pitch clock.  A 15-second pitch clock was in use during the FSL’s 2019 season.
MLB will continue its three-year partnership with the Atlantic League.  Any new experimental rules for the 2021 season will be announced in the coming weeks.

11 thoughts on “New Minor League Rules for 2021

  1. I like making a lefty step off before throwing over. They picked off plenty of my players with their unfair move. Haha. Much tougher to steal on a lefty. I also think I like infielders playing in the IF, just for the aesthetics.

  2. My thoughts on these rule changes:

    I don’t like the increase in base size, doesn’t make sense. Why?

    I think that infielders and outfielders can stand wherever but I do like the rule of only 2 infielders on each side of second base.

    The rule of stepping off the rubber for pickoff tries is an excellent rule change. Too many lefties balk and are not called.

    I also like the idea of an automatic system calling ball and strikes. Too many umps have their own strike zones and it messes up the hitters and the pitchers. If you want an ump calling a game then rig their umpire pants with an electric charge in their left butt cheek for a ball and an electric charge in the right butt cheek for a strike. They call it but it is determined by a system.

    The maximum throws to first is questionable.

    Just my thoughts.

    1. Denny…….reduces player injuries and collisions with 3′ larger/wider bases.
      Though outside of the first base bag …I really do not see the need.

  3. I like the IF positioning rule but again why stop there if this is aimed at more balls in play. Go right away to the 2 IF on each side of 2B.

    The other rules seem silly to me and why are they by league. At some point this must be very confusing for the players who are transitioning from one league to the other.

    Don’t they have enough to worry about while chasing their dream to get to the next level

    Last night I was watching a piece Harold Reynolds did about shifts and how they have taken athleticism out of the game. He was showing Ozzie Smith and others ranging to their left and or right to make spectacular plays.

    You don’t really see that anymore.

    1. I believe their thinking is that if they implement all these changes as an experiment in one level or league, they won’t be able to tell the effect of each individual change.

      For instance –

      How many more steals occurred because of the larger bases? How many because of the step off rule? How many because of the pickoff limitation?

      How many more hits were there because of the larger bases? Because of defensive positioning?

      How much is game time reduced because of a pitch clock? Pickoff limitation?

      I’m more concerned about future experiments. If these are the changes MLB is going to test in their own affiliates, I shudder to think what they may try in Atlantic League. Can “banana ball” be far behind?

      Regarding the transition for players who move from one level to the next, I think it would cause more strain on pitchers.

      Going from regular bases at Double-A to larger bases at Triple-A shouldn’t affect the way players play the game.

      Moving from High-A to Double-A should have little impact. Defensive shifts are called from the dugout, generally, or off of a card the player keeps in his pocket. Just follow directions as they always have.

      A-Ball is where we could see some confusion.

      Going from Low-A to High-A, a pitcher has to deal with the step off rule but no longer has a pickoff/step off limitation. Plus no more pitch timer.

      What isn’t clear is whether the Southeast (FSL) keeps the 15-second timer that was in use during the 2019 season.

      While I’m not in favor of all these rules, I don’t mind. They can use an ABA style baseball for all I care just so long as we have a minor league season.

      1. To me, the pitch clock is a no brainer.

        So much of the duration of games is attributable to pitchers screwing around on the mound and mound visits (which are now also limited). I would bet the pitch clock would shave about 15-20 minutes off most games which have grown unacceptably long and are painfully slow after the 5th or 6th inning.

        It doesn’t have to be this way and making them play a little faster doesn’t alter the basic nature of the game. In fact, it will keep fans and players more attentive and interested.

        1. And, by the way, they change rules in the NFL and NBA all the time and some of them are significant, but this type of tweaking is needed to keep the games safe and interesting. If we put in a pitch clock it’s not going to change the essential nature of baseball.

  4. I like the larger bases with less slippery-ness. I like the infield positioning rule, kind of a compromise to allow some strategy with some additional base hits.

    The pitcher step off rule seems very problematic to me and easy for a baserunner to exploit. Or maybe I didn’t read the rule carefully enough.

    1. I think an extended first base would make sense, but the larger other bases are not needed. We do have collisions at first because both players have a right to the bag and by nature the fielder and runner are not looking at each other at crucial moments. I have never understood why that awkward looking softball bag was not considered seriously.

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