Baseball season’s on us again, with the first games of the 2020 MLB season having been played Friday, February 21, kicking off Spring Training, with the Grapefruit League teams heading to Florida for the next month and the Cactus League teams heading to Arizona. Although the majors are divided into National and American Leagues, AL or NL affiliation doesn’t matter in Spring Training. The games don’t count in the final standings, but they are final prep for every team before the 162-game slate of regular season baseball that will last until, at the very earliest, late October, culminating in the World Series.
For baseball fans everywhere, Spring Training is special. It’s an early look at a team and an opportunity to get a feel for what the coming season is going to be like; it’s also a time when managers can test out new pitchers, new players, new everything before getting locked in and settled down for the hard slog ahead. It’s also a time for the changes MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLB Players Association agreed to at the end of this past season. Previously, a regular-season roster was capped at 25 players and later expanded to 40, hence the term “September Callups.” Now the normal roster is 26, and expansion to 27 players is the cap. There’s also a new three batter rule, meaning that every pitcher must face, at minimum, three batters to be able to leave the mound and be relieved. Of these changes, the 27-man cap is the most likely to make a splash, as it eliminates the role of one or two-out specialist pitchers (Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees comes to mind), forcing them to, essentially, complete the full inning. While that may not seem that much of a change, there have been pitchers from both leagues, American and National (or Grapefruit and Cactus) who have been outspoken against the rule, believing that it will make their jobs more difficult. Whether that actually will turn out to be the case is another question entirely.
What’s not a question, however, is that this season is surely going to shape up to be interesting, seeing how the real impact of the Astros scandal has yet to be really felt. If there’s anything that’s truly being tested this coming spring, it’s the number of Houston batters that are going to be taking fastballs not over the zone but instead into arms. Last year they were hit 41 times, according to Chris Bengel of CBS News. This season, that’s a different matter entirely. The major league record is 103, set by the Cleveland Indians in 2003. It doesn’t seem likely that that record will stand for much longer, given that there have also been pitchers saying on record that they would throw at every Astro that came up to the plate. Since Rob Manfred refused to truly impose any punishments on the players, then it seems ever increasingly likely that the other players will take it upon themselves to do just that.