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Minor League Ball Teams Trying Out Bigger Bases and Robotic Umpires

These controversial changes are going to have some baseball purists crying foul.

For fans of baseball, 2020 was a strange year.  Sure, there was some semblance of a season, (slightly more than a third the length of other years), and someone was crowned the World Series champion, but it was a year with more asterisks than a typewriter repair shop.

This year will be different, it seems, as coronavirus vaccines roll out to the general public en masse, and a general trend toward reopening the economy seems to take root.

But for the national pastime, at least in the minor leagues, some things could be changed forever.

Major League Baseball will experiment with several rule changes in the minor leagues this season, including an automated strike zone, restrictions on defensive positioning and larger bases.

The league said in a statement Thursday the “changes being tested are designed to increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”

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The list of changes was extensive.

The league’s automatic ball-strike system will be used at some Low-A Southeast League games, the closest that computer umpires have come to the majors. ABS has already been used in the independent Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League. It got mixed reviews from players, with complaints about how the TrackMan system grades breaking pitches down in the zone.

Infielders at Double-A will have to keep both feet in the infield at the start of every play. While a defensive team must have at least four players within the outer boundary of the infield dirt, there won’t be a ban on shifting three or more defenders to either side of second base, although the league may experiment with such a rule pending results of the initial experiment.

Triple-A is getting larger bases, expanding first, second and third from 15 by 15 inches to 18 by 18. MLB said it hopes to reduce player injuries and collisions, and also that the shortened distance between bases should “have a modest impact” increasing stolen baes and infield hits.

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The new rules would also seek to keep pitchers from holding runners on too often – another issue seemingly related to speed of play.

 

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