The AAA season will be delayed, but alternate sites will return.
There were no Minor League seasons in 2020, but some San Francisco Giants prospects — and prospects from MLB’s other 29 teams — still got to put in some developmental time. For the coronavirus pandemic-shortened season, MLB instituted alternate training sites, where players in a team’s 60-person player pool, but not on the active roster, could play, develop, and stay ready if the called on them.
The Minor Leagues are returning for the upcoming season, but so is the alternate training site.
According to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, MLB is planning on pushing back the start of the AAA season. It was slated to begin the first week of April, along with MLB, but will now be in early May, at the same time as other Minor League seasons.
In its place, teams will be allowed an alternate training site, though Passan notes that some MLB executives expect the sites to remain beyond the beginning of the AAA season. It seems the primary reason for retaining the sites well into the season is to allow a safer environment for players who could be called up, as AAA teams travel by commercial airline rather than chartered flights.
But with all that said, part of the reason for delaying the AAA season is with hopes that baseball can put off the Minor Leagues until its players have been vaccinated.
Here’s what Passan — who also pointed out that MLB tried to get the union to delay the start of the big league season for the same reason — had to say about that:
Teams are hopeful the delay allows for the vaccination of players before they are sent to their minor league affiliates, which came under the management of MLB this winter. Vaccinated players would allay concerns with teams about players arriving from minor league sites and immediately joining clubs without a quarantine period.
This comes on the heels of some pretty positive national COVID-19 vaccination news:
NEW: President Biden announces we will now have enough vaccine supply for 300 million Americans by the end of May.
This is an acceleration of 2 months over our prior outlook.
— Andy Slavitt (@aslavitt46) March 2, 2021
Given the sheer number of Minor League players, and the amount of travel required, it would be a pretty nice thing if they could all be vaccinated before the season begins.
The Sacramento River Cats, the Giants AAA affiliate, figure to be an important place this season. Including being the presumed starting ground for prospects like Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos, Sacramento will likely carry a lot of the Giants interesting offseason pickups who will try and make the team later in the season.