We made it!
In honor of my wife having to share my attention for at least the next 6 or 7 months, I rewarded the occasion by wearing all black to work. Because try as everything did, baseball starts back this weekend and honestly no better words have been spoken after the year that was.
It certainly will not be business as usual although the ability to listen makes up for plenty. There are still a number of questions that need answered as well as two roster spots on the 40-man to fill. Once Hudson is moved to the injured list, the Cardinals will finally have a more complete picture of how the summer will play out under the Arch.
Projections are all over the map for St. Louis but nearly every team outside of the lower left coast in the National League can say the same thing. By far the biggest change in 2021, however, won’t ever be seen on the field by the Birds on the Bat. The Minor League system as a whole changed following a campaign without one single organized game.
As if that wasn’t enough to absorb, two entire levels changed with two more leagues no longer calling the Cards (or any MLB club) a member. Most of the focus in March will be on who makes the Memphis roster although starting with Springfield the game certainly has taken on a new shape. Peoria now becomes the High-A affiliate with Palm Beach the lowest in the organization.
Those changes make sense overall, especially now that Short Season baseball has been completely eliminated. The Draft was also pushed back so everything on the schedule that we used to know is different and not just due to COVID. All teams have four minor league clubs plus ‘camps’ in the DR as well as Florida or Arizona.
Gone are the days of starting a player in Low-A and then getting them more reps at State College or Johnson City. Those teams and leagues are now part of the new Summer Baseball plan that will see college players get much more attention than simply the CWS or Cape Cod League. As for what that all means, well, we simply have to watch and see as St. Louis starts from scratch like every other organization.
Fewer teams does mean less opportunity for playing time, so the biggest change right away will involve the rosters. As Mo pointed out to Daniel, movement will take on an entirely new meaning in 2021 which makes having Peoria and Springfield so important. Palm Beach becomes the training base but also a nice spot for rehabbing hurlers as well as the new draft picks.
This summer will not be one to strictly look at the results starting at the Double A level and below in my opinion. There are far too many variables in play even if the seasons do start in May which is currently the plan. Memphis won’t be immune to all the changes, either, as the Pacific Coast League has at least temporarily been replaced.
Gone are the days of regularly competing for a division title with the Iowa Cubs, Omaha Storm Chasers or shocking enough even the Oklahoma City franchise. With all the Minor League updates, the Redbirds will spend the summer getting to know ballparks (and pitchers) in Charlotte, Durham, Gwinnett, Jacksonville, and Norfolk. Nashville will be the one familiar stop although seeing Milwaukee’s prospects will make for interesting discussions if the Brewers are competitive.
Got all that? Travel has also been greatly reduced in one other big way, as all minor league teams will now play series of six games instead of the more common three. With built-in off days and shortened double-headers, the biggest remaining questions are how the traditional feeder system of the minors will impact the growth for the prospects.
Will starting pitching be replaced by openers now to make sure relief pitchers get proper work? The piggy-back system for starters was already utilized by a number of teams, but that way of thinking might have to become the new normal. So many questions will be answered over this unique campaign which hopefully will also involve being able to enjoy the action in person again.
Derrick Goold outlined the first steps currently in discussion for games, and that provides a nice picture of what could be coming to the rest of the affiliates in the very near future. Using Spring Training as a test run makes perfect sense except every state will have different rules. Getting fans back at least partially certainly moves the needle in the right direction for better news this summer.
The Cardinals have positioned themselves as early favorites to compete for the National League Central crown, but that only goes until April first. Once the regular season kicks off, St. Louis can not afford to have another summer without making improvements along the way. Having the Memphis shuttle active again helps, but the front office must have the green light to add potential payroll in say, the end of July.
Fans will only help that happen as the push for 12 in 21 gets louder by the day. Enjoy this weekend everyone, as the sounds of Cardinal Baseball never have sounded sweeter.