We use the “Spring Training” label as a coverall to describe the pre-regular-season ramp-up period for professional baseball players, but obviously nothing about what’s coming is going to look like any “Spring Training” you’d recognize.
So then, with a plan in place to launch the 2020 season, the question is: what will Spring Training Part Two look like? Let’s run through what we know.
Not entirely unlike traditional Spring Training, the group that gets started on this process will involve much more than just the anticipated big league roster (30 to open the season). Spring Training Part Two will include any player who could wind up on the big league roster to open the season, OR who could wind up on the 30-ish player taxi squad that will support the big league team during the regular season.
In total, teams will submit a list of 60 players by Sunday (Stark) who can make up this group that will participate in the 2020 season, beginning with Spring Training Part Two.
For the Cubs, if you can go into the way back machine, you’ll recall that the Spring roster was down to 39 by the time things shut down, and if everyone in that group is still healthy, mostly that’ll be the start of your 60-player list. The rest will include AAA-level players who were squeezed out, experienced/near-ready prospects, and top prospects. Because the taxi squad will serve not only as fill-in for the big league roster during the regular season, but also as the only place to get competitive-ish experience for your minor leaguers in July, August, and September, it’s possible that some on the 60-player list will be far less likely to actual ever leap to the big league team than others.
I can’t wait to see who the Cubs decide to include on the 60-man, so to speak. Tentatively, I’d expect to see a lot of big arms, even if not yet established, in the mix. For example, maybe Brailyn Marquez is there, just in case? Or recent draftee Burl Carraway?
Players were asked by MLB if they would be ready to report by July 1, which is one week from today. I am anticipating that pitchers and catchers will report first next week, with position players thereafter. Support staff will probably be arriving over the course of the next week. The whole thing will have to be staggered, for obvious reasons.
To that end, you can expect a battery of physical tests and quarantining processes at the outset of a player’s arrival. Teams will want to really have a good sense of what physical shape players are in before they start pushing them to ramp up.
Moreover, and more pressingly, there will have to be a COVID-19 test right away for all players, which will actually take place before the player arrives – and there will be lots, and lots of positives, even among players who don’t have any symptoms. Such is the nature of this virus. Those players will be additionally quarantined until they no longer test positive for the virus, and yes, that could impact their availability at the start of the season. Mostly, though, you just hope that anyone who tests positive is able to be properly quarantined without infecting anyone else, and then doesn’t get seriously ill.
Spring Training Part Two is set to run for about three weeks, before the regular season opens July 23/24.
We know that teams will be training at their home ballpark facilities, as opposed to their spring facilities in Arizona and Florida. For the Cubs, that will mean Wrigley Field. We also know that teams have to secure a secondary, nearby training site that will not only host part of Spring Training Part Two, but will also ultimately be home to the 30-ish player taxi squad that will support the big league team during the regular season. For the Cubs, that could mean South Bend, or it could mean a nearby college.
This is the most complicated part of things – not only for Spring Training Part Two, but the whole season: how do you actually pull it off safely?
For Spring Training Part Two, according to the process MassLive has gotten a look at, there will be phases of the process that limit players to small groups at first before being around larger groups:
In Phase 1, players are expected to be divided into groups of five or fewer players and work out at assigned times and areas around the team’s complex. In Phase 2, smaller workouts are recommended and preferred, but larger group sessions and intrasquad games are permitted. In Phase 3, teams will play other teams in traditional spring training games. It’s currently unclear how many exhibition games will be played, though MLB is expected to set a maximum number of games allowed to be played by each team.
I would anticipate that teams will want to be able to get in at least a few exhibition games – maybe even upwards of five, so that each starting pitcher gets a game – but that might be really hard to pull off given the geography involved. For the Cubs, it’s possible that all exhibition games would be against the White Sox.
As for testing during Spring Training Part Two, in addition to the initial test, every player is tested every other day (MassLive). There are multiple temperature checks and symptom evaluations every day. Any player who tests positive, shows symptoms, or has been exposed to someone who tests positive or shows symptoms, will be isolated from the rest of the team until there are negative tests.
This will all require a tremendous amount of effort, personal sacrifice, and good luck. And that’s just the Spring Training part.