Long before the 2020 minor league seasons were officially cancelled, it was already in doubt whether there would be any organized baseball activities of any kind for professional baseballers who weren’t going to participate at the Major League level. Could organizations even get their guys together to practice? Would there be make-shift leagues at the end of the erstwhile minor league season?
Once those minor league seasons were cancelled, it looked all the more like this year could be an entirely lost one for most prospects. Yeah, there’s the alternate site for players on the 60-man roster, but that’s really only a tiny fraction of the “prospect” population in a typical organization, and the “games” being played are heavily simulated.
That is to say, we’ve definitely reached the point of “take what you can get,” and I was really excited to hear recently that MLB was planning to permit organizations to have instructional ball (think a kind of Spring Training for the lower-level prospects that takes place after the minor league season*). It comes with a bunch of caveats, though, including the fact that not all organizations are necessarily going to participate thanks to the costs.
I certainly hoped the Cubs, with their investment in player development over the last two years (and, let’s be honest, their deep need to improve the farm system ASAP), would be among the participating organizations. And, this week, we get word! They are participating:
CI Exclusive: Cubs Set Dates for Fall Instructs, Which Includes 20-Game Schedule – Cubs Insider https://t.co/LglgPpu3ME
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) September 18, 2020
As you can see at Cubs Insider, the Cubs’ instructs will begin in Mesa, Arizona on October 1, after a few days for various intake protocols. It’ll run through November 7, so it’s basically on a similar timeline as we’ve come to expect from the Arizona Fall League (which, at last check, is likely not happening this year). Again, much like a Spring Training, the prospects will work out, get instruction, and play games against other organizations out in Arizona. It’s not a minor league season, but it’s a helluva lot better than nothing.
As for who is going to participate, it’s a fair guess that many of the prospects who weren’t in South Bend will be there (including top draft pick Ed Howard), and it’s possible that some of the South Bend crew will come down for instructs, too. While at instructional ball, the players will be paid as “minor leaguers,” so that’ll also probably be nice for guys who’ve received only a modest stipend over the summer.
Hopefully we’ll soon get a sense of just how many Cubs prospects are going, what the game schedule looks like, and whether we’ll get a chance to hear much about the action down there.
*(The true prospect nerds among you will note that the Cubs had just moved their instructional ball to before Spring Training last year, rather than at the end of the minor league season. It works a good bit better that way in my view, and the Cubs may well continue that into the future. But for this year, again, you take what you can get. And so many of these prospects have been without organized baseball activities since March.)