All Those Rules Changes Are Coming to the AFL, Morel's Debut, Little's Stuff, and Other Cubs Bullets

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All Those Rules Changes Are Coming to the AFL, Morel’s Debut, Little’s Stuff, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

The Cardinals come into today’s double-header with the Cubs on a 12-game winning streak. So the day has become win-win for the Cubs: if the Cardinals win, well, draft positioning. But if the Cubs win … eff your winning streak, Cardinals. See you in the bleachers (with Luis!) for game one today.

•   The Arizona Fall League is coming in just three weeks, and although we don’t yet have rosters, we do have an important rules update. Remember how MLB experimented with various rules changes at various levels of the minor leagues this past season? Well, they are now all coming to the AFL, which marks the next testing phase for competition purposes (it’s one thing to test *A* new rule at one time and gather data/anecdotes, but it’s another thing to test *SEVERAL* of them all at once). MLB confirmed to Baseball America that the following rules changes will be in place for the AFL season:

⇒ Automated balls and strikes (if the tech is there, make the switch, in my opinion)

⇒ 15-second pitch clock (maybe the best way to eliminate unnecessary downtime in the action, but probably the most controversial of the rules)

⇒ Two pick-off attempts per plate appearance (I would love it if this increased stolen base attempts/success rates)

⇒ Infielders must be on the dirt, with two players on each side of second base (I am pro killing the shift)

⇒ Larger bases (if it helps with player safety, by all means, go for it)

•   I don’t want to immediately assume that porting all of these rules over to the AFL means that MLB viewed them as a success this year. But the fact that the league didn’t immediately chop one of the new rules out kinda does suggest it – otherwise, you’d be porting over noise into your experiment for no reason. If I had to guess, I could see MLB next porting all the rules over to all the levels of Minor League Baseball next year for (1) additional testing, and (2) additional exposure for future big leaguers. The tricky layer here is bringing it to the big leagues, which can be done at any time with a year’s notice, but since there is a CBA negotiation coming anyway, I would LIKE TO THINK the big league players will be brought into those discussions as part of this process. I would not expect any of these rules in MLB for the 2022 season, but I could see the sides agreeing to implement them throughout MiLB next year, with a tentative expectation that they’d be in place for 2023, subject to feedback next year from the minors.

•   The White Sox clinched the AL Central, and good for them and their fans. I remain agnostic about whether the White Sox succeed or not (I really don’t care either way), but I do have some White Sox friends (so, hey, happy for them), and I also generally support teams succeeding after they really push in the way the White Sox did, adding and adding to the core.

•   Brewers outfielder Avisail Garcia reached a plate appearance threshold to convert what had been a team option for next year into a mutual option, so it’s a good bet that he’ll now head to free agency. The 30-year-old has been quietly excellent for the Brewers (.269/.337/.505, 120 wRC+, good RF defense, 3.0 WAR), so it’ll be a loss. But more than that, he’s just another example of how the Brewers have *nailed* that tier of shorter-term free agent signing over the last several years. They will have wound up paying him about $12 million for this past year, and it was obviously worth it.

•   The Giants signed first baseman John Nogowski to a two-year minor league deal, which I mention less because of the guy or the team and more for the fact that it was a clever way for the Giants to jump the market on a 2022 minor league free agent signing (they probably paid him pretty well to do it, relatively speaking). He was available early because the Pirates let him go, so the Giants pounced extra early to lock him down. I hope the Cubs are prepared to do the same with any preferred minor league free agent types who become available early, or at least at the VERY START of minor league free agency. It’s still an area ripe for finding big wins – as we’ve seen – and it doesn’t cost a lot of extra money to get yourself a lot of shots.

•   Oh, and as for the specific guy, I was kinda hoping the Cubs would land him after the season, because he has that same kind of story/trajectory as many of the other approaching-30 breakouts the Cubs have found. Has always hit in the minors (never strikes out, power still emerging, and as a 1B you can see why he didn’t get a ton of action), and was just kinda blocked wherever he went. Why the Pirates, of all clubs, didn’t just hang onto him for next year is a mystery to me (but I haven’t dug in deep and maybe they have a serious 40-man roster crunch coming with prospects). He’s the type of guy I hope the Cubs pounce on early in minor league free agency – a guy who already knows he’s not going to get a big league deal, so there’s no reason for him to wait, and thus if you make him a really strong minor league offer, you can lock him down.

•   Christopher Morel made his Triple-A debut last night, and although he didn’t hit two homers like Brennen Davis did in his debut, the fellow 2020-Alt-Site’r did get two singles and a walk:

•   The 22-year-old utility man is already on the 40-man roster, and now will head into 2022 as a possible up-down depth call-up as necessary, so long as it fits with his developmental plan. Dude plays the game LOUD (I strongly suspect his league-average numbers at Double-A involved a lot of bad luck when you study the contact data), and given his ability to handle almost any defensive position well, you definitely want to emphasize development with him, rather than just wringing out early contributions at the margins. He could be a really, really nice player to have available over the next several years.

•   Brendon Little REALLY wants to get added to the 40-man roster after the season:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.