Yesterday Major League Baseball and the independent Atlantic League announced that they reached a three-year agreement that will allow MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment. The Atlantic League will, essentially, be a lab for various new initiatives.
Why an independent league instead of using affiliated minor leagues as they usually do for rules and equipment changes? Probably because some of the changes we’re learning about are radical. Most radical: moving the mound back. From J.J, Cooper at Baseball America:
And those rules changes will be significant. While no one with the Atlantic League would confirm the changes, it is expected that the rules tweaks will involve moving back the mound and using Trackman to call balls and strikes, both rules changes that have long been suggested but are significant enough to require plenty of in-game testing.
And those are changes that would be nearly impossible to first implement in any level of affiliated minor league baseball or the developmental Arizona Fall League, as all 30 teams would likely be hesitant to let their prospects loose on a mound that isn’t 60-feet, 6-inches from home plate.
I imagine they might hesitate because pitching from a new, longer distance may lead injury. Or because it may shake pitchers’ confidence if they get hit hard or can no longer command their pitches the way they used to.
But it’s not as if pitchers in the Atlantic League are gonna love that either, right? It’ll mess with them the same way and have the added detriment of making them look worse to affiliated teams which may want to give an independent league pitcher a look. So says Tyler Badamo, a pitcher who, until last season, was in affiliated ball and now pitches for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League:
Badamo goes on to note that Atlantic League pitchers are heavily scouted by winter league and overseas teams and that, if they’re pitching from, say, 62, 63 or 65′ or something it may materially impact their ability to make a living going forward.
One wonders where Rich Hill would be today if his trip to the Atlantic League had come later than it did. He pitched for two weeks for the Long Island Ducks in 2015 after being released from a Triple-A club and finding no takers in affiliated ball. Maybe he gets that call from the Red Sox without his time in the Atlantic League, maybe he doesn’t, but having a couple of dominant outings that were, no doubt, seen by Red Sox scouts had to have helped his cause. Does anyone look if he doesn’t do that? Does anyone look at any other Atlantic League player if the league is seen as a lab or an oddity?
I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of players have made the jump into or back into affiliated ball from the Atlantic League. if I was a player in the Atlantic League, I’d worry about it.