The Minor League Baseball season has been officially canceled, meaning the seven affiliates in the Seattle Mariners farm system, including the Everett AquaSox, will not see the field in 2020.
Major League Baseball informed MiLB on Tuesday it would “not be providing its affiliated Minor League teams with players,” a release from MiLB says, resulting in a suspension of play until 2021.
“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” MiLB president and CEO Pat O’Conner said in the release. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”
The Mariners have seven minor-league affiliates, including Triple-A Tacoma, Double-A Arkansas, High-A Modesto, Low-A West Virginia, Short Season-A Everett, and rookie league clubs the Peoria Mariners and Dominican Republic Mariners.
“We hoped baseball would return to Funko Field this summer, but as time progressed, the season became less likely,” AquaSox general manager Danny Tetzlaff said in a press release. “The continued health and safety of our fans, employees, players and the entire AquaSox baseball community is our top priority. As always, we will continue to support our community during this challenging time and look forward to having AquaSox baseball back at Funko Field in 2021.”
Everett Memorial Stadium has been home to professional baseball every summer since 1984. Minor League Baseball will also not have a season for the first time since its inception in 1901.
The statement from the AquaSox said the team is trying to find innovative ways to connect with fans this summer, including possible events at the ballpark if proper health and safety protocols can be met.
Statements from Tacoma, Arkansas, Modesto and West Virginia echoed these sentiments of welcoming players and fans back in 2021.
“We are disappointed that Tacoma will be unable to experience Rainiers baseball in 2020, but we are already looking forward to opening our gates for the 2021 season,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said in a release. “At Cheney Stadium, we feel that friends and families gathering for a ballgame represents the soul of our community. While we’re going to miss that this summer, we are excited about welcoming our fans back and continuing the decades-long tradition of Rainiers baseball at Cheney Stadium.”
While Seattle has already committed to paying its minor leaguers through the end of the summer, hundreds of players in its system will lose out on what would have been a valuable developmental season in the organization’s rebuild.
When Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto spoke to reporters via Zoom last week, he noted how the absence of a minor league season could impact player development.
“Our players, just by virtue of where we are in our organizational evolution, our players are younger than most teams — and up through the big leagues,” he said. “We have a young major league roster. They are otherwise healthy and, while other teams have a group of aging players who might be making the turn in their career toward the back end, we actually have a group of players who are still on the precipice getting ready to start on the front end.
“So, while we might not be able to make up for the developmental time that we’re losing — there’s just no way to go back and replicate 500 plate appearances are 150 innings — what we can plan on is, while everybody else is getting a year older or, a year closer to the backside of their career, our guys are still young and part of what we’re doing moving forward. And, if that slows us down by three or six months than it slows us down a little, but we don’t think it inhibits our growth.
“Eventually, our players are still going to hit the ground running and achieve whatever ceiling they were able to achieve, it just might take a little bit longer. But, the fact that they’re still as talented as they ever were, still as healthy as they were when this all started, benefits us, and I guess, in the grand scheme of things, that puts us in a slightly better position than many other teams that are going through this.”
The Mariners have loaded up their 60-man player pool for summer camp with prospects, inviting 23 of their top 30 prospects to participate in workouts. There are 22 non-roster invites in the player pool.
Workouts for the entire 60-man group begin Friday at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, but players not on the active roster will move to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma — which has been mostly empty since March — for their workouts when the major league season begins at the end of July.
While many of the prospects don’t project to see the big leagues during the shortened 2020 season, Dipoto still expects the organized workouts and reps in intrasquad games to be beneficial.
“We have inning goals in mind for them, we have plate appearance goals,” he said. “We do plan on playing in-house games in Tacoma with our taxi squad to replicate game situations and innings for those guys.”
As for the minor leaguers not part of the 60-man player pool, Dipoto said the Mariners continue explore options, such as looking into the potential for small groups of players to move to a specific regions to work with positional coaches, if health and safety protocols allow.
“We’re not going to be able to replicate minor league innings and at-bats, the way we will in this taxi (squad) situation, for obvious reasons,” Dipoto said. “There’s just nowhere to do it. … We’re going to learn as we go, but right now the mass minor league pool players are going to continue to operate virtually.
“We’ve gotten a lot done, as far as player education and engagement. The guys have been great about how diligent they’ve been in the weight room, and throwing their bullpens and going through swing maintenance. But, we’re not going have the ability to have a pitcher see 400 hitters this year, we’re not going to have the ability for a position player to get 500 plate appearances. It’s not possible. So we’re going to do the best we can.”