Minor league baseball is back!
Well, it will be on Tuesday when the affiliated minor leagues open their seasons across America. After the 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, some young ballplayers haven’t appeared in a game that counts since 2019.
For the Mets, that includes top prospects Matt Allan and Brett Baty, who will return to Brooklyn to play for the Cyclones.
One player who won’t be on a Mets’ minor league roster is Tim Tebow, who retired from his baseball career in February after topping out at Triple-A. According to reports on Thursday, Tebow is attempting an NFL comeback with the Jaguars and his old college coach Urban Meyer as a tight end.
One of the many changes in the minors this season after MLB took over the whole operation is that Brooklyn has been promoted from short-season Low-A ball to full-season High-A. The New York-Penn League is a thing of the past and Brooklyn now will compete in something called High-A East.
Whatever it’s called, Cyclones manager Ed Blankmeyer knows it will be good for everyone involved for the minor leagues to be back.
"I think baseball — what I call a smalltown baseball — it's the fabric of the United States," said Blankmeyer, who the Mets hired to manage Brooklyn in 2020 after 24 years at St. John’s and who has yet to manage his first professional game. "It's a culture. These people look forward to it. It's a part of their lives and they support that particular franchise. Our franchise in Brooklyn [has] the rabid fans. They love the players, love the organization, and they are dying for minor league baseball. To have an opportunity to see these young kids develop — the future major leaguers — it's exciting and they develop a relationship as they progress through the system."
The biggest change MLB instituted was trimming to minors by 42 teams to 120. Big league teams will now have four affiliates. For the Mets, that’s Syracuse (Triple-A), Binghamton (Double-A), Brooklyn (High-A) and St. Lucie (Low-A).
The Cyclones will open their 120-game season on the road against the Asheville Tourists and won’t begin their home season until May 18, when they will host Hudson Valley, which is the Yankees’ new High-A team.
Another wrinkle — this one related to COVID-19 — is that teams will play six-game series against each other to reduce travel this season. So there will be a lot of familiarity among the players as they face the same opponent day after day.
"Playing six-game series, you’re going to know the guy's girlfriend you're going to see him so much," Blankmeyer said. "But development is about playing and honing your skills and being consistent. It's not necessarily the opponent that you concern yourself with."
Even with the six-game series, there will still be a lot of long bus rides, especially at the lower levels. You know these players would have traded a year away from the ballpark for multiple long bus rides if they could have.
"That’s one part of minor league baseball that’s a grind," Baty said. "But I’m looking forward to it."
Allan, a righthander, and Baty, a third baseman, were both high draft picks in 2019 who got to play for Brooklyn at the end of that summer. Both spent time in major league spring training this year.
"I think I had the most nerves going into big league camp," Allan said. "I think being there and being around the guys, it really calmed me down. And now being in minor league camp, I think I really feel . . . I think a good way to say it .. . is dominant. And I’m looking to take that into the season."
The challenge for Blankmeyer will be to see how many innings and at-bats these revved-up players can handle after being mostly idle for so long.
"You have to be cautious," he said. "Some of these guys have been out for over a year and a half. So it's, ‘Don't run these guys into the ground.’ It’s, ‘This is not a sprint, it's a marathon.’ A lot of these players in our organization are going to go through a full season for the first time. So you better be conscious of their workload, their output, the games they play. You want to keep them healthy."
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