There were no surprises Tuesday throughout the corners of the Minor League Baseball world — just sadness, disappointment and finally some closure after an announcement came down that seemed to be months in the making.
COVID-19 has claimed another summer tradition — Minor League Baseball — which officially canceled its season Tuesday, June 30, a hit to players, minor league teams and communities all across the country. The announcement leaves all of those involved searching for answers as to what comes next.
“It’s tough news for everybody, thinking about our minor league affiliates, our coaches, the players, staff, affiliate staff, all those people,” Minnesota Twins director of player development Alex Hassan said Wednesday. “…You’re trying to process it, you’re trying to make the most of this time, but I don’t think there’s any hiding from the fact that it was a difficult day and difficult news to receive for a number of people.”
Major league teams had to set their initial player pools on Sunday — 60 players who will be eligible to compete for them this season. That list, for the Twins, included their entire 40-man roster, as well as many of their top prospects. Shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielders Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach will be part of the team’s taxi squad, training at CHS Field in St. Paul. Catcher Ryan Jeffers and outfielder Brent Rooker, two more top prospects, will join them.
But still, that leaves hundreds of players out of jobs in the coming months. The Twins have pledged to pay those players through the summer.
“When we were building our 60, and we were talking about players that we wanted to continue the development, we obviously are focused on developing all of our minor leaguers throughout the course of this year, we just are limited by what we can do at present,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Monday. “It’s my hope, if we can continue to proceed down the path at the major-league level, to at some point focus a little bit on more on how we could potentially utilize our spring training locations on occasion, for even some further development of other players who aren’t part of the 60.”
The Twins primarily were looking for upper-level players for their taxi squad who could help step in to help the big-league club in case of injury, COVID cases or other reasons. For those not included in that group, Falvey said the organization hopes that at some point they could get other minor league players in “smaller dedicated camps of sorts to continue development.”
Hassan expressed hope that there would be some kind of instructional league or expanded fall league that players could participate in. A number of ideas have been discussed, he said, but nothing is concrete.
Matt Wallner, a Twins first-round pick in 2019 who was a star at Forest Lake High School, will not be part of the Twins’ group of 60. The Minnesota native has been working out in the area, and in late May said that he hoped if the season got canceled, that there would be some sort of instructional league.
“Just something to not lose a year, see some live pitching and the pitchers see hitters, just so we don’t have to wait basically 16 months between actual games,” he said in late May.
Some players who weren’t originally included in the list of 60 might eventually find themselves in Minnesota, so there is a contingent the franchise will keep ready, Hassan said. For other players, who are further from the majors, the Twins plan to go case-by-case to identify what type of work would be most beneficial for each player.
A silver lining for the organization during this time, Falvey said, is that coaches have figured out how to effectively coach remotely. They have been using remote systems for pitch tracking and things of that sort, Falvey said, and it’s something they think they can utilize moving forward during the offseason.
While the players are left to work out on their own, minor league teams across the country are trying to figure out how to make it through the year without a steady cash flow coming in.
MiLB, which does not have the television revenue that MLB does, was not going to be able to push forward without fans to begin with. As such, minor league teams are getting creative, even as they are forced to undergo furloughs and layoffs for financial reasons.
The Twins’ Double-A club, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, created buzz recently when they listed their stadium on Airbnb for fans to rent overnight. Other teams, like the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, have hosted movie nights and served food at the ballpark to try to generate some revenue.
The Red Wings had avoided furloughs until Wednesday. Now, after making what team president Naomi Silver called “heartbreaking decisions,” they’ll do what they can to make it through until baseball comes back.
“It will be 20 months by the time April of 2021 rolls around, and that’s tough,” Silver said. “… Nobody was ready for something like this. We all know what it’s like to be prepared for a rainy season. A rainy day — but nobody was ready for a season that just disappears. I could never have imagined it.”
High school outfielder Kala’i Rosario officially signed with the Twins on Wednesday, the team announced. With his signing, the Twins have agreed to terms with all four of their picks from June’s draft.