With the proposal of testing the pitch clock in Minor League Baseball this season, several issues come to mind.
After the use in the Arizona Fall League, the clocks met mixed reviews across the board. Those mixed opinions will certainly continue, as the clock will likely be implemented in Double-A and Triple-A parks this season.
Though the everyday Minor League pitchers will have a tough first month or so adjusting to it, one major issue is what is to be done with it when a Major League pitchers makes a rehab appearance?
The rehabbing hitter won’t have nearly the same issue, as the clock does not play into their plate preparation, it could be vital for a pitcher trying to work off the rust after an injury. Not only is the pitcher trying to get back in the groove on the mound, they are also looking to work on things in the last few starts in the rehab stint. The pitch clock could make that difficult, as they will have something else to pay attention to.
Last year, both Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole saw rehab stints following injuries. Cole’s assignment lasted four starts at Indianapolis, while Liriano saw one at the same level. Depending on where the pitch clock is used, that could impact where the rehab assignments take place. If it is eventually universally used throughout the Minor Leagues, it could impact the use of rehab starts altogether, limiting them just to extending Spring Training.
There is no doubt that injuries are coming throughout the season, especially with pitchers. The pitch clock could have a serious impact, as getting in-game reps in rehab assignments are an extremely important portion in the process of getting back to big league game ready. It also aids pitchers in facing hitters at the top of other minor league organizations to get back into big league shape, where it is believed that the pitch clock will be used.
The top levels of the organization also house some of the top prospects within an organization, which is true with the Pirates. Basically, you are asking these pitchers to alter their game plan and change the way that they work, while they are trying to make growth. There is also a situation like Jameson Taillon’s, who might begin his season in extended Spring Training, only to get thrown into this later in the year. That is quite an adjustment within the season for someone coming off Tommy John surgery.
As for everyday pitchers in the Minor League level, those who work quickly will see a marginal difference and slower workers will have to adjust their approach significantly. Late inning relievers, who are accustomed to holding leads and baserunners will also have a hard time with the adjustment as well.
According to Baseball America, the use of the pitch clock would likely put one 20-second pitch clock behind the plate and one along the outfield wall. The clock would also include no more than 2:05 in between innings.
A nice loophole for pitchers nearing the end of the clock, is tossing over to first base several times to refresh it. That seems like a difficult fix as well, unless umpires and baseball officials want to go far enough to limit how many times per inning that you can throw over. In fact, the pitcher is not allowed just to step off the rubber anymore, and must throw to either a base or home before the clock expires, or the hitter will be rewarded ball added to their count.
While it clearly needs to get some bugs worked out, the pitch clock is coming this season – whether we like it or not. However, the adjustment will not just be for the everyday Minor League players, it will also affect planning within the organization long-term.
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