SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the 2020 MLB season. After nearly a month of negotiations, the owners and players finally reached an agreement for a return to baseball.
“The CBA (certified bargaining agreement) between the owners and the players is up next year,” minor league pitcher Jordan Milbrath said. “So what I’ve heard from the players is whoever gives in now, kind of gives in for next year already and that was the whole reason those negotiations got drug along.”
Milbrath played at St. Cloud State University in 2011 for his redshirt season, but then transferred to Augustana University.
After sitting out the 2012 season due to transfer rules, Milbrath posted a 7-2 record with a 4.57 earned run average while pitching 67 innings.
Milbrath was drafted to the Cleveland Indians in the 35th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
Since then, he has spent seven years in the minor leagues including stints in the Indians and Marlins organizations. He nearly reached the major leagues with the Pirates in 2017.
Now Milbrath is excited to see some major league baseball as the season begins on July 23.
“I think the younger guys in the MLB and anybody who is not the top name recognition guys, are excited to get back, honestly due to the fact of a lack of paycheck,” Milbrath said.
While there will be a season, Milbrath along with several other MLB players are worried about how the coronavirus will affect the season.
“Since the agreement was reached, (COVID-19) cases have actually increased and a couple of players have come down with it, while other players have opted out,” Milbrath said. “Even though they say there is going to be a season, I’m not quite sure how that will all go.”
According to an article from CBS Sports, 28 teams have reported a total of 47 positive COVID-19 cases in players and at least seven in staff members.
Several well known players have tested positive including Freddie Freeman (Atlanta), Charlie Blackmon (Colorado), Salvador Perez (Kansas City), DJ LeMahieu (NY Yankees) and Joey Gallo (Texas).
This has prompted eight players to choose to sit out the 2020 season due to safety concerns. Those eight players include:
|Mike Leake||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|Ryan Zimmerman||Washington Nationals|
|Joe Ross||Washington Nationals|
|Welington Castillo||Washington Nationals|
|Ian Desmond||Colorado Rockies|
|Felix Hernandez||Atlanta Braves|
|Nick Markakis||Atlanta Braves|
|David Price||LA Dodgers|
“Right now it’s kind of anybody’s guess. I think they are obviously going to try to have a season, but it’s going to look bad if the numbers keep increasing and they are still playing games,” Milbrath said.
Summer training began on July 1 as teams could begin to practice at their home stadiums. Each team will get around three weeks to practice before the first games on July 23.
“In a normal year, you get about two months of spring training, however this year they get three weeks before the season starts,” Milbrath said. “Putting some players in this position and then giving them only three weeks to get ready could be a test for some of the players.”
The season will start on July 23 and conclude on September 27. That’s just 66 days for the teams to play 60 games, which means each team will only get a handful of off days.
“It means that pitchers will need to show up ready to go. If a team in three weeks (summer training) can’t get their starters up to five or six innings, then the bullpen is just going to wear out,” Milbrath said. “It means for a reliever, because I’m a reliever, that if I threw my innings today, I’ve got to be ready because I could end up throwing tomorrow.”
Another adjustment to this year’s season will be the fans. Each team will leave it up to their local leaders to decide if there will be fans in the seats, though most teams are deciding not to have spectators.
“I think it’ll affect players less than what everybody thinks. It would affect me less, because coming up in my early years in the minor leagues, those smaller lower level teams, they don’t get any fans,” Milbrath said. “The crowd does help and it’s awesome having fans there, but we can adapt and get in the competitive mode and nature without fans.”
While the MLB season is a go, the minor league season is a no go.
The MLB decided to cancel the minor league season last week, which will affect a lot of players.
“They did create the taxi squad which will help. Each team will have 60 players to start spring training and each team will have a group of reserves on the sidelines waiting in case someone gets hurt during the season,” Milbrath said.
A normal MLB roster in July only has 25 players. While they can’t have 60 players on their roster, they will have a larger group to choose from in case of injury or other reasons.
While the taxi squad will help more players earn some money, it still leaves hundreds of players as free agents.
“About a month ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks who I signed a contract with, released me to get me off payroll and health insurance. A lot of teams have done this which has left most guys filing for unemployment,” Milbrath said.
Despite being released by Arizona, the Diamondbacks told Milbrath’s agent that they’re still interested in him pitching for them next season.
“It’s kind of a catch because they don’t want you on their payroll if you’re not working for them, which makes sense but in the same breath, they want you to stay in shape and that is all at the player’s expense. They want you ready to go, for when they need you.”
Many minor league players may end their career because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You get one year older, you take a year off, not a year off because they’re still working, but a year off of not facing high level pitchers from a hitters perspective. Just taking any game experience off like this is not good for anybody,” Milbrath said.
For now, Milbrath is playing town ball in Springfield, Minnesota. Milbrath has an impressive .429 batting average. His pitching stats are impressive too as he has allowed only two runs in six innings pitched while striking out 10 batters.
While he isn’t playing baseball professionally now, Milbrath is keeping in shape for a return to the big leagues.
“I think the one thing that unfortunately benefits us older guys or guys who have been around awhile, is the fact that there were only five rounds to the draft this year,” Milbrath said.