NEW BRITAIN - Computer umpires, larger bases and no infield shifts.
Baseball will look a little different when the Atlantic League begins its 21st season next month.
On Friday, the independent league and Major League Baseball announced a list of experimental playing rules and equipment that will be in place during Atlantic League’s upcoming season which, if successful, could eventually make their way to the big league level.
“Players sign in the Atlantic League for the Major League Baseball showcase opportunity it offers,” Atlantic League President Rick White said in a statement. “We are excited to see that showcase grow exponentially, while working with MLB on initiatives critical to the future of the game.”
The changes are part of a three-year partnership recently signed between the two leagues, with the Atlantic League acting as a testing ground for MLB. Under the agreement, the big leagues can implement changes to Atlantic League playing rules in order to observe the effects of potential future rule changes and equipment in the majors.
Computers will be used to help home plate umpires for ball/strike calls by a TrackMan radar tracking system, while the distance between the pitching rubber to home plate will be extended from 60 feet, 6 inches to 62 feet, 6 inches in the second half of the season, beginning July 12. The 60-foot-6-inch distance has been standard since 1893.
In addition, no mound visits will be permitted by players or coaches, other than for pitching changes or medical issues, and pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of an inning before they can exit the game.
The three-batter minimum is a rule MLB and the MLB Players Association are considering for the 2020 season.
The time between innings and pitching changes will be reduced from 2 minutes, 5 seconds to 1 minute, 45 seconds. The Atlantic League already uses a 12-second pitch clock, which it instituted last season.
The bases will be enlarged by three inches to 18 in the Atlantic League, replacing the 15-inch squares that have been standard since 1877.
That will cut the distance from the front of home plate to the front of first base from 87 feet, 9 inches to 87 feet 6 inches (the 90-foot measurement ofetn referred to between bases is from the back of the plate to the back corner of first and third along the foul line).
Lastly, the Atlantic League will require two infielders be on each side of second base when a pitch is released. If not, the ball is considered dead and the umpire will call a ball. Infielders also won’t be allowed to set up on the outfield grass.
How these new rules will play out remains to be seen, but the partnership offers MLB the ability to try even more changes in the future, which the league could take full advantage of going forward.
“This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, base running and improve player safety,” Morgan Sword, MLB senior vice president of league economics and operations, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League.”