In many ways, things in the baseball world are back to “normal,” especially with the start of the Minor League season last Tuesday. That includes the ability to call up prospects from the Minor Leagues, though there are still some restrictions and caveats to how that will work compared to years pre-pandemic.
Last year, with no Minor League Baseball, it was simple. If a team needed a player, he came from that team’s alternate site. Those sites, by and large, were close to the parent club’s home stadium to help alleviate the stress of transportation. Now that games are under way in the Minors, the alternate sites are closed and MLB teams can once again promote players who are playing actual games. But there are still some COVID-related rules.
Before the pandemic, a player could be called up from any level, though they obviously came mostly from Triple-A. Now, only players from that highest level of Minor League competition are allowed to be brought up directly to the big leagues, because those players and coaches have had to adhere to the same Tier 1 protocols that are being utilized at the highest level.
For players getting promoted from Triple-A, getting a rapid test is strongly recommended.
It’s not completely impossible to call someone up from, say, Double-A, as used to happen on occasion. But that player would have to quarantine, in effect, for an extended period, before being allowed to join the big league roster, a tough hill to climb for a big league club that has an immediate need.
To help make this easier, Triple-A rosters have been expanded. They’re now at 33, though only 28 are active for any given Minor League game, giving a general manager a slightly larger pool to choose from if there’s a hole to fill. Teams can also continue to have a taxi squad, up to five players, travel with the active roster to provide even more insurance.
Because of the protocols in place, Minor League rehabs are a bit more rigid. In the past, a big leaguer ramping back up after being injured could go anywhere in the system, starting at a low level and working their way up or sticking to local affiliates to make it easier. Now, players may rehab at any level, but those who are not vaccinated must go through intake procedures at any level below Triple-A, and then again when they return to Triple-A or MLB. That entails a laboratory PCR test upon arrival at any rehab assignment below Triple-A and a self-quarantine until receiving a negative result. When the player returns to Triple-A or MLB (Tier 1), they must also do a five-day home quarantine prior to completing a PCR test.
Fully vaccinated players do not need to go through the intake process when they arrive at a level below Triple-A, but must get a negative PCR test when they return. Players and coaches at Triple-A are considered “Tier 1”, and therefore are held to the same standards and protocols as Major Leaguers. Therefore, players who rehab at Triple-A remain in Tier 1 throughout the process and do not require any intake coming or going. For this reason, it is likely we will see the bulk of rehab assignments at Triple-A in 2021.