'Trickier' decisions for LA in '21 MiLB season

April 30th, 2021

With the Minor League season scheduled to return next week for the first time in over a year, the Dodgers -- along with every team in the Majors -- have some interesting decisions to make.

A lot has changed since the last Minor League season in 2019. For starters, there are fewer Minors affiliates, but there are also less players in each system given that the 2020 MLB Draft was only five rounds.

It’ll also be the first time in over a year that the majority of Minor Leaguers play in a competitive game. The Dodgers had an alternate training site at the University of Southern California last season, which gave about a dozen prospects an opportunity to play in intrasquad games and stay in shape. They also hosted about 75 players in a fall instructional league during their postseason run.

This year, the Dodgers have been playing games against the Padres’ system at Camelback Ranch in order to prepare for the Minor League season. While the organization felt fortunate to be able to continue their players’ developments last year in unique ways, everyone is thrilled to have competitive games back at the lower levels.

“There was obviously not the length and the number of reps that we would normally want for our guys and that competition, especially,” said Dodgers assistant general manager Brandon Gomes. “But it’s a testament to our [player development] staff of keeping in constant contact and making sure they were getting whatever they needed and just finding creative ways to be able to still coach and develop these players in a trying time.”

The Dodgers will now be tasked with making some decisions regarding what Minor League level they want to assign all of their players. They’ll also have to balance the fact that rosters will be expanded at each level this season.

“That’s definitely the trickiest part,” Gomes said. “You’re projecting some and trying to figure out a balance where the need is, the reps that they’re going to be able to get and make sure guys are getting the game reps that are necessary. … It’s definitely more challenging, but I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot as far as where we’re sending guys to set them up for development and success and what’s going to be best for their careers and obviously coinciding with the success of the big league team.”

If a player was at Triple-A in 2019, chances are that’s where he’ll start in ‘21. But there are some interesting cases, such as where the Dodgers' first- and second-round '20 Draft picks Bobby Miller and Landon Knack will begin their Minor League careers.

Both Miller and Knack -- the club's No. 5 and No. 14 prospects per MLB Pipeline -- were added to the alternate training site last season. They also pitched in Spring Training games.

“Those are the tough ones that we’re still having those conversations on where we want to send those guys,” Gomes said. “Obviously they’re very talented, and trying to strike the balance of development, challenging them -- that is certainly the most difficult part of it. As we look to break camp, we’ll continue to have those conversations and figure out where we’re going to send those guys.”

Triple-A Oklahoma City is scheduled to begin its season on Thursday; Double-A Tulsa, High-A Great Lakes and Low-A Rancho Cucamonga start Tuesday.