Head-to-head home run duels are coming to the independent Pioneer League this season.
The league announced its 2021 rules changes on Tuesday, including a first-of-its-kind “Knock Out” derby that will replace extra innings as its method to resolve games that are tied at the end of regulation.
Under the new rule, each team designates a hitter who receives five pitches. The team with the player who hits the most home runs during the "Knock Out" round is named the winner of the game. If both players hit the same amount of homers in the round, each team would select another hitter until a winner is declared.
In addition, the Pioneer League will add a designated pinch-hitter and designated pinch-runner, allowing a player who hasn’t yet appeared in a game to come off the bench to pinch-hit or pinch-run. The player who is replaced by the designated pinch-hitter or pinch-runner is then allowed to return to his defensive position the next half-inning, while the designated pinch-hitter or pinch-runner is ineligible to return to the game thereafter. Teams can only use the designated pinch-hitter and designated pinch-runner one time each per game.
Pioneer League games also will now feature three-man umpire crews instead of two, and batters will now be able to appeal check swings to the first-base umpire. Previously, only the catcher or pitcher could appeal.
The Pioneer League is one of four independent leagues that was designated as a partner league, along with the American Association, Atlantic League and Frontier League, as part of MLB’s reorganization of Minor League Baseball in 2020.
The Minors will be a testing ground for experimental rules this season, with limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts, bigger bases and “robot umps” among the changes being instituted at different levels.