Gregor: No minor-league baseball is a major problem for MLB

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva will be empty all summer long -- the Kane County Cougars, like all of the MLB's minor-league affiliates, will not play this season.

    Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva will be empty all summer long -- the Kane County Cougars, like all of the MLB's minor-league affiliates, will not play this season. Courtesy of Kane County Cougars

 
 
Updated 7/7/2020 6:47 PM

The dangers are real.

For as badly as they want to get back on the field, White Sox players know they are risking their health and they're extremely wary of the coronavirus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Even before two unnamed Sox players tested positive for COVID-19, Lucas Giolito was concerned.

"I don't think anyone feels 100 percent comfortable going in," the White Sox's ace starting pitcher said.

If major-league teams can keep the virus under relative control, there will be a short baseball season this year.

That would be a great thing for a nation longing for normalcy in a summer with continuing uncertainty.

It would also be a great thing for the players themselves, no matter if they are competing in the major leagues or continuing on a much different minor-league path.

"I think so, just because missing an entire year would be very tough for a lot of players in the sense of supporting their families financially," Giolito said. "But even more it's a year of development for younger players in the big leagues. Like facing that competition, seeing how my stuff plays against your stuff, making adjustments, that's all really important.

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"I think it's very important we're able to play competitively year in and year out so we can continue to develop our skill sets and continue to push the game forward."

Major-league skills are honed in the minors, and that's another big problems for baseball.

Not long after MLB announced it was going to try to play a 60-game regular season two weeks ago, the plug was pulled on the league's minor-league affiliates.

That leaves thousands of young players without organized leagues to work on their games, and there's even worse news down the road.

Before play stopped on March 12, MLB was looking to cut 40 minor-league teams, a staggering 25% reduction.

"This was a contentious year between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, even prior to the coronavirus," said Curtis Haug, VP/general manager of the Class A Kane County Cougars.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

MLB is looking to keep the teams' better prospects somewhat sharp with taxi squads.

The Cubs' extra players will start training at the club's Class A South Bend facility beginning Wednesday. Up to 30 young players could be getting some needed work.

The White Sox have not yet announced their taxi squad -- or training location.

They should reveal a plan in the coming days and have their prospects on the field at some point next week.

The Sox have three full-season minor-league teams in North Carolina (Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Kannapolis) and one in Alabama (Birmingham).

The taxi squad is going to be training close to Guaranteed Rate Field, so North Carolina and Birmingham are out.

There have been rumors that Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg is going to be the location, but the White Sox could opt for UIC, which is only a few miles from their ballpark, if the college facility is available.

No matter where the practice team winds up, Sox prospects can at least try to salvage something out of a very trying season.

"Player development is obviously a challenge right now," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "So far, (director of player development) Chris Getz and our coaches and instructors have done a very good job using technology in terms of keeping up with our players, monitoring what they are doing, staying in fairly regular contact and developing programs to help them develop as much as they can without actually having game action."

There has been talk about expanding the Arizona Fall League and adding a Florida Fall League to help compensate for all the lost time.

"If that doesn't happen, then it's certainly is going to be a little difficult to make up for that lost game action from a development standpoint," Hahn said. "Obviously, we are not alone in that. It's affecting all 30 clubs. It's something as we head into the fall/winter, the 2021 season, we are going to have to adjust our expectations in terms of guys' pacing and in terms of guys' likelihood of timing for making an impact at the next level."

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