After a long lockout that almost felt like it would not end, the MLB season is underway, along with its annual Spring Training games. Players can now prepare and get ready for another exciting MLB season with a chance to capture a ring. However, before players begin their long season, Spring Training must finish. That begs the question as to whether MLB Spring Training, in its current form, is too long. Can Spring Training be shorter with less games interrupting the start of the season? Should MLB keep its current structure of Spring Training? Staff Writers Evan Rodriguez and Sam Zelin aim to answer this question in this week’s edition of point/counterpoint.
Evan: Now, I don’t know about Sam, but I’m always excited for any type of MLB action. Spring Training has always been great for teams in its current state and I believe the league shouldn’t change anything about it. Especially after the tumultuous lockout, players need these games and plenty of them to get ready for the season. If you shorten the season and push players into Opening Day with just a few games under their belt, players are going to be rusty. Pitchers are a huge argument as to why Spring Training should retain its current form. Just take a look at Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who got his first action of the season on Sunday. Cole was looking to still develop his pitches and he had no pressure to be ready for the season at that point in time. It was okay to give up plenty of runs in just two innings of action during Sunday’s win. If you shorten the amount of Spring Training games on the schedule, the league would not only tamper with an ace like Cole’s routine, but also other pitchers throughout the league who depend on the regular schedule to get warmed up before the season. The league would also be tampering with potential breakout players, who are looking to grab a spot on an MLB team’s roster. In a shorter Spring Training, could an MLB player breakout, catch the eye of an MLB manager and end up on an Opening Day roster? It’s possible, but it becomes even more difficult when there’s such little action to evaluate that potential player on.
Sam: When it comes to why Spring Training in its current state needs to be altered, the point about pitchers is a great one. While it is true that having the long Spring Training period is advantageous to pitchers, allowing them to ramp up for the regular season, this is also equally disadvantageous to hitters. For starters, because of the nature of Spring Training being that it is an environment where up-and-coming talents can prove themselves, batters that normally have an everyday starting spot in the lineup see less at-bats and less consistency. Another factor is the climate. Whether one looks at the Florida or the Arizona Spring Training site, both involve the whole team training in a warm climate. Hitters then get used to how the ball acts when hit in a warm climate, then have to re-adjust during the regular season every time their team plays in a park not privileged with a warm spring. For example, if a player gets used to hitting home runs in Florida that barely clear the fence, most of those would-be homers might be long fly-outs in a cold-climate stadium for the first few months of the year, as it is a fact that baseballs generally fly farther in warmth. While this debate is not regarding moving the location of Spring Training, but simply altering its length, a solution here is a bit more complex. One thing is for certain: Batters have a hard enough time re-adjusting to colder climates once the regular season starts, so pitchers shouldn’t be allowed to have their ramp-up time when the games don’t count. Both pitchers and hitters can suffer through the awkward April together, and if the pitchers are knocked down a peg due to losing a few weeks of warm-up time, perhaps this will bring more parity to the earlier months of the season.
Evan: However, if the MLB were to shorten its Spring Training, you are then forced to give a huge advantage to hitters. Hitters have been used to this format of games for a long time and to change something that has been working seems foolish. It also brings less of a meaning to the early months of the season, where pitchers will perform poorly and hitters will have an easier time hitting. For answering this question on starting talent, many have already proven their worth in the regular season. At the end of the day, what you do in the MLB matters way more than anything you can accomplish in the MLB. A player would have to have an incredibly impressive Spring Training performance to even crack a chance at an Opening Day roster. For the issue of weather, players already have this advantage by playing in areas like Miami, Los Angeles, and Texas as their home arenas. If they want to have the advantage of playing in a warmer climate, they can simply move to a different team in free agency and play a majority of those games in a warmer climate. This is all without mentioning how the shortening of Spring Training games would have an effect on an MLB team’s farm system. Teams use Spring Training not only to evaluate older players, but current top 50 prospects who have a chance to play against MLB ready competition. If you shorten these games, you lose these games of evaluation for prospects.
Sam: For the pitcher/hitter argument, I think the bottom line is that no matter what adjustments are made, there will never be a perfectly balanced solution. On the subject of evaluating prospects, Spring Training could actually be seen as a hindrance to this. These games get a fraction of the attention that MLB games get, so maybe if we shortened the pre-season, teams would be forced to try out some of their prospects in the big leagues instead of being hesitant due to wanting to control service time. While this might not automatically happen if Spring Training was shortened, one thing that would definitely occur is simple supply and demand. Take football for example: Each NFL team plays only four preseason games. Instead of weeks of meaningless games, having a small sample size of matchups concentrates attention to those contests. Obviously, this philosophy could be spread to the whole of baseball, not just its preseason, but that’s an argument for another day. In the end, each baseball player has different priorities. Hitters, pitchers, veterans and newcomers all either benefit or are hurt by Spring Training the way it is currently, but shortening Spring Training would not make any of this worse. All the current issues that it has, such as an unbalanced preseason and lack of visibility for prospects, could be solved other ways. Spring Training itself is a problem, though. It’s a very roundabout way to kick off each season, and it needs to be streamlined.