Spring Training has technically begun, you may have been seeing the phrase “Pitchers and Catchers” being floated around. This is when (wait for it) the pitchers and catchers report and begin their throwing and catching programs. They generally take a little longer to get up to speed compared to the hitter, as they are building arm strength after doing potentially very little during the offseason.
Part of Pitchers and Catchers also sees some Minor League hitters arrive and conduct workouts. It’s always stuck me as a similar situation to the “non-mandatory training sessions” the NFL run (By the way, if you’re not a superstar NFL player, you better turn up to these non-mandatory sessions), where the rookies want to try and impress with a solid work ethic from the start.
Only a few days after Pitchers and Catchers, the big league roster will report. They will go through their workouts and build to a basic level of being game ready come the 21st February. Where the Mariners and Athletics will kick off the host of preseason games.
Teams don’t play games in their regular home ballparks, instead they pack up and ship out to either Arizona or Florida. This is generally done on a geographical basis (West coast and mid-west to Arizona, East coast and mid-east to Florida), with a few exceptions.
The teams are then split into two leagues, the teams in Florida play in the Grapefruit League, the teams in Arizona play in the Cactus League.
There is even a trophy for each league.
The games are usually on at great times for the UK, starting around 6pm. There are generally 10+ games every single day for the next four weeks. So there is plenty of exhibition baseball to consume.
Sometimes teams will also have “Split Squad” games, where the roster literally splits down into two different locations to play different teams. You will see the starters be split into these two squads and accompanied by the minor leaguers. As Spring Training draws to a close, any split squad games will usually consist of one team being only starters and the other being those tying o become starters. Keep your peepers peeled for an idea on who will start on opening day.
Sounds like it’s pretty important, right? Well it is and it isn’t. There are some important rules to remember.
Rule 1 – These games do not count for anything
This is a rule you must keep coming back to when you watch Spring Training. If frustration or excitement begins to build, temper those emotions and keep repeating the line “These games do not count for anything”. If your team finishes bottom of the standings, it means nothing. If they finish top, it means nothing. I’ll just say it one more time – THESE GAMES DO NOT COUNT FOR ANYTHING.
Rule 2 – These games count for everything
Wait, wasn’t rule one the opposite of this? Yes, but they count for everything in a different way.
- A former Major League player who has been on the downward trend and is now on a minor league contract trying to make it back onto a big league roster.
- A prospect who is trying to prove themselves to be worth enough of “breaking camp” with the big league roster – this means they won’t go back to the minors, but will start the season on the 25-man roster.
- A pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, they usually keeps them out of action for around 15-18 months. These innings will be crucial.
Rule 3 – “Oh my word, *Insert Starting Pitching Ace’s name here* has had a terrible outing, pulled after just 2 innings, is he done??”
Well, unlikely anyway.
Cemented big league pitchers who are already on a contract and highly unlikely to be traded or cut, will use this opportunity to test out new pitches. They will also be trying to tweak their current pitches and/or reach a pitch limit prior to being pulled. If the guy is set a limit of 75 pitches and he does that in 6 IP and is on a no-hitter, he’s getting pulled. The same applies for the opposite scenario, if he’s on the same 75 pitch limit and gets into trouble in the second, expect him to continue until he reaches 75 pitches.
Remember, the result doesn’t matter, it’s the workout and getting the guy ready that counts.
Rule 4 – “Oh wow, that pitching/hitting prospect is really trying to dial it in, he looks great”
This is one to take note of. Remember, these guys are trying to make the roster and are trying everything they can to get there. Expect to see them hustling to first, diving into home plate, colliding with the wall on catches, putting max effort into their pitches. Etc.
They aren’t going to be trying out a new pitch, they aren’t going to be making swing adjustments, they are trying to impress.
Unfortunately this is where you may see some injuries, that will make you say “Why was he trying so hard, it’s Spring Training!”.
Rule 5 – It is what it is
Spring Training isn’t for you, it’s not for your entertainment, it’s not a competition. It’s athletes training to get themselves ready for the long grind of the season. You just happened to be able to watch it.
Enjoy it for what it is.
If in doubt, remember rule number one.
THESE GAMES DO NOT COUNT FOR ANYTHING.