MOBILE, AL -Baseball fans, rejoice- the season is finally upon us.
As you read this, players are packing up and making moves out of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues and into their respective teams or affiliates. The countdown clock to Opening Day is dwindling into its final hours.
For the lucky or dedicated who made the trek to Florida or Arizona, they had an opportunity to learn just how much preparation goes into getting teams Opening Day ready. Whether you have attended or not, it seems time for this glimpse into the “real” spring training.
On the surface, spring is a time for teams to feature a mostly-big league roster sprinkled with prospects on the brink. Teams may have one or two games per day against other teams within their league and have the chance to monitor players’ offseason progress, determine positions and lineups and analyze which teams players should be designated to.
From a structural basis, the organization receives big league pitchers and catchers first, typically around mid-February. The rest of big league camp will report within a week and minor league camp opens within another few weeks. While technically all of the players belong to the same organization, big league and minor league camps remain separate. This includes facilities, fields, schedules, etc.
Regardless of which classification players are designated to, each has a day-long schedule to follow. Some components are focused on developing players as professionals, including meetings about social media use, while most of the day is devoted to honing their athletic talent.
Mobile’s new Manager Robby Hammock summarized the schedule best.
“There’s a lot on the schedule. We start in the morning before we even practice, so to speak, with early work. That’s small groups of players, depending on their position and they do specialized work in whatever areas they need to work in. Then they go out for regular stretch, team defenses and live batting practice where pitchers throw against hitters; it’s not a game it’s just set up as a live experience. Then you have batting practice rotating groups through cages and other work on the side and at the end of the day there is still probably some extra work.”
That “end of the day”… is all before lunch.
“Once the games are started, you turn around and go play a game. There’s a lot that goes into it. The hardest part comes in the morning.”
The big league games, while heavily attended and televised, are not the only games going on at each complex. Depending on the schedule, minor league affiliates can be matched up against other levels within their own organization or against the same levels of affiliation in other teams.
There’s also the concept of split squads- particularly splitting big league teams in two. The actual splitting of the team can fall any which way, it generally occurs when a team has two games in a day. The decision is based off not only who the opponent is but who is on the opponent’s roster. A division rival featuring their projected number one starter and Opening Day lineup is more likely to cause the team to select equivalent players for that squad versus an inner-league game featuring more prospects than guaranteed starters.
The movement of players between big league and minor league camps is common, for some it is the most effective way to develop and compare their training with already-established big leaguers. Having been a big league catcher and now coach, Hammock sees a series of differences and similarities between the two.
“A lot of it is based around the same type of work but when you’re on the big league side, those guys have done it for so long. So with more kids [in minor league camp], what takes us longer doesn’t take as long on the big league side even though it’s the same routine because they can run through it quicker. It’s more quality over quantity as opposed to the minor leagues where we have to get a lot of reps in.”
Hammock mentions of the prospects participating in big league camp, Brandon Drury and Socrates Brito really got on the radar this spring, noting he’s a little partial because both played for him at Class-A Visalia last season.
By the end of spring training, whether prospects participated in big league or minor league camp, rosters will be settled and eventually released to the public. Press conferences to meet teams will commence and fans will flood gates of ballparks again. The preparation is done. Here comes Opening Day.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.