ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that MLB will operate alternate sites similar to what was used in 2020, and delay the beginning of the Triple-A season by at least a month.

This is a prudent step to complete the major league and minor league seasons as safely as possible, and we look forward to having fans back in ballparks across the country very soon,” 

Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive VP of baseball operations

The move to delay the season is not surprising, as there had been doubts about the season’s timing even as the schedules were announced a few weeks ago.  The implication is that Triple-A, which had been scheduled to begin play on April 6th (East) and April 9th (West), will now be pushed back to begin the same time as the other leagues, which will be the first week of May.

The use of alternate sites is intended to help maintain COVID-19 protections for the major league teams.  They are sites that are closer to teams’ home stadiums and aren’t required to travel until they come up.  Triple-A teams fly to other cities, and unlike MLB teams, they have to fly commercial rather than using private flights.

There are a lot of questions that this brings up that remain unanswered, and likely won’t be for a while.  It’s unknown how many players will be kept at the alternate site.  It’s also unclear where the sites will be if the use of alternate sites carry over into the proposed start of minor league games.

Many teams used minor league stadiums for alternate sites in 2020, with the Giants using Sacramento, while the Oakland Athletics used the Giants’ now-Low-A affiliate San Jose’s stadium.  Mark Sanchez of KNBR reported that the Sacramento has been informed of this change, but there has not been any news about San Jose being told to prepare for the A’s.

It’s still possible that all the minor league seasons could be delayed further, depending on many factors.

Passan notes that this year’s alternate sites will likely house older players, as opposed to what happened in 2020.  Last season, many teams, including the Giants, including younger prospects who were not candidates to join the majors, in order to give their top prospects some level of development time in place of a cancelled minor league season.  This year’s alternate site would start operation the same time that minor league spring training would be happening, so those prospects would be getting playing time elsewhere.

Also, the report indicates the players at the site would likely be closer to 25 players, as opposed to the up to 34 players that were at sites last season, so there would be less room for players not ready to help in the majors.