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Minor League Baseball season cancelled, but prospects can pursue independent baseball opportunities

Minor leaguers will be able to search out their own playing opportunities this summer.

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Colorado Sky Sox vs Memphis Redbirds
Security Service Field in Colorado.
Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

There will be no affiliated Minor League Baseball played in 2020.

This news is largely unsurprising for those who have followed the game’s news cycle during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but MiLB finally made the official announcement yesterday afternoon that this season would be cancelled at all minor league levels.

The cancellation of the minor league baseball season comes at a particularly difficult time for that entity with contraction looming as soon as this offseason. It is expected that up to 42 minor league franchises will lose their affiliated status after 2020 as the MLB takes over business operations and reorganizes the minors, which is likely to cause most of those outgoing affiliates to either attempt to join existing independent leagues or simply close up shop. The Rocky Mountain Vibes — advanced rookie affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers — are one of those teams on the reported chopping block.

According to Tom Haudricourt at the Journal Sentinel, Brewers’ farm director Tom Flanagan had this to say on the matter: “I think it’s very difficult for everyone involved – the players, our player development staff, all of the people at each of our affiliates and of course all the fans everywhere.”

Flanagan did go on to intimate that the organization has been planning for different scenarios when it comes to player development. Some young prospects — including Brice Turang and Ethan Small — are expected to eventually be revealed as part of the 60-man roster pool (earlier this week the Brewers announced a 45-man group with a “legitimate chance” to make the Opening Day roster that will report to Training Camp at Miller Park today). Those prospects are unlikely to suit up for the Brewers during the course of the 60-game regular season, but they’ll be able to train with the rest of the “Alternate Training Site” roster at the Timber Rattlers’ stadium up in Appleton.

“Obviously nobody can control what’s going to happen with COVID or what’s going to be allowed or not allowed,” Flanagan said. “But in terms of planning, nothing’s off the table. We’ve basically planned for all different scenarios — if we’ll be allowed by governmental standards or restrictions. If we were allowed to get guys together again we would look forward to doing that, but obviously we’re taking it day by day, and the plans are only as good as the environment will allow.”

“We definitely do not want this to be a wasted year, so the key point we’ve tried to stress to our staff and players is that there’s always an opportunity for each of them to get better. Each team’s in the same boat; we just need to do our best so that there’s some positives we can pull out of this experience.”

With that said, one opportunity that is available to minor league players this summer is to pursue playing jobs in independent baseball. Minor league players need to receive authorization from their parent MLB club in order to do so, but organizations are not expected to stand in the way of players who want to look into indy ball this summer. The Pecos League is playing a shortened season in Houston, the Sugar Land Skeeters are hosting a four-team independent league, and the American Association — which includes our local Milwaukee Milkmen — will begin their shortened 60-game season this Friday on July 3rd. Minor leaguers who chose to play independent baseball would be doing so at their own risk when it comes to injuries, but there figures to be no shortage of interested players seeking out opportunities. Any player that signs an independent league contract this summer would have to return to his MLB organization in 2021.

In a tweet that has since been deleted, right-hander Nick Belzer announced that he’d be pitching for the St. Paul Saints this summer (that transaction has not been made official by the American Assocation, however). Belzer was an undrafted free agent last summer who latched on with St. Paul and made five starts with a 1.32 ERA before getting picked up by the Brewers. He then finished out the summer by posting a 3.70 ERA in 48.2 innings in the rookie Arizona League for Milwaukee’s “blue” squad.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference