As Major Leaguers adjust to pace-of-game rule changes limiting the time between innings, allowing managers to ask for instant replays from the dugout and requiring batters to keep one foot in the box during a plate appearance, players at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues will adjust to other changes, including a somewhat controversial new rule.
This season, Triple-A and Double-A leagues will implement a pitch clock, and timers have been installed in parks around the country.
The basics: A 20-second timer will begin when the pitcher has the ball in the dirt surrounding the rubber and the batter is in the dirt surrounding home plate. It will stop when he begins his windup, or if pitching from the stretch, when he begins the motion to come to the set position. Should the clock run out before he does so, the batter will be awarded a ball in the count.
April will serve as a grace period, during which a violation will result in a warning. And before the season began, players, managers and development staff shared their preliminary thoughts and opinions on the pitch clock with MiLB.com.
The 20-second pitch clock was among the pace-of-game initiatives tested in the Arizona Fall League.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Rochester Red Wings (MIN): I played with it in college [with Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference]. My last year they implemented it in college baseball and I never had any issues with it, I don't think.
It's a reasonable amount of time. Obviously, I don't know if I'm really for it or against it. There obviously hasn't been too much experience for it right now, but it is what it is. ... It's here to help speed up the game, so I don't think anybody is going to complain about that. I don't see there being any problems with it.
Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies: I don't think it's really going to make a big difference. I think the biggest thing is for the hitters. They take a pitch, they want to do their routine. They want to get out of the box, mess with their gloves, do all their stuff. People are talking about [David] Ortiz with all of his routine that he does every time he gets out of the box, spits on his gloves, claps. I think it's going to be tougher for them.
The pitch clock, I don't even know what it is, 20 seconds or something? I mean, 20 seconds is forever. We talk to our mental skills coach, and he says the mind can only focus for 15 seconds at a time. If you get up there and get focused, you're under 20 seconds anyway. I think the biggest thing is with the hitters and for relievers coming in, making sure the mound is right with the inning clock, trying to get used to that.
Cody Decker, 1B, El Paso Chihuahuas (SD): Could you just put the letters "L-O-L" over and over and over again? I don't think it's necessary. I don't think it's going to do much. Maybe it does affect the pace of play, I don't know, but I don't think we need a shot clock. Honestly, it doesn't bother me. It bothers a lot of other players, though. I don't think it's going to change much, but I honestly don't know. It might work brilliantly.
I don't think it's going to affect me -- I don't think it's going to affect the hitters that much. It might affect the pitchers, especially if you're a slow-tempo type of pitcher. It doesn't really bug me, but I don't really see why we need it. I don't see how it's an issue. I like the pace of the game. But I guess just like every other game, you have to adjust a little bit some years to changes that the fans want. If that's what the audience is clamoring for, it's our job to give it to them, isn't it?
David Wallace, manager, Akron RubberDucks (CLE): It's not going to change too much. It's not going to change as much as some people think, or even as much as I originally thought it was going to. Going into the Fall League, I thought I was going to hate them, but once we played a game or two and the game got going, I didn't mind them at all.
In fact, in a lot of ways, they reinforce what we and pretty much every organization preaches to their team, and that's tempo -- get on the mound and put the past behind you. It keeps your pitcher going and it keeps everybody on the field more engaged and more alert. In that way, it's a good thing.
I actually think in a lot of ways it affects the batter more than the pitcher. What you see lots of times isn't the batter waiting on the pitcher. I think the one foot in the batter's box is going to be a bigger change, depending on how they enforce it.
You preach to these guys routine, and that might be the pregame routine, or the routine at-bat or on deck. Some guys' routine between pitches is to step out between pitches and take some hacks, readjust their batting gloves, whatever it might be. There might be adjustments there, absolutely, to make sure that they're ready once the pitcher starts -- that they're mentally and physically ready to swing. It's going to definitely be individualized. Some guys won't have any problems, but if you're a guy who steps out and has a big routine between pitches, it's going to be tough.
Matt Chapman, 3B, Midland RockHounds (OAK): I haven't really given it too much thought. I know they're going to put it into play, but I don't know if it's going to affect me this year or not. Coming from college, I'm used to quick gameplay. It won't bother me. It might bother some guys, but they'll make adjustments. Or if it doesn't work, they'll get rid of it, but I know if they're going to do it, they're going to do it right.
Nick Travieso, RHP, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN): I don't mind it. I feel like growing up as position player, the worst thing was always when the pitcher takes forever. And as a pitcher, you don't want your fielders relaxing too much and waiting on you. When a pitcher takes forever, everybody is too laid-back, and you want your fielders on their toes. I feel like 12 seconds is perfect. Some guys throw pitches every seven or eight seconds.
Then you have guys like Clay Buchholz, who throws every 25 seconds or so, and if you've watched the Red Sox over the last few years, with guys like him and Josh Beckett, their games could take forever. Then you have guys like [Mark] Buehrle. It's two totally different pitchers and you get two totally different ballgames. I know the commissioner wants quicker ballgames, and I like it.
I think it's good to work fast, plus, being the opposing pitcher, you want the other pitcher to work fast, because you're just sitting there in the dugout getting cold.
Mike Bell, director of player development, Arizona Diamondbacks: I don't think it's going to have an effect. We've always talked about pace of play in terms of tempo for our pitchers or our hitters. We have the clocks running out here on our back fields. We have them because they were put in with the ballpark. It was on the other day, and I didn't even pay attention. I don't think the pitchers did. I don't think it's going to affect us one way or another. I think it's going to come and go, be a part of the game, and I don't think it's going to impact our players. I don't see it really being a major concern.
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Yankees pitching prospect Ian Clarkin said in a recent Q&A that he believes the 20-second limit gives an advantage to pitchers, and Astros right-hander Mark Appel described the clock as "arbitrary" after getting called for violations twice in the Arizona Fall League. New Orleans manager Andy Haines discussed the pitch clock in depth in January.