After an eventful offseason for Major League Baseball, which included the big four free agent shortstops signing with new teams – Carlos Correa (Minnesota Twins), Trea Turner (Philadelphia Phillies), Xander Bogaerts (San Diego Padres) and Dansby Swanson (Chicago Cubs) – players are now getting ready to start a new chapter with the 2023 MLB season.
With MLB spring training now underway, all 30 MLB teams are preparing for the season in either Arizona, home of the Cactus League, or Florida, home of the Grapefruit League. There are 15 teams in both leagues; consisting of both AL and NL teams. The first games in these leagues will kick off on Feb. 24 when the Texas Rangers face off against the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners take on the San Diego Padres, both of these games being in the Cactus League. A flurry of games will kick off the next day on Feb. 25, with both Grapefruit and Cactus League games being played.
While there are many fans who are excited to see pitchers and catchers report to camp and for exhibition games to start soon, there is one event happening during spring training that everyone in the baseball world will be focused on: the World Baseball Classic.
In total, 20 teams from around the world – including Japan, China and the United States – will compete in the tournament, starting on Mar. 8, until the championship on March 21. The rosters include baseball players from leagues all over the world, from the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization in Japan to the Korean Baseball Organization to the MLB here in the United States.
Some players like Miguel Cabrera for team Venezuela, are facing their last chance to play in the tournament (Cabrera is retiring after the 2023 season). Other players, such as Cubs prospect Matt Mervis for team Israel, get to showcase their skills in front of teams that may not have seen them play before (Mervis finished the 2022 season being promoted to Triple-A for the first time in his career, one level below MLB).
Players not participating in the World Baseball Classic will be participating in regular exhibition games in Florida and Arizona until Mar. 28, two days before MLB opens its regular season. While players will be getting back into their rhythm with these games, these spring training games will have a couple of new features and rules not previously seen.
The first change is that the bases have been expanded in size. Each base is now 18 square inches rather than the original 15.. The second change is the end of the shift. In past seasons, a team would often line up most of their infielders on one side of the infield (i.e all infielders moving to the first base side of the field when a left-handed hitter comes up). This year, all infielders must be on the infield dirt and two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is thrown.
The third change, and perhaps the most controversial, is the addition of the pitch clock. With this rule, pitchers now have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with no runners on base and 20 seconds if there is a runner on base. If the pitch has not been thrown before time expires, the pitcher will be charged with a ball. If the batter hasn’t entered the box before the time expires, he will be charged with a strike.
The pitch clock has stirred up the most controversy among new changes made to the MLB this season but has received mostly positive reviews from players, including New York Mets ace starting pitcher Max Scherzer. Scherzer said he’s always wanted to work quickly and he couldn’t because the hitter could just call timeout.
With all of these new changes coming to the MLB and the World Baseball Classic rapidly approaching, baseball fans are excited to see what 2023 has in store for the game of baseball.