Giants

Minor League Baseball announces three-batter minimum rule for pitchers

Minor League Baseball announces three-batter minimum rule for pitchers

Changes are coming to baseball. The biggest differences, however, will happen in the 2020 MLB season.

First, the minors will be used as a guinea pig. Minor League Baseball announced Friday multiple pace-of-play rules for this season.

Here's a look at three rules that baseball hopes will speed up the game.

Three-batter minimum rule

Say goodbye to lefty specialists. Any starting pitcher or reliever in Double-A and Triple-A is required to face at least three batters. So far, the rule only is in effect for those two levels. 

Any exception will be made to the rule if a pitcher is deemed ill by the umpire-in-chief or a pitcher is injured. 

Extra innings

At every level of the minors, extra innings will start with a runner at second base. If the last batter of the previous inning, however, was the pitcher, there's a change to the rule this year. 

In this scenario, the player in the batting order before the pitcher, or a pinch runner, will be placed at second. As always, any batter or runner previously removed from the game cannot return to be the designated runner.

Pitcher's mound visits

Aside from short-season and rookie-level teams, mound visits per game by a coach will be shortened. Triple-A teams will be allowed five (down from six), Double-A teams will have seven (down from eight), and Single-A teams will have nine (down from 10).

By comparison, MLB teams can have just five visits per game (down from six).

Giants might have two best pieces available before MLB trade deadline

Giants might have two best pieces available before MLB trade deadline

SAN FRANCISCO -- We tend to look at everything from a local standpoint around here, which means this upcoming trade deadline is mostly about two Giants: Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith.

Both pitchers have been asked about trade rumors in recent weeks, and every start Bumgarner makes comes with the tag "could be facing Team X for the final time as a Giant" or "might be pitching at Stadium X for the final time in orange and black."

MLB Trade Rumors is among the outlets that takes a national view, and on Monday they ranked the top 50 players available before the July 31 deadline. Their list, however, had a very, very local flavor. And it probably had Farhan Zaidi smiling. 

The website listed Smith as the No. 1 available piece before the deadline, with Bumgarner ranking right behind him. Left-hander Tony Watson (No. 6), right-hander Sam Dyson (No. 11) and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (No. 15) also cracked the top 15. 

Now, this is just one list of potential options for buyers, and things change quickly this time of year. A team on the bubble -- the Padres or Diamondbacks, for instance -- could go on a losing streak and decide to clean house, adding players like Kirby Yates and Zack Greinke to the pitching market.

But for now, the Giants -- who fully intend to kickstart a rebuild with a flurry of trades -- appear to be holding a lot of the best cards. 

While Bumgarner is the bigger name, Smith actually could bring back the better prospect before the deadline. As a cheap left-handed closer with a perfect 18-for-18 record in the ninth this year, he would fit in any contender's bullpen. Smith could close or slide into the seventh or eighth, depending on a buyer's needs. 

[RELATED: Will Smith dominates despite dealing with trade rumors]

Bumgarner has been connected to the Yankees and Twins recently. He's throwing as well as he has in years, and will have another chance to show his stuff on Thursday against the NL-leading Dodgers.

Watson and Dyson could bolster a contending team's bullpen, and Sandoval -- who is owed just the MLB minimum by the Giants -- would be a nice addition for a team needing power off the bench. He has been the league's most dangerous pinch-hitter this season. 

Smith, Bumgarner and Sandoval are trade chips in part because they are free agents at the end of the season, but if the Giants really want to get creative they could dig deeper.

Reyes Moronta and Trevor Gott are cost-controlled right-handers with big arms and solid numbers this season, and both could be intriguing to winning teams looking for more than just an expensive rental.

MLB power rankings 2019: Twins challenge Dodgers, Astros in standings

asgiantssbsusatsi.jpg
USATSI

MLB power rankings 2019: Twins challenge Dodgers, Astros in standings

Those Minnesota Twins just aren't going to slow down, are they? A sneaky contender early on, the Twins have spent the last month neck-and-neck with the Dodgers and Astros. It's too early to consider them quite as dominant as those other two, but they're going to run away with the AL Central and have plenty of time to make a move or two to bolster a playoff run. 

It's going to be tough regardless because the American League is LOADED. Four of the five best teams in the Majors by run differential are in the AL, and they show up in our top five, too. 

Here's the latest rundown of all 30 teams, with an emphasis on some familiar names ... 

MLB POWER RANKINGS GALLERY HERE