MLB Spring Training 2020 FAQ: COVID-19 testing, key dates, roster limits

MLB Spring Training 2020 FAQ: COVID-19 testing, key dates, roster limits

On Sunday, the Cubs announced their summer camp roster, a sign that Spring Training Round 2 is truly right around the corner.

This is bound to be a Spring Training unlike any other, held in teams’ home cities, in the middle of the summer and a pandemic.

The introduction to MLB’s 101-page operations manual for this season acknowledges, “As comprehensive as this manual is, it does not address every aspect of MLB and Club operations for the 2020 season. Additional guidance may be provided throughout the season.”

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So, some of this may change. But so far, here are the answers to some of the most pressing questions as baseball gears up for a return:

When will players be tested for COVID-19?

The process has already begun. Each player will go through intake screening at least 48 hours before his report date. The players will be given staggered appointment times in order to keep too many people from gathering at the screening site.

During the intake screening, players will have their temperatures taken and give samples for two types of COVID-19 tests: one diagnostic (via saliva or oral/nasal swab) and one antibody (blood) test.

During Spring Training and the season, players will take diagnostic COVID-19 tests every other day and antibody tests about once a month.

When will players report for Spring Training 2.0?

Before Major League Baseball set a schedule for the 2020 season, the players had to confirm that they could report by July 1. Workouts are expected to begin no earlier than July 3.

Players and personnel will report on a staggered schedule. Essential clubhouse personnel will be followed by managers and coaches. Then the players: first pitchers and catchers, and then position players.

What are the Spring Training phases?

Phase 1: Individual and small group workouts. Only pitchers and catchers will be there for this phase. Groups are to be limited to five players.

Phase 2: Larger group workouts and intra-squad games. Larger groups are permitted, but small group workouts are encouraged when possible.

Phase 3: Spring Training games. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Thursday that MLB would allow teams to scheduled up to three exhibition games.

Who will the Cubs play in those exhibition games?

In order to limit travel, the White Sox seem the likeliest candidate. Plus, who doesn’t like a preseason rivalry game? Rosenthal reported that clubs without nearby potential opponents can schedule exhibition games against their opening-day opponents, but the Cubs aren’t in that position.

How big will the roster be?

Teams submitted their 60-player pools on Sunday. By opening day, teams will have to identify their 30-man active rosters. Two weeks later, teams will have to cut those active rosters down to 28. Two weeks after that, they will have to shrink their active rosters to 26. If a team plays a double-header after that point, they will be able to bring up one extra player for those games.

The rest of the player pool will train at the club’s alternate training site. For the Cubs, that will be South Bend.

For road games, teams will also be able to travel with three taxi-squad players. If they bring all three, at least one must be a catcher.

When will the regular season schedule come out?

The actual schedule release date is unclear, but the league submitted a 60-game schedule to the players association for review last week. After that step, teams received copies of their preliminary schedules. A finalized schedule is pending team input.

Opening Day is scheduled for July 23 or 24. Teams will play their division rivals and the teams in the other league’s corresponding geographical division. So, the Cubs will play teams in the NL Central and AL Central.

What are the chances they pull this off in the middle of a pandemic?

Great question. If MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decides the safety risks are too great to continue, or if so many players test positive for COVID-19 that the integrity of the season is undermined, the league reserves the right to cancel the season.

But how many positive tests is too many?

Local authorities’ actions could also complicate the season, for example, if a COVID-19 outbreak becomes so serious that a governor or mayor shuts down Major League Baseball in his or her state or city. Manfred has the authority to move a team in that case, or for other health and safety reasons.

As COVID-19 cases fluctuate throughout the country, it’s impossible to predict how much of the season MLB will be able to complete.



Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

Four of the five pitchers in the Cubs' presumed starting rotation were scheduled to throw in controlled intrasquad games over the weekend.

Yu Darvish (two innings) and Kyle Hendricks (three) faced off on Saturday. Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills -- who is expected to fill the last spot in the rotation while Jose Quintana (thumb) is out  -- were penciled in for Sunday evening.  Jon Lester was othe odd man out.

“The one thing about Jon,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said Sunday, “and he’s talked about it a lot through this down period, was he was a guy who really wanted to manage his throws. He wanted to, as he put it, save as many bullets as he possibly could. That doesn’t mean by any means he wasn’t throwing a baseball. He was staying active. He’s in a really good spot.”

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Lester, 36, has thrown two bullpens in the past few days, according to Hottovy. On Sunday, Lester simulated at-bats during his bullpen session. Lester is scheduled to throw live batting practice in two to three days.

Each of the starting pitchers’ throwing programs during the shutdown was tailored to his location, resources and needs.  Both then and now in Summer Camp, Hottovy said he wants to keep his pitchers “on a good schedule but listen to what their bodies are telling them.”

The season is set to open in less than three weeks.



David Ross: Offense will be Cubs' 'strong suit' in 2020 season

David Ross: Offense will be Cubs' 'strong suit' in 2020 season

With baseball shutting down for nearly four months due to COVID-19, it was natural to assume pitchers would be ahead of hitters upon returning this week. Hitters had less access to live competitive pitching, and many instead relied on tee work and hitting in a cage.

Even Cubs manager David Ross thought his pitchers would be ahead of the offense entering Summer Camp, but the club’s first intrasquad game served as a pleasant surprise.

“Maybe it's just my lack of skills when I was a player and hitting and how long it took me to catch up to pitchers, but the hitters looked good,” Ross told reporters in Sunday’s Zoom session. “They looked really good yesterday and that was really rewarding.”

Ross, who admitted he doesn't want to put all of his stock into results alone when evaluating intrasquad games, highlighted some of his club’s at-bats Saturday against top starters Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. David Bote hit a shot off Darvish into left field, albeit right at Steven Souza for an out. Javier Báez knocked a double into the left-center gap off Darvish.

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Victor Caratini had two hits up the middle off Hendricks, and Jason Heyward added another.

“To hear the sounds and see the balls come off the bat was shocking,” Ross said.

Earlier this week, Ross said the Cubs planned to use a five-man rotation this season and complimented Darvish, Hendricks and Jon Lester for being in advanced shape and ready to contribute multiple innings early on.

MORE: David Ross: Cubs will use five-man rotation, Kris Bryant-Anthony Rizzo atop order

While he continued that praise for his veteran staff on Sunday — even with José Quintana down after undergoing thumb surgery — Ross envisions big things for the offense this season.

“… [I] think our offense is gonna be our strong suit,” he said, “and we've got some good veteran starting pitching and it's fun to watch these guys compete.”