For those of you who attend upper-level Minor League games this summer, there are two things that are likely to different and both for the same reason: a new feel to souvenir baseballs caught and more runs scored.
Both of these are due to the same reason — Major League baseballs will be exclusively used at the Triple-A levels across the game, as Baseball America’s JJ Cooper reported on Wednesday.
In the past, Major League balls were put into use for players on rehab assignments to have consistency when they were hitting or pitching. Starting for the 2019 season, they will be utilized all of the time.
“The decision was made to use Major League baseballs at the Triple-A level,” said Jeff Lantz, senior director of communications for Minor League Baseball. “We want all of the players to have the same ball with the same feel and be standardized at the upper levels.”
Additionally, Lantz confirmed that they have heard from some pitchers who experienced blisters from the old balls.
He said that the main differences between the balls were that the old balls were made in China, while the Major League balls are made in Costa Rica. He also said that the feel is quite different. He said that the seams are much higher on the Minor League balls, while the Major League uses a different, more expensive cowhide.
The new balls in play will have the same material as the Major League balls, but will still have the IL and PCL stamps.
While Lantz advised that the cost of baseballs will go up for the leagues using the Major League balls, it should be expected that so will runs. While Lantz said that this is not universally accepted by the organization, the proof is what happened when the Major Leagues started using the new balls a couple of seasons ago.
While the scoring will likely improve, so will accurate statistical talent evaluation. Using the same ball and adding some more pop, will allow a player’s true power upside to show through.
For example, Rhys Hoskins hit a home run every 11.78 at bats his rookie season for the Phillies. In the previous two seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, Hoskins hit a whopping 67 home runs in 899 at bats. While those numbers were impressive, it was still only good for a homer every 13.42 at bat.
While overall, Hoskins’ career HR/AB numbers were slightly higher in the minors, it is worth noting, if you exclude his slow starts to last year and this season, this is not the case. Hoskins homered in every 12.45 at bat in the second half of last season.
We all know the crazy raw power that Aaron Judge possesses. His home run production nearly doubled when getting to the show. He went deep once every 24.36 at bat in Double-A and Triple-A. Since debuting in the Major Leagues, Judge has homered every 12.77 at bat for the Yankees.
Showcasing a less prominent power hitter, Ozzie Albies’ increase in production is off the charts as well. He hit a bomb every 71.07 at bat in Double-A and Triple-A. However, since joining the Braves, Albies has gone deep once every 28.19 at bat.
While it can be argued that these are young players who just developed their power with age, it’s not necessarily just development that allows them to improve that dramatically–that quickly–against the best pitching in the game.
Additionally, it will also better display how a pitcher will project at the next level. At times, in Major League games a hitter can appear to miss the sweet spot of the bat and still be rounding the bases. Even with a small change, that could be a routine fly ball in the Minor Leagues.
Either way, putting the two levels on equal playing fields with an aspect that appears to have been so drastically different in the past cannot be a bad thing.
Ryan Palencer is a lifelong baseball fan who covers the Triple-A International League upper level MiLB prospects. He is located in Indianapolis, which features the AAA Indians. Ryan has covered Minor League, Major League, and All-Star games with Pirates Prospects prior to joining Prospects1500. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPalencer.