Hong Kong Postpones International Open until March

BREAKING: The Hong Kong Baseball Association has officially postponed its annual International Baseball Open (HKIBO). The decision means that only one more international baseball tournament is still left on the 2020 calendar, The World Comes to Palm Beaches, still scheduled for November.

The HKIBO has occurred annually in December since its first edition in 2012. According to the federation, the 2020 edition is now scheduled for March 2021, assuming public health conditions permit.

The event grew out of the Zhujiang Cup International Invitation Baseball Tournament, an event held since 2000 and featuring smaller teams from Southeast Asia. It alternated between a men’s event and one for youth, eventually focusing only on the latter. According to the 2007 programme [link] (and a little help from Google Translate), “The name Zhujiang is employed to lay down our hope to develop baseball to all walks of people like the forever flow of Zhujiang [The Pearl River].”

A team has represented the Philippines in many of the Zhujiang Cups for men and HKIBOs, most commonly the Ateneo University Eagles. Other club teams have come from Australia (Sydney University), China (Shenzhen, Lanzhou), Russia (Vladivostok Tigers, often playing as “Russia”), and Taiwan (Brett, Da-Ho). Clubs have even represented Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.

Since 2013, the HKIBO has usually included the national teams of both Hong Kong and Singapore. Last year, Hong Kong defeated “Russia” 20-4 in the final. Recent coverage of the event can be accessed below.

HKIBO 2019 [link]
HKIBO 2018 [link]
HKIBO 2017 [link]

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U18 Asian Championship Postponed Again, U12s Moved to March 2021

BREAKING: The Under-18 and Under-12 Asian Championships have been postponed until 2021. The U12s were recently confirmed for December, after having once been listed in September. Taiwan will retain hosting rights to both tournaments. 

On May 11, [link] Baseball Federation Asia (BFA) confirmed that the U18 tournament would be held from September 6-12 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Federations were told to submit applications for participation on May 20. However, on June 11, BFA postponed the event until December 18-26 [link]. Today, it seems, the board decided to postpone the championship to 2021 through a Facebook post, declining to pose a date. No press release was issued. 

A fortnight ago, the Under-12 Championship was pushed to March 2021, apparently as a combined decision by BFA and the host Chinese Taipei Baseball Association [link]. In the release, BFA President Tom Peng took the sensible position that “The exact date of the event next March has yet to be decided as we will continue to monitor the situation with the pandemic and review the best timing to organize the BFA U12 Championship.”

We will include the two tournament in our 2021 calendar once further details emerge. 

 

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Police Win Third-Straight Bangladesh Men’s Title

2020 Bangladesh Men's National Baseball Championship  বাংলাদেশ বেসবল-সফটবল সমিতি

Believe it or not, Bangladesh has held contested a men’s national baseball championship each of the past seven years and Friday’s title match marked the tenth time a team has been crowned. Although the sport was only introduced to the South Asian country in 2006, growth since 2014 has been significant and the men’s national team has won a game in both tournaments in which it has played.

This year’s tournament, which following the standard three-day, two-group, single-elimination format, was billed as the VII Walton Men’s National Championship. In reality, it is the seventh since the federation came out of dormancy in 2014. It featured the usual powerhouse teams of Bangladesh Police and Bangladesh Ansar (a uniformed service in charge of security), perennial contender Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan (BKSP, the National Sports Institute), and regulars Dhaka District. Playing for the first time since 2014 was Solaiman Sports Club, while Savar Community Club made its second consecutive appearance. Sand Angel Baseball Club followed its women’s debut this year with its men’s debut. 

Groups and opponents were chosen by lot, though the Police and Ansar teams were almost certainly assigned to separate pools. BKSP was grouped with Ansar, which feels like the spot for a No. 3 seed. There were no surprises in the group rounds or semifinals, with BKSP’s 9-0 loss to the Police showing how far other clubs are behind the uniformed services teams. Savar did earn its first win ever, though. 

Although previous Police-Ansar finals have been nailbiters (9-8 in 2018, 4-3 last year), the Police jumped out early and coasted to a 19-4 victory. It was the club’s third-straight title in as many attempts. In fact, in three national championships and two friendlies, the Police have never lost a game in 11 tries and have outscored opponents 13-2 on Bangladesh Men's National Baseball Championships Historyaverage. Ansar are hardly chumps, having battered other teams 93-7 in its other six games, but the rest of Bangladesh has a long way to catch up to the Police. 

Make sure to give the Bangladesh Baseball-Softball Association a like on its regularly updated Facebook page [link].

Results
Group A
Bangladesh Police
Dhaka Commerce College (DCC)
Sand Angel
Savar Community

Group B
Bangladesh Ansar
Dhaka District
Solaiman (SSC)
BKSP 

30 SeptemberMen's 2020
BD Police 11 – DCC 0
BD Ansar 10 – SSC 0
Savar Community 6 – Sand Angel 2
SKSP 14 – Dhaka District 0

1 October
Semi: BD Police 9 – SKSP 0
Semi: BD Ansar 16 – Savar 2

2 October
Final: BD Police 19 – BD Ansar 4 

Photo copyright BBSA. 

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Olympic Qualifier: Netherlands – Italy

Game 15 of the Olympic Qualifier between the Netherlands and Italy was expected by many to be the de facto championship, but instead, the Netherlands used it to claim a place in the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Here are our two live threads from the game, including plenty of pictures and analysis.

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BBF Press Release: GB U23 Coach Spencer Promoted

The following is a press release from the British Baseball Federation. We will have more imminently as the situation develops. 

The British Baseball Federation is excited to announce the appointment of Mr Drew Spencer as the Lead Programme and Seniors Manager of the Great Britain National Baseball Team. Spencer succeeds Mr Liam Carroll who resigned after 16 years with the programme.

Drew joined the Great Britain Baseball coaching staff in 2019, as Manager of the programme’s U23 team, which achieved its highest ever finish (5th) in the 2019 U23 European Championships. The U23 campaign included a 2-1 victory over the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a first in British Baseball history in any age group.

Drew has also managed the London Mets baseball team to consecutive National Championships in the British Baseball Federation’s top division, the National Baseball League (NBL).

Mr Jason Pearce, the National Teams Director at the BBF, said “Over the next few years, GB Baseball has some significant competitive opportunities ahead of us, from European Championships to the World Baseball Classic and even the Olympic Games. We are excited about Drew’s track record of success and his ability to unite and motivate players to reach new heights for British Baseball”.

As a player, Drew was a 4-time All-Ivy League selection at Dartmouth college. At the time of his graduation, he held career records in 11 offensive categories. He also played for two seasons in Orleans in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League

On his appointment, Drew Spencer said, “I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get started. Being part of the programme so far has been a tremendous source of inspiration and pride for me, and I have the utmost respect for all that have come before me and whose contributions have helped to make the programme what it is today. The chance to take GB Baseball forward and build on the strength of what Liam Carroll has done is one that will require the very best that I have to offer, but I know I won’t be alone. We have an amazing group of players, coaches, staff and an entire community involved. We will raise the bar together, along with a few trophies along the way!”

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BBF Press Release: Liam Carroll Resigns

The following is a press release from the British Baseball Federation. We will have more imminently as the situation develops. 

Mr Liam Carroll, Great Britain Baseball (GB Baseball) Seniors National Team Manager(*), who has been involved in the programme from 2004 has decided the time is right to move on to new challenges. Mr Carroll leaves the programme in great shape to continue to develop.

Representing Great Britain has been the greatest honour. From the first time I was selected to play in 1996 all the way to managing the 2019 European Championship squad and preparing for the what-if 2021 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers, I have given the programme my very best. I am incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and how we’ve grown, especially while having had the privilege to be the caretaker of the Senior age group over the last few years.

Most importantly, I am humbled to have had the best seat in the house to witness the incredible efforts made by so many players, coaches and support staff to Inspire, Develop and Perform for Queen and Country.

Great Britain Baseball will always be inside of me, and although I’m ready to explore some exciting opportunities outside of the programme, I am looking forward to supporting the continued growth of the programme in the future,” said Mr Liam Carroll.

Mr Jason Pearce, National Teams Official for the British Baseball Federation, said: “We are so thankful for Liam’s many contributions throughout the years, we know his future is bright”. He went on to say, “On behalf of Great Britain Baseball and the British Baseball Federation, we wish Liam all the success in his future endeavours.”

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Bangladesh Ansar Claim Fourth Women’s Title in Four Years

Baseball was only introduced to Bangladesh in 2006, but it has already now held four women’s national championships. While that number might seem insignificant, it is the eighth largest total for any country and ahead of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the U.S. Although women’s baseball does not boast many players in the world’s most densely populated non-microstate, it has grown quickly since the first tournament in 2017.

The class of women’s baseball in the South Asian nation is Bangladesh Ansar, the sporting side of a federal uniformed service that provides village security. Joining them in the tournament were Bangladesh Police, plus returnees Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan (BKSP, the National Sports Institute), Dhaka District, and Savar Community Club. Debutants included Gazirchat, Narail District, and Sand Angel Baseball Club. The eight teams were divided into two groups in a single-elimination format.

The 2020 edition was dominated once more by Ansar. It breezed through the first two games easily and then defeated perennial silver medalist Bangladesh Police in the championship game, 17-10. Sand Angel claimed the bronze through run differential in its first appearance, the fourth straight year in which a rookie club took third place, though time will tell whether Sand Angel will follow their lead and fail to return to any other tournament.

In four tournaments, Ansar has yet to lose a game in 12 tries and has outscored its opponents 177-34. The Police team are no minnows, either, going 8-0 with a 107-20 run differential against all other teams while holding a separate national championship just for police clubs.

A feature on women’s baseball in the country will be released in October. In the meantime, this week’s results follow.

IV Women’s National Championship (2020)
Group A
BD Ansar
Dhaka District
Sand Angel
BKSP

Group B
Gazirchat
Narail District
BD Police
Savar Community

9 Sept.
Police 16 – Gazirchat 1
Sand Angel 18 – Dhaka District 0
Ansar 22 – BKSP 0
Savar 3 – Narail 0

10 Sept.
Ansar 29 – Savar Community 4
Police 15 – Sand Angel 4

11 September
Final: Ansar 17 – Police 10

Photo courtesy of Yubaer Bin.

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Baseball Euros to Expand in 2021, Qualification Changing

After hosting the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier in September, Italy will next welcome the European Baseball Championship. The 2021 edition will be the first with 16 teams and is the first major baseball tournament scheduled for next year to be confirmed for its original date. The Baseball Euros will take place in the Piedmont region of northern Italy next September, with venues to be announced.

It is noteworth that the senior Baseball Euros will not, as of now, be postponed because of the pandemic. This year’s B-Pool and C-Pool tournaments were postponed to 2021, along with the U23 Qualifiers, U18 Championsip, and U15 Qualifiers. This means that the senior level championship will be played in the same year as the Olympics (likely around six weeks later), plus the above tournaments and, possibly, some other events previously scheduled for 2021.

Six Additional Teams to Join Europe’s Top Level
Qualification has yet to be announced, but given the uncertainty of public health issues even 12 months from now and the fact that the Olympics will be played only six weeks before, it seems unlikely a separate qualification tournament would be held.

Instead, it would make sense if all 12 teams returned from the 2019 Baseball Euros (above figure). Adding Lithuania, which lost a qualifier to Israel, would make 13 teams. Given the time frame, it is likely that at least the runners-up of the B-Pools (Ukraine and Russia) would join (below left), though perhaps the three highest-rated teams in Europe might be automatically added.

Interestingly, despite the record number of teams (the Euros have included 12 teams since 1997), only one, Lithuania, would make its debut in this scenario. All but two returning teams have appeared at least six times. The exceptions are Israel, which debuted in 2019, and Austria (two appearances). For those curious, Ukraine has appeared six times, most recently in 2010, and were it to play at Europe’s top level, it would cap a remarkable rise from the C-Pool in 2018. Russia has appeared in 12 of the last 14 editions, including nine in-a-row between 1991 (months before officially becoming the Russian Federation) and 2007.

There are, however, two other solutions to qualification for the European title. Should the Confederation of European Baseball wish to retain only the 10 non-relegated 2019 teams, one of two things could happen: 1) A qualification tournament of other teams or 2) Fill the final spots based on WBSC rankings. Each has its issues.

Of the two options, the former would create a situation in which six teams would need to qualify. That would surely a necessitate an event with, at least, eight teams, if not another full set of B-Pool qualifiers with the top three sides advancing. The composition would have to include the two relegated teams (Croatia and Sweden), the losers of the qualification round (Lithuania), and some of the other 13 nations that competed in the B-Pools.

In the second scenario, which could also be used in the situation described above, which cancels relegation, WBSC rankings would determine who automatically advanced from the B-Pool. According to the latest poll (shown to the left with world rankings numbered), the six highest non-qualified teams are Russia (No. 9), Ukraine (No. 12), Lithuania (No. 13), Slovakia (No. 14), Poland (No. 15), and Greece (No. 16). This would, of course, be further bad news for relegated Croatia (No. 17) and Sweden (No. 20). It would mark the first appearance at the continent’s top level for Lithuania and Poland.

Federation sources indicate that the two paths most likely to be followed are the initial setup in which no teams are relegated and four teams added, unless competition next summer is possible, then a regular B-Pool Championship would be played in June or July.

Possible 2021 B-Pool Contestants
Assuming a best-case scenario with the pandemic no longer a threat by early next summer, we can theorise what a B-Pool tournament might look like. As stated above, somewhere between three and six teams will need to qualify.

The difference of three in those figures depend on whether Croatia, Lithuania, and Sweden are given automatic births to the A-Pool. Let us assume they will not and a minimum of six teams will earn promotion. Given that number, maintaining the two pools of six as in recent years would make sense.

That would leave us with the inclusion of 11 of 13 countries from the last B-Pool, depicted above, meaning two would not make the cut (Romania and either Bulgaria or Finland). In all likelihood, two federations will simply not enter teams because of a lack of funds or, perhaps, each pool would have seven competitors.

Additional Effects of Expansion
There will, however, be significant effects of expanding the European Championship. In recent years, there have been three tiers of baseball in Europe (which includes Israel, Turkey, and the Caucasus), with the bottom two teams from the top level trading places with the top two from the B-Pool. The top two teams from the C-Pool move up the B-Pool. There is no formal relegation from B-Pool as not all countries send teams each time their current level of qualification is contested, mainly due to extremely tight budgets. As many as five teams have been promoted from C-Pool in a single year (2018).

The B-Pool has consisted of multiple groups in different locations since 1984, with anywhere from two to five groups. Since 2013, it has held steady at two groups, usually with six teams in each group (with last year’s eight in Slovakia the exception). The C-Pool was instituted in 2014, with eight teams competing in a single location. In 2016 and 2018, the lowest tier was split into two groups of five in different locations.

In total, the most recent editions of each tier featured a total of 30 countries, including 12 in the A-Pool, eight countries that competed only in B-Pool (leaving out Israel, which moved up a tier, and five countries that also played in C-Pool), and 10 in C-Pool. With four more teams in the highest level tournament it leaves only 14 nations from the last qualification cycle below the top tier. This could result in the two qualification levels being combined into one after 2021, almost certainly at two locations.

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UPDATE: Active Minor Leaguers in International Leagues

Andretta 01In recent articles, we have looked at the historic circumstances that have permitted active minor leaguers to sign with European baseball clubs. At one point, eight such players were listed on rosters in the Italian leagues (one has since been released by his MLB organisation). Several more are anticipated in the Netherlands’ top circuit or, indeed, have already joined. We also broke the story on July 25 that Curaçao had become the third league with MiLB players. We look here at the full list of 18 such players, along with players rostered by American universities in these leagues, to conclude our discussion of these historical circumstances.

The Pandemic Contract Exception
MLB scouts have confirmed that these signings are due to what we have labelled the “Pandemic Contract Exception”, in which players have asked for a “loan” to a European club, which is permitted in the standard minor league contract [link]. The “loan” (to use the terminology of said document) is unusual only for the fact that players will suit up in Europe during the normal minor league season, which is unprecedented for minor league players that already have game experience [as discussed at this link].

As we discussed yesterday, signing a contract and remaining in, for example, Italy or the Netherlands to finish high school, is fairly standard practice, but players MiLB ball, returning for Serie A or Hoofdklasse competition and then, theoretically, returning to the minors the following season (in this case, 2021), is possible only through this exception.

A Surfeit of European Talent in Italy
As a result of the “Pandemic Contract Exception”, European baseball fans will have the chance to watch several bonafide—if raw—prospects in Hendrik Clementina (right) and Marc Civit. Twin Spanish prospects Omar Hernández and Frank Hernández and Italian minor leaguers Cesare Astorri and Ettore Giulianelli are also joining the league. Astorri has been scorching hot since the season started, dropping four bombs in 28 at bats.

There are some solid veterans as well, like Markus Solbach, who has pitched on three continents and was likely on the long list to pitch for the Dodgers had a full season occurred. Although he was under contract with Los Angeles when he signed his contract with San Marino, the German national teamer and Adelaide Bite (now Giants) record-holder has since been released. San Marino is surely grateful to have him, as he has struck out 18 with two hits and a single walk in 7.1 innings over two starts.

Nettuno boasts long-time Italian national teamer Alberto Mineo, released in May. We previously reported on the signing of Ray-Patrick Didder by Bologna. Meanwhile, Solbach will be joined in the rotation in San Marino by Alex Maestri, a similarly international journeyman.

The changes brought by coronavirus worked both ways, however. Several foreign players that had signed contracts for the year were told they could not play, including Marc-André Habeck, a returning player with Parma, and Great Britain’s Paul Kirkpatrick (right), who had a stellar 2019 in the Hoofdklasse and European Championships.

However, numerous Italians at American universities have joined FIBS teams. Maurizio Andretta (header picture), a Europeans in University All-Star in 2017-18, is playing for Montefiascone after losing his sophomore campaign for Odessa Junior College. His university teammate, Giulio Monello, is catching Solbach and Maestri in San Marino, which will make for incredible experience. Daniel Monti is rostered by Bollate after his first year at Odessa was wiped out, as with Andretta and Monello.

Frontier College’s Tommaso Giarola is under contract with Parma, a big assignment for a first-year university player with no spring season. U.S. teammate Matteo Oldano will play for Senago. A third Frontier player, Samuel DeSimone, is suiting up for Macerata.

Clarendon Junior College’s, Oscar Tucci who was meant to play his first season this spring, is on the roster for Macerata, where he will be joined by a third JuCo athlete, New Mexico JC’s Lorenzo Morresi. Morresi is teammates in the U.S. with promising Great Britain outfielder Ollie Thompson.

Three other known Italians at American universities could potentially join this list.

The Netherlands Poised for Prospect Additions
With the Hoofdklasse beginning play on July 23, a source tells us that Sem Robberse and Darryl Collins will return to the Netherlands to play, though they are not yet listed on rosters. Tom de Blok (right), Donny Breek, and Jiorgeny Casimiri are also confirmed.

Robberse had an electrifying debut at age 17 with the GCL Blue Jays in 2019 (0.87 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in 10.1 IP), while Collins was similarly promising in a 48-game stint for the AZL Royals (.320/.401/.436).

 

Phoenix College’s Tijmen Takke—a 2019 MLB Elite selection—hit fifth for HCAW on Opening Night, which Arizona Western’s Luuk ter Beek started. The Matadors of Arizona Western were meant to have five Dutch players on the roster this spring, and it seems likely all will play at home instead. Nolan Beugeling started at shortstop for Hoofddorp and Delano Selassa occupied the same position for Amsterdam on the first day of the Hoofdklasse. Angelo Wicklert came on to close for Hoofddorp and took the loss, while the final Matador, Jeandro Tromp, came in late for HCAW.

Indian Hills CC’s Dave Janssen started for the Twins on Thursday, giving the Hoofdklasse seven players on the rosters of American community colleges.

Given the talent being produced in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes Curaçao and Aruba, we could potentially see a few more players of Robberse and Collins’ calibre agreeing to terms with Hoofdklasse clubs, assuming they can travel to the Netherlands. Names for which to look out are Denzel Bryson and Arij Fransen, plus seven other known university players who could make appearances as well.

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The Pandemic Contract Exception for International Leagues

Clementina 05Since we were first to the scene in announcing the historic loan of active minor leaguers Marc Civit, Hendrik Clementina (above), and Matteo Bocchi to Italy’s Serie A [link], we have also broken the news of multiple more signings by the league, along with two other national circuits. In our previous piece, we discussed the standard minor league contract and its policy on loans, positing a “Pandemic Contract Exception”. Since then, we have spoken to several scouts to clarify this exception, with some interesting conclusions emerging.

The Pandemic Contract Exception
We posited a “Pandemic Contract Exception” to the standard minor league contract—detailed in our previous piece on the topic—in which a player may be loaned to another league, exceptionally, in this case, during the regular MiLB season. As discussed in the link above, these contracts include a proviso on “loans”, but vague language suggests that these loans are to either winter leagues or minor league teams in other organisations (relatively common until the mid-1990s). The language suggests either would happen at the club’s directive, not the player’s.

In speaking with scouts, two things become clear. First, that nothing in the contract suggests a player’s national league is option for the player. Second is that a player loan (to use the standard language of a minor league contract) to a team in Italy, the Netherlands, or elsewhere is something each player negotiates with his club.

Additionally, we can confirm that European signings do not contain additional clauses allowing that player to continue playing in his native country or return to its league outside of the minor league season. What makes this decision unusual, in part, is the unprecedented case of players with game experience in the minor leagues returning to European leagues to play.

According to a scout for a MLB club, “You need to ask [your club] for permission and if it is granted, then you can play. That is literally it.”

This confirms the statement from RFEBS, Spain’s national federation, on behalf of Civit, who does not have any special language in his contract. Instead, it would appear, any player can make a request to his MLB club to play in a domestic and it is up to the organisation to confirm or reject the proposal. This fairly sizeable loophole not only allows a pandemic contract exception, but could result in any number of “loans” to international leagues.

The sum total of active MiLB players in the Italian league is now seven, one fewer than Thursday, when Markus Solbach was released by the Dodgers. The Hoofdklasse, the top league in the Netherlands, boasts four current minor leaguers and, as we broke yesterday, Curaçao’s Liga Aqualectra will become the third league to feature professional players during the normal MiLB season. In total, there are 18 players under active minor league contract with MiLB experience playing in non-U.S. leagues.

Other Contract Exceptions
Although the signings of Solbach, Clementina, and the Spanish prospects in Italy is highly unusual, Italians regularly continue playing in their home country after signing their first contract. For example, Alberto Mineo (pictured below) signed two years before going to the US and continued to play in Serie A. This is also the case in Spain and the Netherlands.

“It was common to sign and then stay at home to finish high school while playing for your own club,” we were told by an employee of an AL club. “Also, if at the end of the minor league season there was still ball in Italy, they joined in. It’s more common than it seems.”

The situation is similar in the Netherlands, where Dutch players could finish high school in their home country and play in the country’s strong national league. The situation is different in Germany, however.

“In the German League, actually, [continuing to play is] not allowed,” explained our source. “Solbach, for example, can pitch in Italy but not in Germany, what an irony!”

The decision to prohibit professional players is up to the league, not MLB organisations. As several scouts told us, “You just need permission.” The limits for the Bundesliga, however, make sense. Serie A and the Hoofdklasse are at a different professional level than leagues in other countries, even the Czech Republic and Germany. Solbach would instantly become the most experienced player in the Bundesliga, for instance, likely leading to the league’s exclusion.

A scout with a different organisation dampened any idea that this could become a more common situation in future years, however, remarking that the signings are solely due to the pandemic. Given the intention of MLB to reduce the minor league system by 40 teams, however, we could see a return to this approach after the next collective bargaining agreement.

It is worth noting, as well, that the ban on in-person scouting is still in effect, so teams and fans will be the only ones benefitting from the unexpected influx of talent. Only “video and remote work”, as one scout put it, is permitted by MLB until announced otherwise.

Tomorrow we will have a look at what windfalls of talent this “exception” has brought the top two levels of Italian baseball as well as the Netherlands’ Hoofdklasse. We also round up the full list of European players at American universities, already at 13, who have returned to play in the two systems. Finally, we look at the effects it could have on other leagues.

Photos copyright Extra Innings.

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