Major League Baseball will experiment with several rule changes in the minor leagues this season, including an automated strike zone, restrictions on defensive positioning, and larger bases. The league said in a statement that the "changes being tested are designed to increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries." An automatic ball-strike system will be used at some Low-A Southeast League games, the AP reports, the closest that computer umpires have come to the majors. ABS has already been used in the independent Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League. It got mixed reviews from players, with complaints about how the TrackMan system grades breaking pitches down in the zone. "We are listening to our fans," an MLB official said. "This effort is an important step towards bringing to life rules changes aimed at creating more action and improving the pace of play."
Infielders at Double-A will have to keep both feet in the infield at the start of every play. While a defensive team must have at least four players within the outer boundary of the infield dirt, there won't be a ban on shifting three or more defenders to either side of second base. Triple-A is getting larger bases, expanding first, second and third from 15 by 15 inches to 18 by 18. MLB said it hopes to reduce player injuries and collisions, adding that the shortened distance between bases should "have a modest impact" increasing stolen baes and infield hits. Pitchers at the lower levels will be restricted in their ability to hold baserunners. At all High-A levels, pitchers will have to fully disengage from the rubber prior to throwing to a base under penalty of a balk. In all Low-A leagues, pitchers will be limited to two step-offs or pickoff attempts per plate appearance with at least one runner on base. Pitchers may attempt a third pickoff, but if the runner returns safely to his base, the pitcher will be charged with a balk.
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