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Spring Breakout is a Low-Risk, High-Reward Event

Top prospect Jackson Holliday warms up for his high school team.

Spring Breakout is a can’t lose situation for the league to showcase the best prospects facing off against each other.

Major League Baseball introduced a new event called Spring Breakout, where prospects from each team will face each other in preseason games. Each team will play one game, while the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals will play two to create an even number of matchups. The games will be seven innings and take place from March 14-17, 2024. MLB Network is already promoting their broadcast of the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the news.

The league is understandably excited about the opportunity for the players, but Commissioner Rob Manfred sees this more as a showcase for fans: “Our fans will get unique opportunities to meet our best prospects, get autographs and see the next generation of Major Leaguers up close. We are thrilled that Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and all of our Clubs are working closer than ever to grow the game and to shine a brighter light on our future All-Stars.”

Since minor league games are hardly ever broadcast on national TV and most teams plays in smaller areas, fans rarely get to see top prospects play before their MLB debut. MiLB.TV exists, but it is not exactly the main streaming attraction. Spring Breakout will bring together players at different levels of the minors, so outsiders can check in on how a wide assortment of prospects are doing. First rounders from this past July will be on the same roster as AAA guys set to debut in 2024.

Win-Win Situation

This is a creative move on MLB’s behalf to drum up interest in exhibition games with no downside. The vast majority of minor leaguers in Spring Training are non-roster invites, so they enter games late when the stars leave for a round of golf and fans head to the beach. Most Spring Breakout games will be part of double headers to encourage fans to see the prospects alongside the everyday players.

MLB Network is promoting the Orioles and Pirates because those teams feature the last two #1 overall picks. SS Jackson Holliday will likely lead off the game against SP Paul Skenes to create instant action. The O’s have one of the best farm systems in baseball, so here is what their prospect lineup could look like:

  1. Jackson Holliday, SS
  2. Connor Norby, DH
  3. Heston Kjerstad, 1B
  4. Coby Mayo, 3B
  5. Colton Cowser, LF
  6. Samuel Basallo, C
  7. Dylan Beavers, RF
  8. Joey Ortiz, 2B
  9. Enrique Bradfield, Jr., CF

You could argue that six or seven of those guys are in the Top 100, and the others are in the next tier below. This lineup would be a ton of fun to watch, and it is fairly similar to the Norfolk Tides roster that won the AAA National Championship. Even if you looked at one of the weakest farm systems, their starting lineup would still be quite interesting to watch.

Prospects have garnered more attention in the past decade, and the league is smart to take advantage. The Futures Game is part of All-Star Game festivities, but Spring Breakout keeps players within their own organizations. Fans of specific teams will be more excited to watch a roster filled only with prospects from their favorite team.

Potential for Growth

Even though not a single Spring Breakout game has happened yet, people are already thinking about how to make the event even bigger. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline imagines a tournament where a team would need to win five games. Adding some stakes to Spring Training would be a nice change of pace since the games mean nothing otherwise. A tournament would likely resemble the NBA’s Summer League, and hopefully there would be a prize attached. Minor leaguers have tiny salaries, so a cash prize would be a welcome addition.

As we saw before the World Baseball Classic this year, teams are wary about letting their players play in games that don’t matter to the organization. They would likely also need some incentive to let top prospects, especially pitchers, play meaningful games in March. Similar to the Prospect Promotion Incentive in the CBA, I could see the winning team get an extra draft pick after the first round. Winning on the farm can in turn benefit the farm in the future.

Another potential option, though with admittedly smaller stakes, would be for Spring Breakout games to count as regular season games in the minors. Making them MLB games is a bridge too far, but the results could apply to the seasonal record of each affiliate. The downside is that winning in the minors doesn’t mean much since development is all about future wins in the Majors. It is easy to picture some, or most, organizations shrugging and accept a few more losses in Wichita or Lakeland to avoid extra injury risk.

Regardless of what the future holds, MLB made a sensible decision to spotlight prospects. I am personally eager to tune into Spring Breakout games.

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