Futures League, NECBL waiting to see if seasons start on time

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The Major League Baseball season has been delayed until at least May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The summer college baseball leagues aren't scheduled to start until late May and June, so officials at both the NECBL and Futures League are watching and preparing plans.

The Futures League is still slated to get started on May 28, while the NECBL will kick off its 2020 season on June 3.

The NECBL and the Futures League are taking the first step, and it will have an impact on the roster of the North Adams SteepleCats.

"Right now, we are increasing our roster size, for this year only, to 38 players," North Adams general manager Matt Torra said, "in order to accommodate seniors now who are granted an extra year of eligibility and also a lot of the players that wouldn't have played for the summer, due to innings and getting their [at-bats] throughout the season.

"We have increased [the roster] by five — if the teams want to."

NECBL teams have had 33-player rosters in recent years, to help out with injuries and things like pitch counts for members of the staff.

But with the NCAA canceling spring sports, Division I schools like Boston College and Holy Cross had only played 15 games each. American International College, a Division II school, had played 10 games before the season had come to a screeching halt.

"They can increase by one [player], by two or by five," Torra said, "to help take care of that for the players."

According to a check of the NECBL web site on Wednesday, there are 27 players on the North Adams roster. Torra did say they were farther along than that.

Otherwise, Torra said while the league is still hoping to start on time, the NECBL will be taking its cues from Major League Baseball and elsewhere.

"Right now, we plan to start on time," he said. "We will take that each week, we'll meet again, and wait for news from Major League Baseball and the government, as to what's going to happen."

The SteepleCats are still scheduled to open at Sanford, Maine on June 3, and at home against Martha's Vineyard on June 5.

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The Pittsfield Suns, meanwhile, are still scheduled to open their 2020 season at home against Brockton on May 28.

League commissioner Joe Paolucci said that like the NECBL, the Futures League general managers discussed expanding rosters, and on Friday, made the decision to expand them.

"We're very sympathetic to what's going on with the college players," Paolucci said in an interview with The Eagle. "We want to try to make it right by them."

Last year, the league instituted a series of pitch-count rules. For example, pitchers cannot start an inning after they have thrown 90 pitches, cannot face a new batter after throwing 100 pitches, and any pitcher who reaches 40 pitches in an inning can finish the inning but must be taken out and rest the next day.

"We have no plans to change that at all," the commissioner said, when asked about a possible changing in the pitch-count rules.

The question came up in regard to the fact that most, if not all, of the pitchers in the Futures League this summer would have fallen significantly short of their college season innings limits.

"The rules are put in place to protect their arms," Paolucci said. "The long layoff is more of a reason to kind of keep a close eye on them in terms of pitch counts. Secondly, if we do expand the roster, there will be more arms on the rosters. There really is no reason for a kid to go out and throw 120 pitches, or whatever the case may be.

"I think the college coaches really appreciate it."

There is no talk, at the moment, about changes to the 56-game schedule.

"There's no discussion about moving anything back. We have that May 15 date in mind from the CDC that will kind of mark the eight weeks," Paolucci said. "We're kind of operating right now as business as usual.

"If the time comes and we have to make adjustments, we'll do it."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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