York Revolution players weigh in on new rule changes coming to Atlantic League

York Revolution and former MLB pitcher Ross Detwiler on the possibility of the Atlantic League moving the mound back two feet: "My one and only thought was retirement."

York Revolution and former MLB pitcher Ross Detwiler fields a ground ball during the team's first practice at PeoplesBank Park on Tuesday. Dawn J. Sagert photo
  • The MLB and the Atlantic League have a partnership to implement rule changes in the Atlantic League starting in 2019.
  • Moving the mound back two feet was originally scheduled for the middle of the 2019 season but has since been pushed back to 2020.
  • Ross Detwiler and Revs manager Mark Mason are in favor of the new automated strike zone.
  • Mason weighed in on the other changes, adding it's an "exciting" partnership.

When Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League announced their partnership to implement several rule changes for the 2019 Atlantic League season, the most striking changes were the automated strike zone and increasing the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate by two feet in the middle of the season.

After some backlash about the movement of the mound, modifications were announced last week, including the gradual implementation of the automated strike zone and pushing back to mound-distance change to the middle of the 2020 season.

Former MLB pitcher Ross Detwiler said at the York Revolution's first practice on Tuesday that his "one-and-only thought" about the possibility of pitching from a mound that was 62-feet, 6-inches from the plate was "retirement."

"I’m not willing to move the mound back. I’m too old for that now," said Detwiler, who has pitched in 190 major league games across 10 seasons "Being 33 now, this is kind of my last push. I’m not willing to learn a new game. If they move the mound back, I’ll find somewhere else to go, or I’ll stay home.”

Detwiler, who is entering his second season with the Revs, said he's against the change because some Atlantic League players are former MLB or minor league players. If the goal is to get back to affiliated ball – or get there for the first time – then moving the mound back in the Atlantic League hurts the players who would then have to adjust back to the standard distance. For example, Detwiler was picked up by the Mariners midway through last season, pitching for Triple-A Tacoma and starting one game for the big-league club. 

"The main thing you’re looking for out of this league is to move on and get into affiliated ball or to the big leagues,” said Detwiler, who had a 2.70 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 30 innings for York last year. “The scouts are looking at you at (62.5) feet, and if you get signed, now you’re competing at 60 feet again. You’d then have to change mechanics and sight levels, and the hitters would have to fix their timing."

Detwiler and other Atlantic League players won't have to worry about the mound distance change until at least 2020. Part of the reason the change was pushed back was the possible increased risk of injury for pitchers, to which MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said: "That’s why we’re doing it in the Atlantic League.”

"I hope that was taken out of context," Detwiler said. "I don’t think he’s trying to put anyone, no matter what level, at a disadvantage or a risk of injury. With them putting their name on it, if a bunch of people got hurt, that wouldn’t look good for them."

Dent, Mason weigh in on possible mound change: Revs shortstop Ryan Dent, who is entering his third season in York, said if the mound change must come, he hopes it will be implemented for the start of the season, rather than the current proposal of after the 2020 All-Star break.

York Revolution's Ryan Dent during practice at PeoplesBank Park in York City, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"If you’re going to do it, do it to start the year, so guys can train the whole offseason with the longer distance,” said Dent, who was drafted in the first round by the Red Sox in 2007 and played in the minors with Boston and the Cubs until 2016.

The proposal to move the mound back, and the other changes, such as increasing the size of the bases and banning infield shifts, is to augment action in a game that has seen an increase in three true outcomes (walks, strikeouts and home runs), and thus fewer balls in play.

“They feel there’s not enough action in the game,” said York manager Mark Mason. “Every major sport has done something to increase offensive activity, and I think Major League Baseball has gotten to the point where pitching is so dominant. You’ve got so many guys throwing 95-100 mph, and the hitters are no longer swinging for singles. They’re all going for homers, because it’s hard to string two or three hits in a row."

Automated strike zone: Despite the concerns over the mound distance, Dent and Mason were in favor of most of the other rule changes, which include eliminating mound visits, shortening the time between innings and mandating all pitchers face at least three batters or finish an inning.

"Anything that puts more light on this league and gets us more exposure is beneficial,” said Dent, who had a .332 on-base percentage with 16 homers last year for the Revs. “It would be cool if some of the rules they try here end up going to the major leagues, and we were the first ones to do it."

The other main change, the implementation of TrackMan radar to signal a ball or strike call through an earpiece to the home-plate umpire, is one Detwiler is looking forward to, because he said it will be more "consistent."

The TrackMan system will also provide data on each Atlantic League pitch – once the systems are set up in all eight ballparks. The data includes metrics such as spin rate and pitch movement, which Mason said could help players get signed by MLB organizations.

"(The MLB organizations) don’t care about ERA or wins (from Atlantic League players). They’re looking for velocity, spin rate and movement,” Mason said. “I think it’s a win-win for our hitters and our pitchers.”

Excited about the partnership: Mason said he was excited when the partnership was formed, because it means the Atlantic League will be on the "cutting edge" of changes to improve the MLB. 

York Revolution manager Mark Mason during practice at PeoplesBank Park in York City, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“If these changes show up down the road, we can say that all started with us,” Mason said.

Dent said worrying about rule changes isn't what Atlantic League players should be doing during the season. It's better to be part of the change than to be "left behind," Dent said.

"You have to look at it like you’re happy to put a uniform on and able to go out on the field,” Dent said.

Other changes: While most of the other changes are smaller, Mason said they’ll have varying impacts on the Revs and the Atlantic League. Here's what Mason said about each change:

Eliminating mound visits: "The past few years, we’ve been down to three mound visits anyway. Pitchers know how to take care of themselves, so they can make this adjustment."

Reducing time between innings from 2:05 to 1:45: "I think we’ve done a good job of getting on and off the field. Overall, that’s a rule that will speed the games up a little bit."

Increasing base sizes from 15 square inches to 18 squad inches: “When you look at guys stealing bases, six more inches can make a big difference. It could give some guys an opportunity for more infield hits, and it’s actually maybe a little safer with a bigger base.”

Two infielders must be on each side of second base: "We don’t shift. I might shade guys a little bit, but we never put three guys on one side. There are some other teams that do that, like the (Lancaster) Barnstormers. But for us, it’s a nonfactor."

Pitchers must face at least three batters or end an inning, unless injured: "There are situations I have done the lefty-lefty, righty-righty thing, but not often. I expect my seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning guys, to get three outs.”

Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at jmeyer@yorkdispatch.com.