Former UCLA player discusses Minor League Baseball amid shortened draft, pay cuts
Ryan Kreidler expected a summer spent traveling around the country and playing minor league baseball.
But for Kreidler and the rest of the players in major league organizations, that reality never materialized.
The former UCLA baseball infielder is waiting – along with the rest of baseball – for Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball to make a decision on the 2020 season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLB and its players’ bargaining union, the MLB Players Association, have yet to come to an agreement about how, if or when the 2020 season will be played, but Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic said on May 31 that members of the Washington Nationals organization have been told the 2020 MiLB season will be canceled.
In his three years in Westwood, Kreidler played in 170 games, batting .261 and slugging 16 home runs. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers and spent his first professional season playing for the Connecticut Tigers – rebranded as the Norwich Sea Unicorns following the 2019 campaign – Detroit’s short-season Class A affiliate.
Instead of spending the year with the high-A Lakeland Flying Tigers – which he said was his hope after his performance in spring training – Kreidler has said it is difficult to stay sharp in such an unprecedented situation.
“It’s hard to prepare for a season when you don’t have an end date (to the offseason) in mind,” Kreidler said. “Normally, you have a spring training to build up to, or a high school or college season. For us, we just have to be ready for games. That’s pretty difficult – it’s a hard task to ask (of players).”
The second-year professional has gone back and forth from his Davis home to the Los Angeles area, where he works with hitting coach Doug Latta – a trainer who has helped MLB players like 2018 American League MVP and current Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, at the Ball Yard in Northridge, California.
The two have been working together since the end of Kreidler’s 2019 campaign, and have continued their lessons, albeit with added precautions.
“(We’ve been) doing protocols, taking temperatures, washing hands a lot and making sure the players coming in (were in quarantine for 14 days),” Latta said. “(Our modified training) allows (Kreidler) to work a little bit more on movements and mechanics – what we call little refinements.”
Kreidler is coming off a debut season in Norwich, Connecticut, where he hit .232 and knocked in 20 runs for a Tigers team that went 34-42. His first professional team now shares his feeling of uncertainty because of the coronavirus.
Like many other minor league teams, Norwich found itself in a rough spot financially because of the pandemic, and even before the outbreak, the Sea Unicorns were on the list of 42 teams scheduled to be eliminated by the MLB, according to BaseballAmerica.com.
Kreidler said he enjoyed his time in southeastern Connecticut and disagrees with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to eliminate a team that means so much to the people of Norwich.
“It’s a bummer – the town of Norwich is a close-knit community and they were going to lose a lot by losing that team,” Kreidler said. “As a player, it’s disheartening that somebody wants to cut out your livelihood, the team that I just played (60) games for. The lower levels of minor league baseball are very important to the development of baseball players. You need to go through struggles and you need to play in different leagues and environments in order to grow.”
Sea Unicorns’ Senior Vice President C.J. Knudsen said he anticipated the state would potentially only allow gatherings of up to 50 people by June 21 – the slated date for the team’s home opener. He said any delay to the season would impact many Norwich residents who are dependent on the team for employment, as well as the city itself, which has made a sizable financial investment in the club.
“If we’re only allowed to have 50 people at our games, we’re not going to come anywhere near being able to bring in enough revenue to operate the business,” Knudsen said. “It’s about 150 people that, if we don’t play this year, literally would not have a job.”
Minor league players, who have been hearing about the future of their jobs at the same time as the general public and are without their own union, are not immune to the financial hardships of the pandemic. Kreidler said some friends and teammates of his have been forced to adjust to uncertain job security.
On May 26, Oakland Athletics’ owner John Fisher announced the suspension of the $400-per-week payments to the organization’s minor leaguers, starting on June 1, citing lack of revenue as the main reason. The Athletics were the first major league team to furlough minor league players, and although Fisher walked back his decision June 5, multiple teams have followed suit. Kreidler said the Tigers have yet to inform the players of a similar decision as of May 22, and the organization has continued paying out its $400 weekly stipends while not making roster cuts as of June 3.
MLB also shortened its 2020 draft from the typical 40 rounds to just five, and the former fourth-round pick said draft prospects not selected could lose out on valuable signing bonuses and salaries.
“As a player, you work 18, 20 years to get to a point (where you’re ready to be drafted),” Kreidler said. “To have it all taken away from you like guys did this year (with the draft-shortening decision) and how minor leaguers are feeling with the elimination of some affiliates, it’s pretty disheartening. But I guess that’s just the reality we’re presented with right now.”
Kreidler, despite expressing a desire to return to the diamond, said he was still grateful for his personal situation and his occupation as a professional baseball player.
“In the grand scope of what’s going on in America, it’s a small price to pay for playing a game,” Kreidler said. “We’re lucky to be baseball players, but it is a weird time.”