An experiment to speed up the pace of games was apparently successful enough for baseball officials to bring it to the next level: some minor league stadiums at the Double-A and Triple-A levels will be outfitted with 20-second pitch clocks by the beginning of the season.
The news was first reported by MLB Daily Rumors, and confirmed and fleshed out by Fox Sports. While specifics of where and how often the clock will be tried out have yet to be established, we know how it'll work from its use in the Arizona Fall League: pitchers have exactly 20 seconds from the moment they receive the ball to come to the set position for the next pitch. It'll be tracked by on-field scoreboards visible to pitchers and umpires, and if they fail to come set, the umpire declares an automatic ball.
Here's what it looked like in action:
The pitch clock was one of a handful of innovations tested out in three Arizona Fall League games, all designed to reduce the length of games, and together they appeared to work. Games average 2:51 in the AFL; the three experimental games lasted 2:14, 2:28, and an 11-inning affair that went 3:12. (Games in MLB now average over three hours, up 20 minutes from 11 years ago.) And what's most interesting is that there were just four violations over the three games. It's clear that the pitch clock is more effective as a tool to remind pitchers how long they're taking than as a strict deterrent.
MLB is taking this very seriously, using the AFL and now the minors as a proving ground for six new rules, some fairly radical, to get things moving again. In addition to the pitch clock, these experimental minor-league games will also adopt time limits on pitching changes and breaks between innings, and a rule that batters must remain inside the batter's box between pitches.
It's not clear if the other two rules tried out in the AFL—one limiting the number of mound visits a team can make, and one allowing teams to signal for intentional walks rather than having to deliver four balls—will be instituted.
What is clear is that you won't be seeing any of these changes in MLB this season, if ever. Instituting any of these new rules would require negotiations with the MLBPA, and while the union has said all the right things about speeding up games, whether it will actually support something this drastic—and opposed by a good number of pitchers—is very much in question.