The Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers were among the many Major League Baseball teams to open their respective 162-game schedules Thursday, but where were the members of the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts?
They were just getting going out in Arizona.
In one of numerous ways the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter the MLB landscape, players projected for Double-A, high Single-A and Single-A have invaded the various spring-training sites that have been occupied in recent weeks by big-league and Triple-A players. Minor league seasons typically begin within a week of the Major League start, but April is being used this year as a separate spring training for the younger or less-proven players on an organization's developmental ladder.
The Lookouts are scheduled to open their 120-game schedule May 4 against the Rocket City Trash Pandas at AT&T Field.
"Obviously this will be going on when our Major League and Triple-A teams have broken camp and are out there doing their thing," Reds senior director of player development Eric Lee said. "It's very different, and we're just rolling with the punches and going along. To be honest, we're just so thrilled to be able to be together again and doing what these guys have committed their lives to.
"We'll have camp all April, and then hopefully we'll be in Chattanooga on May 4."
The pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season at all levels, so the task ahead for Lee and other farm directors is to lessen the damage that has been caused by a lost year.
"It's definitely a challenge, but I think it would surprise you how much we know about what our 2020 years looked like for our individual players," Lee said. "It obviously isn't with the depth we usually have, but there is a lot we know. There will be mistakes made and there will be adjustments and there will be injuries, but that's with any year. There could be some different names wearing Lookouts jerseys than people expected, and that's part of the fun.
"Coaching remotely last year was not ideal, but it was possible, and I think our group proved it."
Although much can change in a month, the Lookouts could open this season with Cincinnati's top two prospects, according to mlb.com — 6-foot-6, 205-pound pitcher Nick Lodolo and 6-5, 230-pound pitcher Hunter Greene. Lodolo is a 23-year-old left-hander, while Greene is a 21-year-old righty.
Lodolo spent three seasons at TCU before becoming the No. 7 pick and the first pitcher selected in the 2019 draft. He appeared in a couple of games that summer for the Single-A Dayton (Ohio) Dragons and produced a 2.57 earned run average with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Greene was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft and certainly created a buzz at the 2018 Futures Game, consistently reaching 102 miles per hour as an 18-year-old. He developed an elbow strain that year, however, and wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery before the 2019 season.
"Hunter and Nick participated in spring training, and those are two guys we've seen a lot of these last couple of years despite the challenges," Lee said. "They are right on track, and we are really proud of their progress. Those two guys need to be challenged, and Chattanooga and Double-A baseball certainly provides that challenge."
It's hard to find anyone more pumped for Chattanooga's season to start than Lee, who already has a projected rotation and lineup in mind.
"I've got one written in the very lightest pencil," he said with a laugh. "I mean, what the heck else are we going to talk about? We have a plan for a perfect world and for the adjustments of an imperfect world.
"I'm really excited about all the scenarios for what's coming to Chattanooga."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.