The rules of baseball have always stipulated that there are nine positions on the pitch available for players. As a result, there are only nine players on the field at any one time, but there can be up to 25 players in a single team’s roster.
Beginning in 2021, up to 28 players can be added to an active roster in professional baseball, after September 1st each season.
With the need for substitutions or other replacements becoming evident, it’s also advised that there can also be up to 15 players that aren’t playing that add to the roster. Whether or not these players are position players or pitchers is up to the discretion of the manager, and not dictated by the rules.
At any one time, the full roster cannot include more than 40 players.
In baseball, there are nine defensive positions available on the field for players to fill. These positions are written in the rules and have different roles to fill.
The pitcher’s job is to throw the ball and both begin the game and keep the game moving along. They stand on the pitcher’s mound and throw the ball to the batter, who attempts to hit the ball. Whilst the pitcher doesn’t necessarily want the batter to hit the ball, if they do, the pitcher is also allowed to retrieve the ball in an attempt to get the runner out.
Pitchers are skilled players and train vigorously to learn how to throw the ball as effectively as possible. There are different types of throws in baseball, including curveballs, sinkers and forkballs.
Whilst there are different types of throws a pitcher can achieve, there are also different types of pitchers used throughout a game of baseball. For example, relief pitchers are used towards the end of a game and are used to pitch certain innings. Each pitcher is selected purposefully for their role by the coach, based on their handedness, the handedness of the batter or how well they statistically matchup to the batter.
More about relief pitchers: What is the bullpen in baseball?
The catcher crouches behind the batter on the home plate. Their role is quite self-explanatory, as they are expected to catch the ball if the batter misses. As a result of their positioning, the catcher is also the last defending player when a runner is approaching the home plate.
Additionally, the catcher can also help the pitcher by signalling what kind of throw would be best to make. This is done via a series of cues, which are signals players use between themselves to communicate. These cues can be either verbal or nonverbal – such as hand motions. The catcher can also communicate with the rest of the team with these methods.
There are three basemen on the field at any one time during a game of baseball, and each one’s roles are similar in nature.
The first baseman’s responsibility is to retrieve or field balls that are headed towards first base. They also usually work alongside the pitcher to try and prevent the first base runner from advancing to the second base.
The second baseman’s rule is similar to the first, except that they receive the ball at the second base rather than the first. The first and second basemen work closely together, along with the pitcher.
The third baseman’s job is to defend the third base, in case the first and second basemen have let a runner advance to second base.
The third baseman is one of the last lines of defense, along with the catcher, who has the ability to out a player advancing to third or home base. They field many balls as the balls usually are hit in their direction.
The shortstop’s role is incredibly important on the field. They usually stand between second and third base, and they are tasked with retrieving the ball when it’s thrown to the left-hand side of the field. Working with the second baseman, the shortstop can retrieve the ball whilst the second baseman tries to cover their base. Whilst the ball usually swings out to the left after being hit, the shortstop can also cover second base as the second baseman retrieves a ball from the right-hand side of the field.
The shortstop is utilised a lot during a game of baseball as balls are usually hit towards the left, towards the third baseman.
The Outfield Players
Similarly to the three basemen, there are also three fielders. These include the left fielder, the right fielder and the center fielder. As these players are posted in the outfield, they usually stand outside of the baseball diamond, in the grassy area.
Their roles are all quite similar in that they are employed to catch long balls. If an infielder catches a long ball, the batter is automatically out. On the contrary, if they do not catch the ball, they are able to throw it back to the infield players.
The three fielders also serve as backup to the infielders, and can lend assistance if needed to. Whilst the three fielders have very similar roles to one another, the center fielder has more space to cover and needs to be significantly faster to cover more ground.
What is the 40 Man Roster in Baseball?
The 40 man roster in baseball is used to maintain teams and keep the game fair. By setting a limit for 40 men per roster, teams are easier to manage for both the offense and defense. Whilst not all 40 men will be used in a single game, substitutes can be made in case there are injuries or other reasons.
Active Team VS 40 Man Roster
Since 2021, an active roster is allowed to include 28 players in professional baseball leagues. This is different to 2020, when 26 were allowed, and different still from before then when it was a maximum of 25. Additionally, there’s a 40 man roster which includes the 28 players in the active roster, and an extra 12, which make up the full 40.
To be considered for the active roster, a player must already be in a 40 man roster.
Whilst the 40 man roster serves as a backup for in case any injuries occur, it’s also used as a way to ensure that teams can hold control over minor league players that they deem promising or want to use to their advantage in the future.
There are rules and stipulations that must be abided by when creating and maintaining a 40 man roster, including the amount of time a player should be playing for a team before being signed up. A player signed at 18 or younger should be added to the roster within five years of being signed, or within four if a player 19 or older has been signed. If these players are left, then they are left with the risk that they can be drafted by another team during the offseason.
What is a Restricted List in Baseball?
The restricted list in baseball contains the players who are not currently playing, but their playing rights are owned by a team. A player can be added to the restricted list if they either intend to retire or have previously left a team without a valid reason.
The restricted list is used in case a player wants to return to the sport in the future. For example, if a younger player who retired decided that they wanted to return, they are given that chance by being on the restricted list. The restricted list, in a sense, is like a waiting room.
History of Roster Sizes in Baseball
Roster sizes in baseball have changed over the years, with the most recent change being from the 1st September 2021.
Previously, the standard for roster size had been at 25 (or 26 in 2020). The 25 man roster size was standardised in 1912, but until then, had been significantly lower. When the National League was founded in 1876, the team roster was limited to just 11 players, which was later increased to 14 in the 1880s.
Whilst these rosters were small, there was a reason behind it. During the earlier leagues, the different types of pitchers hadn’t been fully conceptualized, and usually just one pitcher played for the full game. Nowadays, a team could easily go through five to seven pitchers in a single game, with each one serving a specific purpose.
Roster sizes remained consistent from 1912, with temporary reductions put in place on a couple of occasions, such as the Great Depression, WW1 and WW2, along with civil unrest in the 1980s. There was a temporary increase after WW2, when the roster was raised to 48 due to players coming home. The roster was also increased from 1962-1965, and again in 1994, when the roster was raised to 41.
The size of the roster throughout history reflects the size of the teams that are used and how many players are utilized during those games. As mentioned earlier, the lack of different types of pitchers in the beginning saw a lot of teams using smaller rosters, as there wasn’t a great need for more available players.
More about the history of baseball: Who invented baseball?
How Many Players are on a Youth Baseball Team?
Whilst Little League Baseball mandates that at least 12-15 players are carried by teams in certain age brackets, they are an exception to most other youth baseball teams.
Roster limits in youth baseball (high school and younger), don’t have their roster sizes specified by any organizations.
Most players in youth baseball fulfil different roles and hold different positions. For instance, pitchers may also participate in other roles which decreases the need for a specific set of pitchers.
With games being shorter, there is also less need for more players and potential substitutes.
How Many Players are on a College Baseball Team?
At college level, baseball teams usually carry more than what even Major League Baseball allows. This is partly due to the fact that there can be a large difference in terms of skills amongst college aged players, and that the teams also need to have options to protect players from injury – especially with their schedules being so full.
Additionally, NCAA division 1 are given a 35 player limit, whilst NCAA Division 2 are granted a limit of 39, and Division 3 are allowed 35 players on their roster.
How Many Players are on a Minor League Baseball Team?
Minor League Baseball has almost merged its roster size regulations with Major League Baseball’s. As a result, the active roster in Minor League Baseball for class A-Advanced leagues is capped at 25. However, short-season leagues have a roster of 35.
Major League players on rehabilitation assignments don’t count towards the roster limit in the Minor League.
Minor Leagues that aren’t affiliated with MLB often have differing roster sizes. For instance, the Pecos League allows teams to carry 22 players, and the American Association has a limit of 23 players in a roster.