There are nine players on the field. This concept hasn’t changed since the game’s invention in 1845. However, not every player can play every game, and with the increasing need for substitutions, roster sizes have changed. In fact, at just about every level of play, rosters are generally far above the nine needed on the field.
Different leagues allow anywhere between 22 and 26 players on the active roster. Because of the nature of baseball, teams need quality players in far excess of the nine on the field at any one time.
How Many Players are on an MLB Team?
A Major League Baseball team has 26 active players, with a 27th allowed for doubleheaders. After September 1, the rosters may be expanded to 28 for the remainder of the season.
There were changes put in place for the 2020 season, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant that different changes were put in place.
Initially, 30 active players would begin the season on a roster. After two weeks, the number dropped to 28, and after another two weeks, the roster limit would be at 26 for the remainder of the season.
However, due to COVID-19, MLB decided to keep roster limits at 28 after the initial drop from 300. Each team had a three-man taxi squad in the case of illness. In addition, there was a 60-player pool per team that was eligible for the season, which was their 40-man roster and other players under contract but not under a major league contract.
The active vs. 40-Man roster
In Major League Baseball, there is a 26-man roster that is in place for each game. In addition, there is a 40-man roster, which consists of the 26-man active roster and an additional 14 players under Major League contracts. Those 14 players are available at any time to be called up to the active roster.
In addition, to serve as an insurance policy, if injuries occur of a player on the active roster performs poorly, teams use the 40-man roster to protect their best minor league prospects.
There is a rule in Major League Baseball that requires teams to put a player on their 40-man roster within five years if signed at the age of 18 or younger and four years if signed at age 19 or above. If they are not added to the 40-man roster, they are unprotected and could be taken by another team during the offseason.
How Many Players on a Minor League Baseball Team?
Much like Major League Baseball, the minor leagues have roster limits. In all leagues that run full seasons, the active roster limit is 25 players, with 35 players under control for the Class A and A-advanced leagues. All short-season leagues, typically the Rookie Leagues, have roster limits of 35-players. The Rookie Leagues are usually occupied by recently drafted players or those under four years of professional experience. There are exceptions, such as Major League players who are there for a few games rehabbing an injury.
Independent League Roster Size
The Independent League consists of teams not affiliated with Major League Baseball. Due to a drastically more limited budget than affiliated teams, the roster limits are generally smaller. The one exception is the Atlantic League that has a 25-man roster since their season is a full 140-games. Some leagues, such as the Pecos League, have a maximum roster size of 22 players. In addition, all of the Independent Leagues, except for the Atlantic League, have restrictions based on player experience.
How Many Players on a College Team?
Rosters at the collegiate level are much larger than those at the professional level. In NCAA Division I, there are 35 players max on a roster. This number increased to 39 for Division II schools, while Division III schools may have 34 players. The roster limits for NAIA and NJCAA schools are 38 and 30 players, respectively.
The number of scholarships given at Division I schools is nearly 12 at any increment. That number drops to nine for Division II schools, while Division III schools do not give athletic scholarships. Interestingly enough, NAIA schools may offer up to 12 scholarships, while NJCAA schools may award 24 scholarships at most.
The demanding schedules, skill levels, injury factors, and experience at the college level are reasons for having much larger rosters than professional teams.
How Many Players are on a Youth Baseball Team?
Rosters sizes are difficult to pinpoint because of the lack of organizations that specify a roster limit. Nevertheless, these rosters are significantly smaller.
Most high school rosters range from 14 to 20 players. Many youth baseball teams have around 11 to 15 players. Little League Baseball does have a rule that says teams at most age divisions carry between 12 and 15 players on their roster.
There are several logical reasons why the rosters are smaller. High school games last fewer innings, and in many states, the number of games per season are a maximum of 30. There is not as much need for rest through the season. In addition, at the youth level, pitchers play other positions, eliminating the need for roster spots specifically for pitchers.
At the youth level, the number of innings per game is only six, and generally, the season is even shorter than that of high school. In addition, coaches at that level want to give each player a chance to play, which is much easier to accomplish with a smaller roster.
How Many Players are on an MLB Playoff Roster?
Once a team clinches a playoff berth, the post-season roster takes effect. Those on the roster at the end of the regular season are eligible for the playoffs. A player that was traded from a different team signed no later than August 31 and spent time in the Major Leagues is also eligible. Rosters for a series are set at the beginning of the series, and no changes can be made unless there is injury or any other inactive transaction.
To be eligible for the post-season roster, a player must have been on the team’s active roster or the disabled list no later than midnight ET on August 31. Players who did not appear in at least one Major League game before September 1 are also ineligible.
Those that are part of the final roster, regardless of playing time or spending most of the years in the Minor Leagues, will be eligible for a championship ring should the team win the World Series.
How Have Roster Sizes Changed?
Roster sizes have gradually increased over time, particularly at the Major League Baseball level. In 1912, the modern standard of 25 players was implemented. This roster size has remained constant except for 2020 and 2021, when the roster sizes increased to 26 due to COVID-19.
We aren’t sure if there was a maximum roster size when the National League began to play in 1876, but in 1881 the maximum was 11 players, which increased to 14 by the end of the decade. The reason for such small roster sizes is that there were very few pitchers, as pitchers completed a very high percentage of the games they started.
The American League had 18-man rosters when it was launched in 1901 but was reduced to 14 players a mere month into the season. Three years later, the Boston Americans used only 18 players during the entire 154-game schedule, including only five pitchers. Depth was never an issue for this team as they went on to win the American League title.
Rosters expanded to 17 players by 1908, and for the first time, teams were allowed to have up to 35 players under contract. A large number of those players played for the Minor League affiliate. Four years later, rosters expanded to 25 players, which was adopted by both leagues.
There have been times that the 25-man rosters were reduced, mainly during both World Wars, the Federal League Challenge during 1914 and 1915, and labor disputes of the late 1980s.
In the early part of the 1920s, the 40-man roster was instituted, as was the expansion of rosters in September. The 26th man was added in 2012 for doubleheaders and in 2020 due to COVID-19.
There have been significantly more players used over the years. Teams used an average of 41 players in 1912, which decreased to the 30s by the 1940s. However, the totals increased to near 40 to the low 40s between 1947 and 1989.
With the increasing use of relief pitchers starting in the 1990s, the average number of players per team in a season reached the upper 40s, and by the early 2000s, that number reached 50. The Seattle Mariners set a Major League record in 2019 by using a whopping 67 players throughout the season.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Designated Hitter?
The designated hitter (DH) is a player who bats for the pitcher. He doesn’t play the field and has been used in the American League since 1973. The National League used the DH in 2020 and possibly could be implemented again next season.
What is the Restricted List?
The restricted list lists players that have playing rights owned by a team despite not currently playing. A player might be on the list due to personal reasons that the team deems legitimate or if the player is planning on retiring.
What is the Paternity List?
The players that attend the birth of their children go on the paternity list. The team can add a player to the active roster to replace the player on the paternity list. A player on the paternity list must be on the list for at least one day but no more than three days.
Nine Positions in Baseball
The pitcher is probably the most important player on the field. The pitcher starts all plays and must pitch the ball in attempts to either strike out the batter or have the batter hit a ball not solidly so the fielders can make outs without allowing runs.
The catcher calls the game and is responsible for fielding pitches, pop-ups in the area, blocking pitches in the dirt, tagging runners trying to score, and throwing out potential base stealers.
The first baseman has to field ground balls, line drives, pop-ups, and bunts. He will occasionally be part of a successful pick-off attempt at first base and sometimes need to make throws to other bases.
The second baseman must cover ground up the middle and the area between him and the first baseman. He will be a part of double-plays and has to be able to make accurate throws to bases.
Like the second baseman, the shortstop must have a great range up the middle and in the hole between him and the third baseman. The shortstop will start double plays and have a dependable arm to make long throws from deep shortstop to first base.
The third baseman plays the “hot corner,” appropriately named because of the many hard-hit balls coming their way from pull-hitting right-handed hitters. The third basemen must be able to throw across the infield and field bunts coming their way.
The left fielder is generally the weaker of the three outfielders in terms of throwing strength since they make the shortest possible throws to the infield.
The center fielder should be the fastest runner that can cover the most ground. He must be able to take charge of balls in the gaps, in front of him and over his head. A strong arm is helpful but isn’t necessary.
The right fielder generally has the strong arm among the outfielders since he has the potentially longest throw to third base.