Baseball has always been a renowned and competitive sport. With many tactics involved in its complex strategy, it’s managed to gather devoted fans worldwide. That’s why I want to devote this article to explaining how many players on a baseball team are there and what their unique roles consist of.
Knowing baseball facts will further strengthen your love for the sport and help you enjoy every second of it. If you’re a young fan, it may also motivate you to try your skills out on the field yourself.
When I first got into the sport, I had lots of questions about the game and its rules. It took me a long time before I got the ins and outs that helped me better understand it and excel in it.
So if you’ve ever found yourself on the bleachers having a hard time following the game, I’ve got your back! Continue reading to discover the number of players in different baseball games and their roles!
How Many Players on a Baseball Team
Since many baseball games differ based on difficulty and experience, the ones I’ll focus on are:
- Standard baseball team roster
- Major League Baseball (MLB) roster size
- Minor League Baseball roster size
- Collegiate baseball roster size
- Youth and amateur baseball teams
With my experience in sports science and playing for the New York Yankees, I’ll explain each player’s purpose in the game. Besides the number of players, their unique tasks also play an important role in the game. Without further stalling, here’s how many players on a baseball field at one time are there.
Standard baseball team roster
So how many players in baseball game are allowed? The standard baseball team roster consists of 26 active players. Most of them have specific roles that I’ve found useful for planning strategies and tactics. Here are the number of players for each position and their unique roles:
- 8 position players – in this section, you’ll see the catcher, three outfielders, and four infielders; these players participate in the game on a regular basis
- 5 starting pitchers – these players are the team’s first pitchers at the beginning of the game; they form the starting and pitching rotation and need up to five days rest after a game
- 7 relief pitchers – the players who pitch after the starting pitchers; this part of the team also includes a closer who’s specialized in achieving the final outs; these players are also referred to as the bullpen since that’s the area where they warm up before entering the game
- 1 backup catcher – in case the main catcher is injured, sick, or over-exhausted, this player takes his place
- 5 backup utility players – these players are known for their ability to cover multiple positions; in most cases, they’re used as outfielders and infielders
Major League Baseball (MLB) roster size
Major League Baseball, also known as MLB, is a professional sports league in the US and Canada. So it’s easy to say that I was part of the second-wealthiest professional sports league after the NFL. Since it’s controlled by the Major League Baseball Constitution, each team is asked to follow specific rules.
The Major League Baseball roster is made of players who are allowed to play for an MLB team. Each of the teams has two rosters you should know. These are the active and extended rosters. The first one consists of players who are eligible to play in an MLB game.
Throughout history, the number of players included in a roster was 25. But I’ve noticed that in some seasons, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, in 2020, the MLB teams were allowed to have up to 28 active players. In 2021, there were 26 players in the active roster and 40 in the extended one.
MLB active roaster
In today’s age, the active roster includes the following players:
- 8 relief pitchers
- 5 starting pitchers
- 6 infielders
- 5 outfielders
- 2 catchers
Besides these crucial roles, there’s also a full-time designated hitter. They’re classified as either an infielder or an outfielder since they can play defensive positions as well.
With the changes in 2012, teams were allowed to include an additional active player. They were allowed to take part in “day-night” doubleheaders and games at neutral sites. The latest changes I witnessed were in 2020 when it was decided that teams would have 26-man active rosters.
MLB extended roaster
The extended roster includes the active players, as well as reserve players under a major-league contract. We often refer to it as the 40-man roster. Furthermore, these players can be called up to the active roster at any moment. Thus, there are people who are on the injured list or from the minor league with major-league contracts.
The all-star roster is formed from players who participate in the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game. This special occasion happens during mid-season, and I had the luck to compete in four of them.
During these games, an American League team competes against a National League one. The number of players on this roster has varied throughout history. But since 2010, there have been 34 players on each roster.
Minor League Baseball roster size
Minor League Baseball falls under the MLB. It’s made from lower-tier teams affiliated with the major clubs. Same as the Major League, there are both active and extended rosters present. Once again, the active roster has players eligible to take part in games. The extended one has players on the injured list, with restrictions and suspensions, and who are temporarily inactive.
The roster size for the Minor League is limited based on the classification level. Since I had the chance to study these leagues, I’ll explain each roster size separately.
Roster sizes based on classification levels
Here are the Minor League levels and their appropriate roster sizes:
- Triple-A – consists of a 28-man active roster and doesn’t have any restrictions
- Double-A – same as the triple-A, it doesn’t have any restrictions and has 28 players on the active roster
- High-A – includes a 30-man active roster and has several restrictions; thus, it mustn’t include more than two players and one player-coach with over six years of experience in the league
- Single-A – same as the High-A, there are 30 players in the active roster that fall under restrictions; in this classification, there shouldn’t be more than two players with over five years of league experience
- US-based rookie – there’s no limit for the active roster, but some restrictions are present; at this level, it’s not allowed to have more than three players with over four years of experience
- International rookie – with a 35-man active roster, players with over four years of league experience aren’t allowed
Collegiate baseball roster size
College baseball roster sizes are bigger than those of professional leagues. This is due to the variety of skills and experience the players have. Furthermore, a bigger roster size is also an attempt to minimize the risk of injury for those with busy schedules.
Since collegiate baseball also offers scholarships, there are several division levels I’ve come across. Here they are based on the roster size and scholarships available:
- Division 1 – the average team size for a D1 division consists of 35 players; as for scholarships, they’re limited to 11.7 per team
- Division 2 – in the D2 division, the team size is limited to 39 players, but there are only 9 scholarships per team
- Division 3 – the team size for D3 is up to 34 players; however, there’s no further information about the scholarship limits
- NAIA – these teams are limited to 38, out of which only 12 scholarships are available
- JUCO – with the smallest team size, this division is limited to 30, from which 24 are eligible for scholarships
Youth and amateur baseball teams
Younger inexperienced players are often limited to smaller baseball teams. With my experience in coaching young players, I’ve noticed a big difference based on the specific classification. The sizes usually vary for high school, youth, and Little League Baseball rosters. So the easiest way for me to explain them is to go through each of them separately.
Here are the different roster sizes you should know:
- High School Baseball – these teams are usually limited to around 14 or 20 players; since there are approximately 30 games per season, there’s a smaller need for rest between them
- Youth Baseball – youth teams consist of 11 to 15 players; in these games, there are many pitchers who also play other roles; thus, there’s no need for additional players
- Little League Baseball – Little League rosters are determined by age divisions; while the Tee Ball and Minor League contain from seven to 10 players, the others are limited to 15
Impact of Roster Size on Team Strategy
Each sport has its own unique strategies that make the games more entertaining. One tactic used by many teams to have an advantage is assigning the appropriate pitchers to specific batters.
The general rule is that right-handed batters are more successful when playing against left-handed pitchers. Thus, having a bigger roster meant that we could include both left-handed and right-handed backup pitchers.
Having a diverse team of pitchers and backup players also allows the team manager to make more suitable combinations. Changing players gives an opportunity of creating favorable matchups against the opposing team.
Historical Changes in Roster Size
Baseball is an ever-evolving sport with frequent changes to its rules and regulations. This affects the limitation of the roster size as well. However, it’s noticeable that the number of players has gradually risen over the years. Even though there aren’t any drastic changes in amateur levels, several crucial changes are noticeable in the professional league.
During the founding of the National League in 1876, the roster size was limited to less than 20 players. This rule existed until 1912 when the long-standing modern rule of 25-man rosters was established. In today’s age, we still follow the rules from 2020, stating that the limited roster size is 26 players.
Most of the changes in the team sizes were implemented due to financial constraints and game dynamics. For example, during the Great Depression, teams were limited to fewer players to help save money. The political impact in certain periods, such as World War II, also affected this sport. As the economy began to recover, the rosters were expanded gradually.
With this expansion, players could fill new positions, show off their skills, and plan more delicate strategies. Furthermore, reserve players could cover the positions in case of injuries or suspensions.
Overview of roster size changes throughout the years
To better understand how this sport evolved, I want to show you all the important changes in roster size. Here are all the implemented rules that led to today’s 26-man active roster size:
- 1881 – the roster size was limited to only 11 players, which gradually increased to 14; during this period, there were very few pitchers who had to perform flawlessly for their team
- 1885 – the team St. Louis Browns had 15 players, of which only three were pitchers
- 1901 – the start of the American League; even though the roster size was limited to 18 men in the beginning, these numbers dropped to 14 within the first months
- 1904 – setting a 20th-century record, the Red Sox had only an 18-man team throughout the whole 154-game season
- 1908 – the active roster was limited to 17 players, but an extended roster was also included; thus, the teams could have up to 35 players under a league contract
- 1912 – the renowned 25-man roster was set in place and was followed until 2020; during this period, there were several exclusions that took place; such were the Great Depression, the World Wars, and the 1980s labor unrest
- 1921 – the inclusion of the 40-man extended roster
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the minimum number of players to start a baseball game?
The number of players in baseball is based on the positions they would play in. Generally, nine players are needed on each team to start a baseball game. They will fill in the roles of a pitcher, a catcher, three outfielders, and four infielders.
Can a baseball team have more than the standard number of players on their roster?
The standard roster size varies depending on the baseball league. The latest changes in the rules require each professional MLB team to consist of a 25-man active roster. But in the past, I’ve noticed seasons where these teams were made of 28 players, as seen in the year 2020.
What happens if a team does not have enough players to fill the roster?
All teams are required to submit and verify their roster before any tournament. In case the team is unable to provide nine players on the field, then the game is forfeited to the opposing team.
How does international play affect roster size?
Based on the World Baseball Classic rules and regulations, each team must determine a 30-man roster. Furthermore, the team must include at least two catchers and 14 pitchers.
Is the designated hitter counted as a part of the roster?
If a team has a designated hitter, they’re counted as part of the roster. This player will either be classified as an infielder or outfielder due to their defensive positions.
After discovering how many players on a baseball team are allowed, I hope you’ll better understand this amazing sport. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get all the rules from the first time. Baseball still is a complex game that goes through frequent changes and evolvements.
Depending on the league you’re interested in, the number of players in each roster may vary. Even though a 26-man active roster is seen as a standard, at least nine players are needed for each match. So now that you know the positions and their purpose, just grab some snacks and enjoy an exhilarating game!