Pitchers and catchers will have the option of using newly tested signaling devices as they decide what pitches to throw in the upcoming regular season.
This technology could help to advance Major League Baseball beyond the risk of the sign-stealing scandals that have plagued the sport in the past decade.
MLB sent a memo Tuesday advising teams about the approved usage of devices referred to within the industry as PitchCom. Using a pad with buttons on the wrist of the gloved hand, a catcher can signal pitches -- pitch type and location -- directly to the pitcher through a listening device.
Up to three teammates of the pitcher and catcher will also have access to the signals, aiding fielders in positioning. It is available in English and Spanish.
"It basically eliminates all need to create a sign system, for a catcher giving signs,'' MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak said. "You literally just press a button and it delivers the pitch call to the pitcher. And what we've seen so far, it really improves pace of game."
Change in baseball is often slowed by tradition, but the first reviews of the PitchCom system this spring have been glowing, with players raving about how the electronic process of pitch-signaling has been seamless, helping with the flow of the pitchers' actions on the mound
"I think it was great," Severino told reporters. "I was a little doubtful at the beginning, but when we started using it, it was really good -- with a man on second, too. I would definitely like to use it in my first start [of the regular season]. ... You know what pitch you're going to throw right away."
Pitchers and catchers will continue to have the option of using the traditional method of signaling -- catchers flashing fingers of their throwing hand in coded sequences to suggest a pitch selection.
But it seems inevitable that PitchCom will see broad use within the sport as players get more familiar with the technology, and because of ongoing concerns over sign-stealing by opponents.
"I think it can be beneficial when it comes to August, September and October and you're pushing towards the playoffs, with all the scouts in the stands and eyes on you trying to decipher what you're throwing," Keuchel said. "It'll be nice not to have go through several sets of signs."
Said teammate Dylan Cease: "It'll definitely reduce sign-stealing."
Pitchers and catchers have long been concerned about on-field sign-stealing by baserunners and coaches, but through the years, there have been cases of illicit sign-stealing.
In one of the most notorious chapters in baseball history, the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros were determined by the commissioner's office to have used a sign-stealing system designed to identify forthcoming pitches for hitters in real time during their at-bats, through the use of a TV monitor set up behind the Astros' dugout.
The revelations resulted in the suspensions and firings of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in January 2020, and the suspension of Alex Cora, who was the bench coach for the 2017 Astros. Cora managed the Boston Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title, but resigned after he was suspended; he was rehired by Boston before the 2021 season.
Hinch is now the manager of the Detroit Tigers.
Carlos Beltran was a player on the 2017 Astros, and after his role within the Houston sign-stealing system was revealed, he resigned as manager of the New York Mets before what was expected to be his first spring training in that role.
Beltran explained in an interview with the YES Network that the Astros believed that other teams were also guilty of stealing signs, and that Houston wanted to effectively offset those efforts.
The Yankees, Red Sox and other teams also were investigated by MLB for sign-stealing violations. There is wariness over the possibility that the PitchCom technology could be hacked during a game, but as one executive said recently, the NFL has successfully used signaling technology for years, with quarterbacks wearing listening devices built into their helmets.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.