After a number of questions from our readers, we’ve decided to start a “back to the basics” series. We’re going to start with looking at how rosters are made up at different levels. There are obvious differences between Major League and Little League teams.
How Many Players are on a Youth Baseball Team?
If you look at littleleague.org, you’ll find that there are very specific rules on roster construction. When a team is set up, there are some limitations based on how the league is set up.
Generally speaking 11-15 players per team for Little League play. The exception is if an organization is only creating one team.
To clarify, here’s an example. If the Washington Little League is creating a full league with four teams, each team can have 11-15 players. But they must balance the teams. So, one team can’t have 15 players while another team has 11 players.
However, if the Washington Little League is only putting one team together (to compete with teams from other leagues) they can have up to 20 players on the team.
Having a team of 15 or less may seem like a small group. When you consider the goals of most Little League associations, it makes more sense.
Excluding those who make it to the Little League World Series, generally the purpose is to teach players the fundamentals of the game, let them try out new positions, and get kids exercising.
You’ll find that pitchers play multiple positions and most positions aren’t specialized. Sure, the biggest kid typically plays first and the most athletic kid typically plays shortstop. But in general, you don’t have one player at the same position every day.
With positional flexibility and lower competition level, players can rotate around. That means that you don’t need as many players.
How Many Players are on a High School Baseball Team?
High school baseball rosters are a bit more specialized, so they have more players. Typically, high school teams have to follow state guidelines. Those guidelines can vary widely.
Most commonly, a team can carry about 15-20 players. Some teams are allowed to have additional players in the dugout, but not dressed to play the game.
Another key consideration is the fact that most schools have Varsity and Junior Varsity teams. In those cases, each “squad” is allowed 15-20 players.
We mentioned positional flexibility when talking about Little League teams. Now that players are teenagers, they’ve typically started to realize what they’re best at. With that, you have players that play specific positions.
It’s a lot less common for a high school team to put someone at 1B in one game, then CF the next game. The goal is to compete, win, and establish yourself for college or professional play.
Lacking flexibility means that a coach needs more players to get the same innings covered. Many coaches opt to carry the maximum number of players to improve their depth and prepare for injuries. This also allows a coach to consider strategy.
High school players have reached the age that they can differentiate their game and focus on power, speed, contact, or defense. A good high school coach will ensure that they have a good mix.
How Many Players are on a College Baseball Team?
There are five levels of college baseball, ranging from JUCO (Junior College/Community College) to Division 1. Division 1 is typically the biggest schools.
The NCAA has developed rules for how many players can be on a team, how many scholarships are allowed, and how much those scholarships can be worth. Below we have a table that offers that information.
For the purposes of this article, you should focus on the “average team size” column.
|Division Level||Number of Teams||Total Athletes||Average Team Size||Scholarship Limit Per Team||Limit Type|
If you want more information, follow this link: ncsasports.org/baseball/scholarships is a great resource.
As an interesting note, the NCAA is able to put a surprising number of restraints on athletes while they’re still in college. You’ll note that the numbers change dramatically between each division; including D3 not being able to provide scholarships to any players.
The number of players allowed on the roster is a mix of need and finances. It’s understood that rosters need to be large because of the number of innings that are being thrown.
Having young adults throwing the ball at 95+ mph significantly increases the risk of injury.
At the same time, schools are focused on making money on some level. Because scholarships become a key consideration for most teams.
Minor League Baseball
Roster numbers change based on what level we’re looking at. Generally speaking, after reaching the US, most minor league affiliates are limited to 28-30 players.
|US Rookie||No limit|
|International Rookie||35 players|
You’ll note that there is some relative consistency in these numbers. The theory here is that you need a certain number of players at any given level to account for promoting or demoting players.
The harsh reality is that players are moving all the time, and you need extra players to handle a pitcher who hasn’t gotten the rest the need or a player who just travelled across the country.
While organizations try to have their minor league affiliates relatively close together, it doesn’t always work out. The Yankees Low-A team is in Tampa and their High-A team is in New York. There’s also consideration for being on an away game when a player gets the call.
The logistics of moving players around means that they need a few extra roster spots to ensure that there is coverage when something happens.
Major League Baseball
This is the level that most people seem to know about. We’re going to dig a bit deeper into major league rosters because of how the rules change based on the situation.
Until 2020, an active Major League Roster consisted of 25 players. The current rule allows for 26 active players. The only exception is when there is a double header; teams can add a 27th player.
This rule changes on September 1 when rosters expand. On September 1, MLB allows 28 players on the roster until the post season begins.
Typically teams take advantage of this rule by giving some of their players a rest (if they’re preparing for the post season) or calling up young players who might make the roster the following year.
The MLB has also instituted rules on how many position players vs. pitchers a team can have. Teams are not allowed to carry more than 13 pitchers before September 1.
The theory here is that fans enjoy offense more than pitching. As a result, they want offensive players on the field.
MLB has also created rules on “two way players” to minimize any attempts at “working the system”. In short, players are designated as pitchers, position players, or two-way players at the start of the season.
Once the season begins, they cannot change their designation. Only pitchers and two-player can pitch unless a team is losing by seven runs or the game goes into extra innings.
MLB defines a two-way player as someone who pitches at least 20 innings and appears in 20 games as an offensive player and they get three plate appearances in each of those games.
40-Man Roster (Secondary Roster)
This is a list of all players who are allowed to join the Major League team at any given time. It consists of the 26 players who are on the active roster and another 14 players who are in the Minor Leagues but already have a major league contract.
In most cases, these players are ready to fill in for an injury. The players on the secondary roster can change throughout the season.
If someone is taken off of that roster, they’re placed on waivers where any other team “claim” that player and take over their contract.
|Major League Roster through 8/31||26|
|Major League Roster starting 9/1||28|
Ultimately, if you’re lucky baseball is a lifelong sport. Some people are able to play for 30 or 40 years before they have to retire.
The rules change with each league that you move to. If you’re planning to play in any of these leagues, we strongly encourage you to learn more about the league you’ll be in.
How many players are on a baseball team is a great place to start, but if you’re serious about the game, please read some of our other articles.
It’s important to know what equipment is allowed in your league, how to pick the right bats, etc. Whatever information you’re looking for, you should be able to find it on our site.
Thanks for reading!