In baseball, it is known by just about everyone that there are nine players on the field. Ever since the rules of baseball were first drawn up in 1845, that is a concept of the game that has never changed.
However, as the game evolved, the need for substitutions became evident, meaning that more than nine players were needed on the roster. Many more.
So how many players are on a baseball team?
In professional baseball, different leagues allow anywhere from 22 to 26 players on an active roster. Additionally, beginning in 2021, Major League Baseball will allow teams to expand rosters to 28 players after September 1 each season. Amateur levels of baseball allow a varying number of players.
Much like the old saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”, it can also take a village to field a baseball team. Because of the nature of the sport, a successful team needs quality players beyond just the nine players on the field at any given point.
How Many Players Are on an MLB Team?
At the highest levels of the sport, there have been strict roster restrictions for decades and Major League Baseball (MLB) is no different.
As a disclaimer, the following paragraph applies only to normal seasons, and not to the unusual 2020 season. However, we’ll cover that a little later too.
A Major League Baseball team carries 26 active players, with a 27th player allowed for doubleheaders. Additionally, after September 1, teams are permitted to carry 28 players for the remainder of the regular season, with the roster reverting to 26 players for the postseason.
There were stipulations put in place for the 2020 season, though the oddities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in different changes. Originally the plan called for 30 active players for the first two weeks, 28 for the two weeks after that, and 26 for the remainder of the season.
Instead, after the initial drop to 28 players, MLB elected to leave the roster at that number for the remainder of the season. Additionally, each team traveled with a three-man taxi squad to be readily available in the event of an injury or illness.
All of these players were a part of an additional 60-player pool that each team designated as their eligible players for the season, consisting of their entire 40-man roster, plus additional prospects or other players under contract but not on the 40-man roster (i.e. not under a major league contract).
It should be noted that players that are placed on the Injured List, Paternity List, or Restricted List are not considered on the active roster and do not count against the active roster limit, though they do count towards the 40 and 60-man limits.
Active vs 40-Man Roster
In virtually every other professional sport, teams are constrained by one roster for an entire season, with per-game restrictions. NFL teams carry 53 players, but only 45 are active in each game.
NHL teams have 23 players, but only 20 are active each night. NBA teams are restricted to 15 players, with 13 active per game.
Major League Baseball has a 26 man roster that is in place for every game, plus a second 40 man roster, which consists of the 26 active players, plus 14 additional players under Major League contracts that are readily available in case of injury or ineffective performance.
To be on an active roster, a player must also be on the 40-man roster. In addition to serving as insurance for injury or poor performance, the 40-man roster serves to allow teams to ensure control of their most promising minor league players.
Major League Baseball rules require teams to place a player on their 40-man roster within a certain number of years (five years if signed at 18 years or younger, four years if signed at 19 years or older) or leave them unprotected at the risk of being drafted in the offseason by another team.
Until the 2020 season, teams were allowed to expand their active rosters from 25 players to the full 40-man limit after September 1, making them the only major sport to have differing roster sizes at different points of the season.
Going into the 2021 season, roster changes after September 1 will be less drastic, with a rise to 28 active players taking place in September, instead of up to 40.
How Many Players Are on a Minor League Baseball Team?
Like Major League Baseball, the minor leagues that house prospects looking to reach The Show are constrained by roster limits, which for most of the past century has overlapped MLB’s rules.
In all full-season leagues, the active roster is 25 players, with 35 total players under control for Class A and Class A-Advanced leagues. All short-season leagues have an active roster of 35 players. Additionally, major league players on rehab assignments do not count against minor league roster limits.
Short-season leagues, which are usually filled with recently drafted players, also do not allow players with more than three or four years of experience (depending on the league), unless they are a major league player rehabbing an injury.
For independent league teams that are not affiliated with Major League Baseball, their roster limits are usually smaller due to smaller budgets. The Atlantic League has the same 25-man roster as full-season minor leagues, mainly due to also having the same 140-game schedule as those leagues.
Meanwhile, among leagues playing shorter schedules, the Frontier League allows 24 players, each American Association team may have 23 active roster players, and the Pecos League allows their teams to carry 22 players.
Also, all of these leagues except the Atlantic League have restrictions on experience for players in their respective leagues.
How Many Players Are on a College Baseball Team?
At the collegiate baseball level, rosters are considerably larger than the professional level, with the added provision that baseball scholarships are parceled out among players.
NCAA Division I baseball teams are limited to 35 players, while Division II schools may carry 39 players, and Division III teams may have 34 on their roster. Additionally, NAIA schools are allowed 38 players, while NJCAA institutions are limited to 30 players.
Financial aid also varies among different levels. At the NCAA level, Division I schools may award the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships at any increment, while Division II may do the same with nine scholarships.
Division III does not allow the awarding of athletic scholarships. Furthermore, NAIA schools allow the equivalent of 12 scholarships, while junior college programs may award up to 24.
College baseball rosters are often bigger due to players of vastly different skills and experience on the roster, as well as attempting to protect younger players from injury, particularly with demanding schedules.
How Many Players Are on a Youth Baseball Team?
At the high school and lower levels, roster sizes are a little more difficult to nail down. This is because few governing organizations specify any sort of roster limits. However, these rosters are also considerably smaller.
High school baseball rosters have no set limits but usually contain 14-20 players. Meanwhile, youth baseball teams tend to have 11-15 players. Little League Baseball is one exception, mandating that teams at most age divisions carry between 12 and 15 players.
There are a variety of reasons why rosters are smaller. At the high school level, games last seven innings and in most states, few, if any, teams play more than 30 games in a regular season, meaning that there is less need to rest players throughout a season.
Additionally, as is the case in youth baseball, many pitchers also play other positions, reducing the need for additional roster players. In high school, some pitchers may only pitch, but many pitchers also play other positions.
Meanwhile, at younger levels, virtually all pitchers play other positions, further reducing the number of roster spots needed.
Plus, in youth baseball, games are considerably shorter, with few games lasting longer than six innings in most cases.
The shorter games, plus the added incentive of most youth baseball coaches in giving equal playing time to all players, means that a smaller roster makes more sense.
How Have Roster Sizes Changed Over Time in Baseball?
Like most sports, roster sizes in baseball have gradually risen over time. At the amateur level, team sizes haven’t risen as much, since their sizes remain small, but Major League Baseball roster sizes have seen a noticeable change over time.
Roster sizes were considerably smaller than 20 players from the founding of the National League in 1876 until 1912 when the modern standard of 25 players was established. This roster size for the most part persisted until the active roster was expanded to 26 players for the 2020 season.
It is unclear if there was a maximum roster size when the National League debuted in 1876, but it is known in 1881 that the maximum was just 11 players, which was increased to 14 players later in the 1880s.
As tiny as these rosters were, it should be noted that teams employed very few pitchers, and the ones that they did employ were expected to finish what they started.
In 1885, the American Association champions St. Louis Browns (both the league and team are unrelated to 20th-century incarnations of the same names) used only 15 total players and just three pitchers over their 112 games—and 111 of those contests were complete games.
Even as the 20th century dawned, roster sizes remained very small. In 1901, the American League was launched and had 18-man rosters, but less than a month into the regular season, the roster size was dropped to 14 players.
The 1904 Boston Americans (Red Sox) set a 20th-century record by only using 18 players for an entire 154-game season, including just five pitchers. The lack of depth did not matter, though, as Boston won the American League pennant.
By 1908, rosters expanded to 17 players, and an expanded roster of sorts was introduced, with teams allowed to have up to 35 players under contract, even if they were playing for a team in the minors.
In 1912, the 25-man roster was instituted, and both leagues adopted them permanently, which remained the case until 2020.
Since the induction of the 25-man roster, there have been temporary reductions during both World Wars, the Great Depression, the Federal League Challenge of 1914-15, and labor unrest in the late 1980s.
The modern 40-man roster was instituted in 1921, in addition to expanded rosters in September. The limit was briefly raised to 41 between 1962-65, and again in 1994.
Following the end of World War II, the limit was as high as 48 players in 1945-46 to accommodate players returning home.
MLB roster rules remained the same from 1990 to 2019, with 25 active players and 40 players on the expanded roster. The only exception is the 26th man, which MLB allowed beginning in 2012 to allow an extra player only for doubleheaders.
As stated earlier, the 2020 season intended to utilize a 26 man roster with a 28-man roster in September, though these changes were not entirely implemented in the shortened season, meaning that they will fully come into effect for the 2021 campaign.
With these changes over time, there are noticeable upward trends in the number of players used. With the introduction of the 25-man roster in 1912, the average team used just over 41 players, after using 38 the year before.
While those numbers decreased towards the mid-to-upper ’30s, by the late 1940s, teams began regularly using 40 or more players per season, with average player totals hovering between 38 and 43 players a year between 1947 and 1989.
In the 1990s, the proliferation of relief pitching caused those numbers to rise, averaging 44 players in 1990, 46 players in 1996, and nearly 48 players in 2000.
After a dip in the early 2000s, average player usage passed 50 players a season in 2015 and reached nearly 56 players per team, per season in 2019.
In 2019, the Seattle Mariners set a major league record by using 67 players throughout the season, with the St. Louis Cardinals using an MLB-low 43 players.
In other words, there are already a lot of players on a baseball team these days, but it doesn’t mean that teams aren’t afraid to shuffle in yet even more players.
What Is the Restricted List in Baseball?
The restricted list is a list of players who aren’t currently playing but have their playing rights owned by a team. A player can be put on the restricted list if they left the team without a valid reason or because they intend to retire.
Putting a young player who retires/intends to retire on the restricted list is a wise decision because you never know if they may want to come out of retirement.
What Is a Designated Hitter?
A designated hitter (DH) is a player who bats for the pitcher in the lineup. The DH doesn’t play in the field and is primarily used in the American League. National League teams don’t use the DH but did so for the 2020 season, which was affected by Covid 19.
What Is the Paternity List?
The paternity list is the list players go on to attend the birth of their children. Players on this list don’t count against the active roster and can be replaced by another player while on the list. Players who go on the paternity list must stay there for at least one day but no more than three days.