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Prospects to get 'head start' with new helmet

Prospects to get 'head start' with new helmet

Those who play in the Arizona Fall League this season will be getting a quite literal "head start" on the competition.

It was announced earlier this week that the Rawlings S100 helmet would be required throughout all of Minor League Baseball in 2010. But the first circuit to make the new headgear mandatory is the AFL, an instructional league featuring prospects from all 30 Major League teams that begins play on October 13.

"The thought is that once you institute something in the Minor Leagues, those habits will carry over [to the Majors]," said MLB vice president of public relations, Pat Courtney.

The new helmet regulations were instituted in response to a series of frightening head injuries that have occurred around the Major Leagues this season. Players such as Edgar Gonzalez, Scott Rolen and David Wright have all suffered ill effects as a result of getting hit in the head by a pitched ball. The added safety is regarded as a plus by all, but the appearance and comfort of the new model is what some players may question.

The Minor Leagues, which has been used in the past to test more strict drug testing and tobacco use policies, will again serve as a guinea pig and possibly help integrate the new helmet into the Majors. By phasing in the helmet at the Minor League level, the next generation of players will be familiar with S100, making it more likely that they will continue to use it upon arrival to The Show.

"If it's about the safety of the players, then I'm all for it," said Reds prospect Yonder Alonso, who will suit up in the AFL as a member of the Peoria Saguaros. "Something like this could make us all a little bit better, because we're not going to be up there thinking about the dangers of getting hit by a pitch."

Pirates farmhand Brian Friday -- who will join the Scottsdale Scorpions in October -- has been hit in the head with a pitch on two occasions, so he appreciates any attempt to minimize injury.

"I have heard that the current helmets can only really withstand a 70-mph pitch, so in that regard I was really glad to hear about this," he said. "I just hope they're not too enormous."

Angels prospect Peter Bourjos, who was assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox, expressed similar sentiments.

"As long as it's not too big, I'm all for it," he said. "There have been times I've been at-bat wishing I had something extra, because you can end up feeling pretty defenseless up there."

There will certainly be some growing pains when it comes to the S100, and adjustments may be needed in response to player feedback on both the Major and Minor League levels. But, sooner or later, a comfort level will be attained.

"A helmet is a helmet," said Alonso. "Eventually we'll all get used to it."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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