The Orioles announced their minor-league system for the 2021 season Wednesday, inviting the Aberdeen IronBirds to move up to High-A and replace the Frederick Keys, which will join the newly formed MLB Draft League beginning in May.
All teams must accept the invitations before they are officially named Orioles affiliates.
“We are proud to continue the Orioles’ tradition of creating baseball across Maryland and our region,” Orioles GM Mike Elias said in a statement. “We believe the structure of our minor league affiliates will enable us to continue fortifying a robust pipeline of talent that will graduate top prospects to Camden Yards in the very near future and for years to come, and we are excited to have secured a home for the MLB Draft League in Maryland as well.”
Baltimore was not alone in announcing its new affiliates Wednesday. Many other teams across baseball released theirs as well, resulting in 119 invites extended to minor league clubs across the country. According to Baseball America, there were 11 full-season affiliates that didn’t receive an invitation for 2021, though six of those clubs will instead be part of the MLB Draft League.
MLB announced Nov. 30 that it would be hosting a first-of-its-kind MLB Draft League next season with six teams rostering draft-eligible prospects in order to keep competitive baseball in select towns that were losing minor league affiliation status. The MLB Draft was also pushed back to July instead of June in order to make it a part of the annual All-Star Week.
The league originally named the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears, and the Williamsport Crosscutters as the first five teams to join the MLB Draft League. Frederick now becomes the sixth, with the Orioles announcing their intention to “maintain their strong presence in the [Frederick] region through baseball development and a series of entertainment and economic initiatives.”
As for the rest of the Orioles’ affiliates, the Norfolk Tides, Bowie Baysox and Delmarva Shorebirds will remain in Triple-A, Double-A and low-A, respectively.
The New York-Penn League, where the IronBirds had played since 2002, will be replaced by extended spring training at teams’ minor league complexes. Elias told reporters Tuesday that their spring training stadium in Sarasota, Florida, could also end up hosting a second Gulf Coast League team next summer as well.
This will be the first time since 2010 that the Orioles have altered their affiliate structure.