Learning about the new Orioles' minor league world - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Learning about the new Orioles’ minor league world

The 2021 minor league season is shrouded in mystery. No schedules have been released, and it’s been known for a few weeks, at least that Double-A, High-A and Low-A leagues won’t be starting in early April. No start date has been pinpointed.

To keep the number of players in Florida lower, minor league spring training won’t begin until April, and the season won’t start until May. The Triple-A season might be delayed, too, Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias hinted in a video conference call on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, Major League Baseball released the final list of 120 affiliated teams. In December, the Orioles invited Norfolk to continue as its Triple-A affiliate for 10 years. Bowie will continue as the Orioles’ Double-A team, and Aberdeen is to replace Frederick in High-A. Delmarva remains the Orioles’ Low-A team.

While those affiliations were all disclosed more than two months ago, what wasn’t known was how the teams would be grouped.

The old minor leagues are gone, in name and in fact.

No longer is there a Pacific Coast League, which once featured the largest cities on the West Coast, many of which began major league strongholds. The old International League has vanished, too.

The Eastern, Carolina, South Atlantic and New York/Penn leagues are gone.

Norfolk is part of the Triple-A East league. The Tides will play in the Southeast Division, along with Charlotte, Durham, Gwinnett and three teams that hadn’t been in the International League — Jacksonville, Memphis and Nashville.

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are one of the cooler names in minor league baseball. Overall, there are 20 teams in the new Triple-A East.

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Three new teams — Iowa, Omaha and St. Paul, formerly a successful independent outfit — are in the same Midwest division as Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and Toledo.

The Northeast Division is more familiar with Buffalo, Lehigh Valley, Rochester, Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Syracuse and Worcester, which was formerly Pawtucket.

It’s unknown how many of the other 19 International League teams Norfolk will play each season.

Bowie plays in the Southeast Division of Double-A Northeast. Its opponents are recognizable names from the Eastern League. Only Somerset (New Jersey), which was long a successful team in the independent Atlantic League, is new. The New York Yankees moved on from Trenton after last season and affiliated with Somerset.

Along with the Frederick Keys, the Trenton Thunder are among six teams in new MLB Draft League — designed to showcase top MLB draft prospects.

The Aberdeen IronBirds are part of the five-team North Division of High-A East. The IronBirds join Brooklyn and Hudson Valley,  also former members of the New York/Penn League, and two members of the old Carolina League — Jersey Shore, formerly Lakewood, and Wilmington.

Delmarva joins the North Division of Low-A East along with three teams formerly in the Carolina League — Fredericksburg, Lynchburg and Salem.

Washington’s longtime Carolina League affiliate, Potomac, has moved to Fredericksburg. Hagerstown, which was once an Orioles affiliate and in recent years the Nationals’ Low-A team, has lost its affiliation, leaving Western Maryland without professional baseball.

The Florida State League, which was on the same level with the Carolina League, has morphed into Low-A Southeast.

Other changes include another independent team, the Sugar Land Skeeters becoming Houston’s Triple-A team.

Because of a lack of approved Triple-A affiliates in the East, the Nationals were forced to have their top minor league team in Fresno, California.

The St. Paul Saints have affiliated with Minnesota, leaving open Rochester, a longtime Orioles’ Triple-A team. Washington snapped it up. Fresno drops from Triple-A to Low-A West.

Major League Baseball’s absorption of the minor leagues reduces the number of affiliated teams, depriving many communities in smaller areas of watching future stars in their earliest professional days.

However, MLB says that minor leaguers will see a rise in pay of from 38-to-72 percent this season. Travel will be cut with the geographic realignment of the leagues.

Substandard facilities, such as Hagerstown, have been eliminated, making for better ballparks.

Short Season Low-A teams are gone. In their place are developmental leagues, including the one that Frederick is a part of. Independent leagues will have greater prominence. The Atlantic League has six teams, three of them — the York Revolution, Lancaster Barn Stormers and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs — within driving distance of Baltimore,

Major league teams continue to own and operate teams at their spring training facilities. This season, the Orioles are scheduled to have two teams at Gulf Coast.

For most teams, the new alignment means that their affiliates are closer to the major league club. For the Orioles, who have long had the most geographically logical minor league arrangement in baseball, it means the deserved promotion to Aberdeen, but saying farewell to Frederick, a city and region that enthusiastically supported minor league baseball for three decades.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. IrishAl81

    February 15, 2021 at 8:17 am

    How do the Independent Leagues stock rosters in the new arrangement. Approximately what level ball will be played there?

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 15, 2021 at 8:22 am

      Independent leagues sign players, many of whom have been released by major league organizations or were never drafted. A number of recognizable names with major league experience sign on, so it’s probably somewhere between Double and Triple-A.

  2. Mike1966

    February 15, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Rich, I have seen many games in York and I would say the level is way below AAA or AA, especially with pitchers who rarely, if ever, top 90 mph. What I saw in Frederick was far superior to the Independent League level. I also think MLB made a big mistake in abandoning Frederick’s affiliation with the Orioles.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 15, 2021 at 10:25 am

      I would say that there’s a great disparity in skill level within Independent ball where the A league competition is more even, Mike.

      I have only seen one game in York, so I’ll
      defer to your evaluation, Mike.

  3. BalBball

    February 15, 2021 at 9:47 am

    Rich, I live in Jacksonville and have a season tickets to the Shrimp. I’ve also kept my 29 game plan with the Os and my wife and I come up about 4-5 times as season. In fact you came down by our seats in the Yard two seasons ago to ask me about my Dave Trembley shirt I was wearing. It will be great to see the Tides down here in Jacksonville. I’ll look for you and say hi if you ever make at trip to a game down here and I always look forward to reading your coverage. Jeff

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 15, 2021 at 10:27 am

      Jeff, look forward to seeing you and your Trembley Jersey soon.

    • Baltimore Castaway

      February 15, 2021 at 1:43 pm

      Mr. Dubroff never forgets a face or a name.

      It is one of his Superpowers.

  4. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 15, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    Sorry to hear the the Potomac team is leaving Prince William County. Though I never saw him live, I can remember when they actually were playing in Alexandria Va as the Dukes with one Bobby Bonilla leading the charge. I went to what I’d estimate a few dozen games over my 40 years living in Va, mostly in Prince WIlliam County. Though the 20 minute drive could translate to an hour when factoring in NoVa traffic, it was always worth the trip to Woodbridge. I was fortunate also enough to see Barry Bonds as a member of the Prince William Pirates. I can tell my grandchildren I once saw the MLB Home Run Champ before he was a cheater! How many can claim that?!?

    Spent a couple of 4th of Julys in Pfitzner stadium. I watched the team first when they were a Pirates affiliation, then with the Yankees (blech) and after that … when the Nats took them in. I still have wicked nice pinstriped Prince William Cannon hat hanging in my collection from the Yankee days. But the BEST part of seeing Minor League Ball in my back yard had to be when I was introduced to Dippin Dots!

    Sigh … sorry to see Woodbridge lose them. They always put on a great show.

  5. dlgruber1

    February 15, 2021 at 2:31 pm

    Not to sound selfish but all I cared about is that Bowie stayed in the same league as Harrisburg. I go to Hbg. games when they play Bowie and this year I’m looking forward to see Rutschman and if I’m lucky maybe Rodriguez will be pitching.

    • CalsPals

      February 15, 2021 at 2:59 pm

      Sounds like it would be a lot of fun…go O’s…

    • dlgruber1

      February 15, 2021 at 4:41 pm

      CP it really is. As great as MLB is there’s a charm to MiLB that is unique. You never know when you’re watching baseballs next superstars. Over the years I’ve seen Vlad Guerrero Sr., Jordan Zimmerman, Ryan Zimmerman, Strasburg, Harper, Rendon and many others. Never got to see Soto tho as he was only in Hbg. for a very short period of time. Entertainment at minor league games is also far greater than anything I see on the jumbo scoreboards at a MLB game. Quick story. I’ve probably been to a couple hundred O’s games and haven’t even sniffed a foul ball. Literally never within 25 feet of one. When I took my son to his FIRST minor league game at beautiful City Island in Hbg. You can guess what happened. HE got one! Me? I’m still waiting.

    • CalsPals

      February 15, 2021 at 5:54 pm

      YEARS ago my wife & I went to two games while in Myrtle Beach, the Hurricanes, got box seats & saw the San Diego chicken, they didn’t have the beautiful stadium that’s there now, the games were played at Coastal Carolina, we paid 20$ for both games, wayyyy before our son was born, days like that don’t happen anymore, I think we’re going to look at traveling to some minor league parks this summer, if we’re allowed…thx for the great story…go O’s…

  6. BirdsCaps

    February 15, 2021 at 7:55 pm

    I’m happy about full season in Aberdeen and keeping the hi renegades and Bklyn rivalries. Furthermore there will likely be a rivalry with Wilmington, since it is only ~1hr away and a nats affiliate. MLB’s pr nightmare with low pay and bad facilities/road trips for milb has been delegated to NCAA and Indy leagues. Furthermore the Mlb used it as a power grab to fully bring the minors under their control. I’m curious how the franchise licenses are used to upgrade stadiums or demand new ballparks. With more markets than affiliates, this might get interesting.

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