The Frederick Keys will no longer play in the Carolina League or be a minor-league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, ending an incredible 31-year run with the franchise that first began in 1989.
Baseball America’s JJ Cooper first reported the news, which was later confirmed by MASN’s Steve Melewski.
With invites to 120 minor league teams expected to be sent out soon, Baseball America has heard from multiple sources that Frederick will become the sixth member of the MLB Draft League (and will not be one of the 120 teams receiving invites today). ($)https://t.co/b73FAHlxBg
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 9, 2020
Can confirm this report from Baseball America. The Frederick Keys will play in the MLB Draft League in 2021. This does not mean Frederick's days as an MLB affiliate are necessarily done forever. https://t.co/xjv7gDQCMD
— Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) December 9, 2020
The Keys are being contracted from the Orioles’ system after the MLB imposed a radical reorganization to its minor leagues to improve the experience and profitability. The MLB and MiLB previously had a relationship that’s governed by the Professional Baseball agreement that expired after the 2020 season. The MLB is whittling its affiliates down from 160 to 120 and is eliminating rookie and short-season Class A levels. Moving forward, each MLB organization will have only four teams each in its system. The Orioles will the Norfolk Tides, Bowie Baysox, Delmarva Shorebirds, and Aberdeen Ironbirds.
We are proud to continue the tradition of Orioles baseball and economic impact across our region. pic.twitter.com/eHpxDrC446
— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) December 9, 2020
According to 2019 attendance figures, the Keys (4,392) drew more fans per game than the Baysox (3,256), Shorebirds (3,264), and Ironbirds (3,199).
“There will be some teams that don’t make it,” Ken Young, the president and owner of the Frederick Keys, Bowie Baysox and Norfolk Tides, told the Baltimore Sun. “There just will.”
“They just decided they were going to cut 40 franchises, boom,” Young added. “I think they probably should’ve looked at that closer as to how that would be done, and certainly COVID interfered with that somewhat. But I just felt and feel that they should’ve taken a closer look at how to manage that and, if that’s what they wanted to do, do it over a little bit more time.”
Maryland governor Larry Hogan praised the move despite Frederick’s downgrade.
— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) December 9, 2020
A source close to one of the Orioles’ minor league teams told RMNB in the fall that the Keys were expected to become an affiliate of the Washington Nationals next season. Another source close to the Keys confirmed that news. In mid-November, the Frederick News-Post published a story entitled Could the Frederick Keys become a Nationals affiliate?
That did not happen as the Nationals picked up a different Carolina League Team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and contracted another Central Maryland team, the Hagerstown Suns.
The Washington Nationals have invited the following four organizations to become Minor League affiliates in Major League Baseball’s new player development structure, pending acceptance of the invitation.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) December 9, 2020
Moving forward, the Keys will now be the sixth and final team in the MLB’s newly formed Draft League, which will be a showcase league for players expected to be selected in the upcoming MLB Draft.
— Frederick Keys (@FrederickKeys) December 9, 2020
Five other east coast teams had already been named to the league including the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (New York-Penn League), State College Spikes (New York-Penn League), West Virginia Black Bears (New York-Penn League), Williamsport Crosscutters (New York-Penn League), and Trenton Thunder (Eastern League). The MLB Draft League will play a 68-game season during the summer and will field some of the best and brightest prospects in baseball.
But for longtime fans of the Frederick Keys and Baltimore Orioles in this area, the MLB Draft League will not be the same. The Keys, who won Carolina League championships in 1990, 2005, 2007, and 2011, had an awesome gameday experience at Harry Grove Stadium and have churned out MLB players such as Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters.
They’re also likely the reason why I’m a sports reporter. My dad took me and my older brother Brandon to games all the time when we were kids, which allowed us to see stars like Brady Anderson, CC Sabathia, and Chipper Jones play. When the Keys won the league championship in 1990, Keys first baseman Tyrone Kingwood ran into the crowd, lifted five-year-old me onto his shoulders, and ran me around the bases as the players celebrated. It’s one of my earliest memories. 24 years later, Dan Steinberg gave me the incredible honor of being able to write about Orioles’ first-round pick Dylan Bundy for the Washington Post, who was back in Frederick to rehab his arm after Tommy John surgery. That story ended up being printed in the actual newspaper, which is one of the proudest moments of my writing career. Before creating RMNB with Peter Hassett, I started a website with Daniel Moroz called Matt Wieters Facts, which was so fun and got so much attention — it was mentioned on SportsCenter — that it made me want to make this my life.
FREDERICK, MD – Major League Baseball in conjunction with Prep Baseball Report (PBR) have announced the formation of the all-new MLB Draft League set to launch in 2021. The league, which will include the Frederick Keys, becomes the first in the country focused on top prospects eligible to be drafted by MLB Clubs that summer.
“We are ecstatic to have Frederick continue to be a gateway to the Majors in the all-new MLB Draft League and cannot wait for another season of Keys baseball,” said Keys President and Owner Ken Young. “Frederick is such a wonderful community with tremendous fans and support. Over the years the Keys have been one of the best drawing franchises in the Carolina League and we very much appreciate that commitment from the greater Frederick area.”
The Frederick Keys will be joined in the MLB Draft League by the Trenton Thunder (formerly of the Double-A Eastern League), Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, West Virginia Black Bears and Williamsport Crosscutters (all formerly of the New York-Penn League). With the MLB Draft now being held as part of MLB All-Star Week in mid-July, draft-eligible players will have a unique opportunity to showcase their abilities and gain exposure to MLB Clubs and fans each year.
“Ask anyone from Frederick, and they will tell you that the Keys are more than just a baseball team. They are a cornerstone of our community, providing affordable family entertainment for our region and the City values this relationship,” said Michael O’Connor, Mayor of The City of Frederick. “We are thrilled to hear that MLB shares in our commitment and are looking forward to the Keys return as part of this new MLB affiliated league.”
The MLB Draft League will feature a 68-game regular season that is scheduled to run from late May to mid-August with an annual All-Star Break centered around the MLB Draft. Players will receive unprecedented visibility to MLB Club scouts through in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology, as well as instruction from former MLB players and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes. MLB and Prep Baseball Report will assign players and coaching staffs for each team as well as provide league administrative functions.
The Frederick Keys have proven to be a fun, affordable, family entertainment staple in Frederick since 1989. The Keys played that first season at McCurdy Field in downtown Frederick before moving into their current home of Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium for the 1990 season. From 1989-2020 the Keys were the Advanced-A Carolina League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. During this time, over 160 former Keys players have reached the Major Leagues. The Keys have routinely finished in the top two in the Carolina League in attendance and have entertained more than 9 million fans since the organization was founded in 1989. The Keys are estimated to generate over $15 million of annual economic impact while providing 25 fulltime and 250 part time staff. The Keys have won four Carolina League Championships, hosted three Carolina League All Star Games, and have won many national awards over the years including having been recognized by the Carolina League over the last two seasons with the Matt Minker Award for Community Service and John H. Johnson’s Presidents Award.
Headline photo: Ian Oland/RMNB
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