O’s, Frederick Keys end affiliation; Keys now part of brand new Draft League

All of 2020, a monumental cloud that was looming over the heads of Oriole fans was the inevitable loss of the Orioles High-A team, the Frederick Keys. Unfortunately, that cloud just rained on us.

As a part of this move, the Frederick Keys are set to become one of six teams in the brand new Draft League. But before we jump into that, let’s pay our respects to the long-time Orioles affiliate that supplied many western Marylanders with a front row seat to the development of their Birds.

Founded in 1982, the Frederick Keys played in the Carolina League as the Orioles High-A ball club. The Keys played their home games at beautiful Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium, which was built in 1990 and was the team’s key to moving to Frederick, after formerly being known as the Hagerstown Suns. If you have never made the trip to Frederick to see Nymeo Field, it is a must.

In 1990, the Keys won their first Carolina League Championship, which is always a good sign for the future of the big league squad. That 1990 team featured future major league players Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson, among others.

Photograph of Governor Robert Ehrlich at the Frederick Keys Baseball Game on July 10, 2006.
(Photo: digitalmaryland.org)

The Keys also brought championships home in 2005, 2007, and 2011. Again, as a tell-tale sign of the future, these championship teams across those three years featured future staples such as Nick Markakis and Jim Johnson in 2005, along with Miguel Tejada in 2007. The 2011 team, however, featured a goldmine of future Orioles who propelled the team into a winner in the early 2010s. Some of these players you might remember go by the names Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Brian Matusz.

What’s next for the Frederick Keys is something completely new. They will still play host at Nymeo Field but as a part of the MLB Wood-Bat Draft League, which currently has six teams including the Keys.

This league will play out similar to the NY-Penn League, where they will play 68 games starting in May. The teams will be made up of draft hopefuls and eligible kids from high school and college. In June, the league will take its All-Star Break, that also features the MLB Draft in that span of time.

This new league will possibly be less professional than the original NY-Penn League, as it will carry some players who will wind up never being drafted, although that isn’t far off from the low level of minor league play to begin with.

Photograph of beautiful Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium on a cloudy summer day in Frederick, MD.
(Photo: Bill Green)

Also, this league is meant to showcase these players for the draft. It is essentially a combine for MLB-hopeful players, much like we see with the NFL. Especially with the way things worked for draft hopefuls and the minor leagues in 2020, this league gives a much better chance for young players to be recognized.

From the organizational side, major league teams now will have a much better sample to scout from. Having these kids play against each other, as opposed to against lower competition at their respective high school/college, creates a more professional field for the players to be assessed. It also will help catapult players into professional style of play by enforcing wood bats, something young players have to get used to.

As much as it truly sucks to lose such an iconic affiliate for the Orioles, fans can still enjoy baseball out in Frederick. However, the players will have no affiliation to the Orioles, unless they get drafted by Baltimore, of course.

With the loss of their High-A affiliate, the Orioles will go into the 2021 season and the foreseeable future with four minor league ball clubs. The order of which is placed below:

This is still an on-going story. As more updates come to life, The Baltimore Battery will be quick to inform!

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