The Nationals made it official today, inviting four organizations to become minor league affiliates in Major League Baseball's new player development structure. The affiliates are the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Double-A Harrisburg Senators, high Single-A Wilmington Blue Rocks and low Single-A Fredericksburg Nationals.
The invites have not yet been formally accepted, but Wilmington already officially accepted the invitation on Twitter and the other three affiliates have current longstanding relationships in place with the Nationals.
The Nats released a statement from president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo regarding the news: "We are very excited to extend the invitations to these four affiliates and their communities. All four affiliates are located in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, with Harrisburg, Wilmington and Fredericksburg located within 120 miles of Nationals Park. Wilmington and Fredericksburg are easily accessible via the I-95 corridor. Our four affiliates and their proximity to Washington, D.C. will be critical not only to player development and roster construction, but also to our injury rehabilitation process. We are certain that each affiliate and the surrounding community will be assets to our player development and organization as a whole."
This means that the Nats' relationships with the short-season Single-A Auburn Doubledays and the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns are over. Auburn was with the Nats as their short-season Single-A club since 2011, while Hagerstown had a continuous relationship since 2007. Auburn's relationship with Major League Baseball started in 1958 with the Yankees. Hagerstown's baseball history dates to 1981, when the Suns were a co-op before joining the Orioles organization in 1982.
MLB would like to turn the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League into a collegiate wood-bat league. Suns general manager Travis Painter announced Nov. 30 that the Nats would not renew their affiliation with the club. Painter was quoted as saying this brings "40 years of Hagerstown Suns baseball to a close." It is unclear if the Suns will pursue an independent deal or fold.
The Nats thanked the Suns and the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies for their partnerships. The Grizzlies deal was for two seasons, but Nats 'Triple-A talent played in California for only one season due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down Minor League Baseball this past season.
These new partnerships set up very well for the Nats and are the best by geographic location that the organization has ever enjoyed. Washington is 111 miles from Wilmington, Del.; 55 miles from Fredericksburg, Va.; 379 miles from Rochester, N.Y.; and 121 miles from Harrisburg, Pa.
Fresno is 2,769 miles from D.C. Hagerstown is 73 miles from D.C., so the drive to Fredericksburg saves 18 miles for the new low Single-A affiliate. Essentially, three of the four Nats affiliates are only two hours away from Nats Park by car, which will help if the club needs to get a player to D.C. quickly. The flight from Rochester to Reagan National Airport takes only 85 minutes, versus the 10- or 12-hour excursions that players had to endure to get from Fresno to D.C.
Wilmington has been a part of the Royals player development system since 2007, and has been in business playing baseball since 1993. Daniel S. Frawley Stadium was finished in time for the 1993 season and seats 6,404.