It took a couple months for it to become official, but following the Hillsboro Hops' invitation in December to move up to a higher classification of minor league baseball, the team announced Friday morning, Feb. 12, that it has accepted and will begin play this year as the Arizona Diamondbacks' High-A farm team.
The professional development license is good for 10 years, extending an already long-running relationship through 2030.
The Hops have been affiliated with the Diamondbacks dating back to when they played as the Yakima Bears, in Yakima, Washington. The Bears became the Diamondbacks' Class-A Short Season affiliate in 2001, and when they moved to Oregon and became the Hillsboro Hops in 2013, they kept their affiliation with the MLB club.
MLB took direct control of the minor leagues after the 2020 season, in which minor league teams did not play due to the coronavirus pandemic. In December, MLB unveiled a drastic restructuring of the minor leagues, eliminating two levels altogether: Class-A Short Season, in which the Hops played, and Rookie Advanced.
The Hops were invited to move up to High-A, also known as Class-A Advanced. Some other short-season teams were not as fortunate. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and the Boise Hawks lost their major league affiliations and are set to play in 2021 as members of less prestigious independent baseball circuits, signing their own players and coaches instead of having them provided by a major league parent club.
Whether the Hops would accept the invitation and sign a professional development license to become the Diamondbacks' High-A affiliate was never in much doubt.
Hops president and general manager K.L. Wombacher told the Pamplin Media Group in December that the team was "tremendously excited" to receive the promotion.
The Hops made the announcement in a parody "signing video," in which mascot Barley "reveals" the Hops' 2021 affiliation by placing an Arizona Diamondbacks cap atop his oversized green head.
LIVE: HILLSBORO HOPS TO FORMALLY DECLARE FULL SEASON AFFILIATION pic.twitter.com/FJNMFKrSEd— Hillsboro Hops (@HillsboroHops) February 12, 2021
The bump up to High-A will increase the number of games the Hops play in a typical season from 76 to 132.
This year, with the pandemic still raging and state and local government restrictions still in place, it is unclear when the Hops will kick off their season and whether fans will be in attendance when they do. In a normal year, the season would start in early April — well before the June starts to which the Hops are accustomed.
Baseball America, a national publication that covers the minor leagues and collegiate baseball, reported Friday morning that the Class-A season is tentatively expected to begin May 4.
MLB released an affiliation chart Friday morning that shows the Hops as part of what is currently being called "High-A West." All six teams in the league previously played as part of the Northwest League, which also included Salem-Keizer and Boise.
If the new High-A league is not officially considered a successor to the short-season Northwest League, the Hops will go down as the league's last-ever champion. They won the league championship in 2019, their third, over the Tri-City Dust Devils.
Unlike the old eight-team Northwest League, the six-team High-A West circuit will not divide teams into geographic divisions. How playoff qualifying and seeding will be determined has not yet been announced.
With the Hops' promotion comes the possibility that old fan favorites will once again play at Ron Tonkin Field, after "graduating" from the former Class-A Short Season level.
Outfielders Corbin Carroll and Kristian Robinson, the Hops' top prospects as ranked by MLB.com, both played part of the 2019 season in Hillsboro and could return to the Hops in 2021 if the Diamondbacks judge them to be ready for High-A baseball, which features a higher caliber of play than did Class-A Short Season.
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