One of two low-ranking Royals affiliates located in a city named "Burlington" (let's just trust the process, ok?) the Burlington Bees of Burlington, Iowa are one of my favorite affiliates in the system. Burlington is a pretty small place (26,000) and it isn't particularly close to any big population centers. It isn't in a suburb and it isn't even in an town that's really growing. I'd like to think that southern Iowa was Royals country, even though it really isn't. Lastly, I like the name, "Burlington Bees", which sounds a little cute, but not too gimmicky.
Oh, we're here to actually talk about baseball... Here are five interesting performances from members of the 2009 Burlington Bees:
Nick Van Stratten: Van Stratten hit .318/.393/.447 in his second season with Burlington, earning a promotion to Wilmington. Van Stratten isn't especially young, as the 2006 10th rounder was 24 last season, but the Royal system was so lacking in interesting position player prospects that Van Stratten generated a little buzz last season. With only one homer, Van Stratten needed a lot of doubles (20) and truples (5) to get to that .447 slugging percentage, but he managed a high enough batting average and on-base percentage that he merits watching in 2010.
- Nick Francis: Francis hit 16 homers for the Bees in 2009, en route to a .275/.320/.467 line in 113 games. Like Van Stratten, Francis is far from a top-notch prospect, but in the Royal system he stood out a little. Francis strikes out a ton (122 Ks) and doesn't walk much (28) but if he can improve his contact-rate and batting eye, which are related, there might be something there. Unfortunately, Nick's season ended early, when he was suspended 50 games for drug use.
- Tim Melville: Melville, a 4th round pick in 2008, made a strong debut as a minor leaguer in Burlington. Melville posted a 3.79 ERA with good strikeout numbers (8.9 K/9) and decent walk rates (4.0 BB/9). Melville has been highly regarded from the beginning, and he did not disapoint in 2009.
- Sam Runion: On the other side of the ledger is Sam Runion's 2009. It seems like Runion has been around forever, but he was only drafted in the second round of 2007. In his second season in Burlington, Runion allowed a 6.60 ERA in 28 starts, complete with 14 wild pitches. Runion just does not strike anyone out: as a professional he has a K/9 number of 5.0 in 275 innings, and that's inflated by his time Rookie ball. In 2008, at Burlington, he only struck out 2.4 per nine, and last season he only improved that number to 4.1.
Patrick Norris: Recent Royals minor league teams have featured a number of prolific base-stealers, but Norris was really the only Bee who produced an eye-catching stolen base total. Norris stole 45 bases against just nine caught stealings. A 16th round pick from 2007, Norris' .244/.304/.272 performance was weak overall, and disappointing for an age-23 player with college experience. Still, he had a good season on the basepaths. (Fernando Garcia was second on the team with 29 steals, but was caught 15 times.)