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The best minor league teams in Royals history

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The 2021 Quad Cities were among the best in club history.

Josh Michalsen

The Quad Cities River Bandits, in their first year of affiliation with the Royals, stormed through the High-A Central League with a 77-41 record. They finished tied for the third-most wins in all of minor league baseball and capped off their season by defeating Cedar Rapids in a five-game series to take the league championship.

Their awesome performance this year stands out as one of the best minor league seasons in Royals history. Let’s take a look back at the best records by Royals minor league affiliates. I limited this to full-season affiliates, but the best short-season minor league affiliate was the 1994 Gulf Coast Royals, a team led by Mendy Lopez and Jose Rosado that finished 47-12.

10. 1995 Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A) - 83-55 (.601)

Former Mets infielder Bud Harrelson bought the Peninsula Pilots and moved them to Wilmington, Delaware for the 1993 season, beginning an affiliation with the Kansas City Royals. The Blue Rocks quickly became a powerhouse in the league, winning the North Division by 16 games in 1995. Because of the climate and its location near the Christiana River, the ball does not carry well at all at Frawley Stadium, and the Blue Rocks finished second-to-last in home runs despite 18 blasts from catcher Mike Sweeney. But they led the league with a 2.84 team ERA, led by a trio of 21-and-under left-handers - Tim Byrdak, Glendon Rusch, and Jose Rosado.

9. 2009 Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A) - 84-55 (.604)

Before he was leading the 2015 Royals to the best record in the league, Mike Moustakas was leading the Wilmington Blue Rocks to the best record in the league. Then 20-years old, the former first-round pick hit .250/.297/.421 with 16 home runs for the Blue Rocks, in a lineup surrounded by Derrick Robinson, Clint Robinson (no relation), Johnny Giavotella, and Paulo Orlando. Danny Duffy led the league-leading pitching staff, and the club would be joined late in the season by former first-rounders Eric Hosmer and Mike Montgomery.

8. 1969 Omaha Royals (Triple-A) - 85-55 (.607)

Omaha had a team in the Western League for decades before joining Triple-A as a top Cardinals and Dodgers affiliate until the American Association disbanded in 1962. The league reformed in 1969, and with the new Kansas City Royals needing a top affiliate, Omaha was back in Triple-A. With a roster full of players selected in the expansion draft, the Omaha Royals took first place in the six-team league, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, and steals. Future Royals third baseman Paul Schaal hit .374 for the O-Royals, and former Negro League outfielder George Spriggs led the team with 15 home runs and 46 steals. Al Fitzmorris and Paul Splittorff - who was in Kansas City’s first draft class - led the pitching staff.

7. 2010 Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Double-A) - 86-54 (.614)

A year after dominating the Carolina League, Moustakas terrorized Texas League pitchers. The third baseman hit .347/.413/.687 with 21 home runs in just 66 games, earning him league MVP honors despite being promoted mid-season to Triple-A. Manager Brian Poldberg’s squad would lead the league in runs scored, with first baseman Clint Robinson bashing 29 home runs to lead the league. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella hit .322, Paulo Orlando hit .305, and Derrick Robinson stole 50 bases. Aaron Crow led the pitchers in innings pitched, although with a 5.66 ERA, but Everett Teaford, Edgar Osuna, and Eduardo Paulino picked up the staff with good relief performances from Louis Coleman and Rowdy Hardy. After the season, these minor leaguers would be part of a farm system ranked #1 by Baseball America.

6. 1998 Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A) - 86-54 (.614)

The Blue Rocks won the first-half title, and were off to a good start in the second-half when they abruptly fired manager Darrell Evans in July for “philosophical differences.” Hitting coach Kevin Long took over on an interim basis until minor league catching instructor Brian Poldberg led the team the rest of the way.

The Blue Rocks featured two of the top prospects in baseball, five-tool outfielders Dee Brown and Carlos Beltran. Chad Durbin was the most promising arm on the pitching staff, although reliever Orber Moreno struck out 50 in 33 innings with a 0.82 ERA, landing him on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list that off-season. The Blue Rocks defeated Winston-Salem to win their third title in five seasons.

5. 2002 Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A) - 89-51 (.636)

Jeff Garber took over the Blue Rocks in 1999, and managed them to winning seasons in three of his four seasons, including a league-best 89-win season in 2002. The Blue Rocks hit just 58 home runs, but finished second in runs scored by leading the league in walks and on-base percentage. They were paced by outfielders Tydus Meadows and David DeJesus, who both posted an OBA over .400. Despite playing at a pitching-friendly park, Wilmington was second in ERA to a very good Lynchburg club that won 87 games and the title. Wilmington’s leading pitchers were mostly arms that never reached the big leagues like Ryan Douglass, Danny Tamayo, Wes Wilkerson, and Ian Ferguson, although future big leaguers Kyle Snyder and Zach McClellan were significant contributors.

4. 1994 Rockford Royals (A-ball) - 89-50 (.640)

The future of the Royals looked bright in 1994. The team was enjoying an unexpected run at the playoffs, their minor league affiliates combined for a .574 winning percentage, and Baseball America had ranked five of their prospects among the top 100 in baseball. The Rockford club in the Midwest League had an affiliation with the Royals for just two seasons in 1993-94, but one of those seasons was a first-place finish, with a spot in the championship game.

Rockford was led by the tremendous catching trio of Carlos Mendez, Mike Sweeney, and Sal Fasano. Mendez, who would one day earn a cup of coffee with the Orioles, hit .355. Sweeney, a future MLB All-Star, would hit .301/.427/.504 with 10 HR in 86 games. But Fasano was the best of them all with 25 home runs and a line of .281/.366/.551, earning him league MVP honors. The Rockford Royals led the league in ERA with right-hander Phil Grundy winning 15 games with a 3.21 ERA and 19-year old Ken Ray posted a 1.82 ERA with 128 strikeouts in 128 23 innings.

3. 2021 Quad Cities River Bandits (High-A) - 77-41 (.653)

This was the first season the River Bandits were affiliated with the Royals, and they got their relationship off to a great start with one of the best seasons in all of minor league baseball. They led High-A Central in runs scored, and were second in fewest runs allowed. They posted the best on-base percentage while striking out the least.

The Bandits were led by power-hitting infielders Michael Massey and Nick Loftin, mature outfield bats with Eric Cole, John Rave, and Tucker Bradley with contributions from Vinnie Pasquantino, Logan Porter, Jimmy Govern, and Seuly Matias. Anthony Veneziano and A.J. Block led the pitchers with Charlie Neuwieler and former first-round pick Asa Lacy, and Will Klein emerging as a shutdown reliever. It was quite a championship season for skipper Chris Widger, who was in just his second season managing in affiliated baseball.

2. 1994 Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A) - 94-44 (.681)

The Blue Rocks had a winning season in their first year of existence in 1993, but they dominated the league in their second year. Just three Carolina League teams had winning records, and the Blue Rocks finished 18 games better than anyone else. Mike Jirschele’s squad was led by Carolina League MVP Larry Sutton, who hit .306/.406/.542 with 26 home runs and 94 RBI. Setting the table for him was one of the top prospects in baseball, outfielder Johnny Damon, who hit .316/.399/.462 with 44 steals.

But pitching always rules in Wilmington, and the team led the league in ERA at 2.96. Mike Bovee, Bart Evans, and former first-round pick Jim Pittsley all made at least 26 starts with an ERA under 3.20. The Blue Rocks had three pitchers with at least 50 innings post an ERA below two. They easily swept Winston-Salem to deliver a Carolina League title in just their second season.

1. 1975 Waterloo Royals (A-ball) - 93-35 (.727)

The early Royals teams won with speed and pitching, and the Waterloo Royals reflected that philosophy, leading the Midwest League in steals and ERA. They won 41 of their first 50 games and won the first-half title with a 49-13 record. Top prospect Willie Wilson led the way with 76 steals, earning him league MVP honors, with second baseman Joe Gates adding 55 more.

Former first-round pick Roy Branch was fantastic with a 1.93 ERA in ten starts before he was moved up to Double-A. Gary Williams (2.17 ERA), Willie Clark (2.59), Mike Williams (3.18), and Edwards Sempsrott (1.95) led the pitching, but an overlooked arm on the staff was an undrafted free agent that signed that summer out of the University of La Verne that posted a 2.45 ERA in 44 innings, a submariner named Dan Quisenberry.

The team finished with one of the best records ever by a minor league club, and only 11 affiliated minor league teams have had a better record since then.