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2023 Season in Review: The Quad Cities River Bandits

Gavin Cross disappointed but Javier Vaz may be a fast riser.

Peoria Javelinas v. Surprise Saguaros Photo by Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Quad Cities River Bandits began an affiliation with the Royals in 2021, winning a championship with Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey, and Nick Loftin. But since then they have finished in last place, more than 20 games under .500 each season. The team had some talent this year, featuring several prospects ranked in the top ten of the organization by Baseball America, including former first round pick Gavin Cross, third baseman Cayden Wallace, and pitcher Ben Kudrna. But the team struggled with the second-worst slugging percentage and the worst batting average (.225 compared to the league average of .248), and while their pitchers were second in strikeouts, they had the third-most walks and the second-worst ERA.

Quad Cities River Bandits

Record: 55-77

Finish: 6th (last place), West Division of the Midwest League (High-A)

Manager: Brooks Conrad

Runs scored-per-game: 4.35 (9th out of 12 teams)

Runs allowed-per-game: 5.06 (11th out of 12 teams)

Cross was expected to be a polished hitter who could carry the team and possibly move through the system quickly, but the centerfielder struggled mightily. He hit just .206/.300/.383 with just 12 home runs in 94 games and was promoted to Double-A in an attempt to jump-start his season. Catcher Carter Jensen had the 12th-highest walk rate among all minor leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances at 18.5 percent, but he hit just .211 and the power has yet to develop consistently for the 20-year-old.

A bright spot in the lineup was second baseman/outfielder Javier Vaz, a 15th round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2022. The left-handed hitter put up a line of .270/.367/.390 with 26 steals before being promoted and he had the third-lowest swinging strike rate of all minor leaguers at just 3.3 percent. Wallace also played well at third base, leading the team in OPS with a line of .261/.341/.431 with 10 home runs and 15 steals before he was promoted.

Outfielders Juan Carlos Negret led the team with 19 home runs, second-most in the league, but hit just .210. The 24-year-old Cuban was in his second tour with the team, and had one of the lowest BABIPs among minor leaguers, as well as one of the highest pop out rates, which likely explains his poor BABIP. Outfielder River Town had a patient eye with an 11.5 percent walk rate, and was 20-of-24 in stolen base attempts. Second baseman Herard Gonzalez struggled to hit much, and Kale Emshoff showed some power potential, but was pretty old for the league and began playing more first base than catcher.

The River Bandits had some good pitching performances in the first half before those arms were promoted. Mason Barnett emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in the farm system, putting up a 3.18 ERA with 10.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings in 16 starts before he moved up to Double-A. Former 12th rounder Tyson Guerrero had a breakout season with a 3.63 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 84 13 innings before he earned a ticket to Northwest Arkansas, posting the third-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the entire farm system. Chandler Champlain also earned a mid-season promotion, posting a 2.74 ERA and just 2.6 walks-per-nine-innings in 11 starts with the River Bandits. William Fleming and Noah Cameron also pitched well in High-A before moving up.

Luinder Avila was solid, although his ERA (4.39) was just below league-average (4.17). Ben Kudrna, Frank Mozzicato, and Steve Zobac all had mixed results upon moving up, with Mozzicato struggling with walks.

The problem for Quad Cities was the bullpen. Wander Arias led the team in relief appearances, but posted a 6.23 ERA. Parker Harm walked 31 in 38 innings. Marlin Willis couldn’t buy a strike, walking 44 hitters in 31 innings (although with 47 strikeouts). Anthony Simonelli and Anderson Paulino pitched well and Eric Cerantola showed an ability to miss bats. John McMillon also made a pit stop in Quad Cities and struck out 40 of the 77 hitters he faced, while allowing just eight hits in 20 innings.