Royals back in Wilmington

Just two years after being dumped in favor of the Boston Red Sox, the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday announced that they have signed a Player Development Contract with the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League. The Blue Rocks were the Royals' advanced Class-A affiliate for 12 years from 1993-2004, and today's announcement brings the clubs back together after just two seasons apart.

For months before Wednesday's announcement, it was clear that the Royals would search for a new Class-A affiliate to replace High Desert prior to 2007. Mavericks Stadium in Adelanto, California, is perhaps the hitter-friendliest park in all of minor league baseball, making player evaluation in the high altitude exceptionally difficult. Good pitchers routinely get rocked, hitters often develop bad habits, and coaches and scouts are often left to sort out the mess without a solid idea of how advanced a prospect actually is.

It was a situation in which the Royals clearly didn't want to be, but when they were blindsided in 2004 by the Blue Rocks' announcement of a two-year PDC with the Red Sox, High Desert was essentially a last option. The Royals were kind of like the last kid left standing when the music stops in a game of musical chairs.

Despite posting the best 12-year record in all of minor league baseball (943-728) while affiliated with the Royals, the Blue Rocks figured that the geographic proximity to New England would spark even more fan interest in the team. Indeed, they continued to lead the Carolina League in attendance, but the quality of the personnel the Red Sox assigned to the club left a bad taste in the mouths of many Blue Rocks fans, who voiced their opinions to Wilmington management.

"Part of my job is to listen to the fans and our corporate community," said Blue Rocks president Matt Minker in a press release appearing on the team's Web site. "Blue Rocks fans are very knowledgeable and pay attention to performance and roster moves. I was interested over the last three weeks of the season as fans approached me suggesting we bring back the Royals. Blue Rocks fans want to win and expect to win."

The Blue Rocks had the worst record in the Carolina League in 2005, and despite winning the first half title this season, they still finished the season with a record below .500. Meanwhile the Royals' club in High Desert reached the playoffs in both 2005 and 2006, extending an impressive streak of six playoff appearances in six years for the Royals' advanced Class-A affiliate. In fact, dating back to 1993, the Royals' top Class-A team has reached the playoffs 12 times in 14 years. It's that track record of success that ultimately brought the two teams back together, and Royals' GM Dayton Moore, President Dan Glass, assistant GM Dean Taylor, and farm director J.J. Picollo sealed the deal in person after a four-hour meeting in Wilmington on Monday.

"I interpreted this interest as a great show of class," said Minker. "It is unheard of for a major league team to make such an overture to a minor league team. It is great to be wanted."

Indeed, Wilmington is the crown jewel franchise of the Carolina League. In addition to regularly outdrawing the rest of the league, the Blue Rocks play in Frawley Stadium, which is an outstanding facility for players and fans alike. Even more importantly, Frawley Stadium and the Carolina League in general offer the Royals a far better platform for player evaluation, and they no longer have to hesitate promoting promising young pitchers from their Burlington affiliate for fear of wrecking their confidence. In short, the Royals on Wednesday scored a big win, and the common history between the two teams makes them ideal partners as the Royals continue to rebuild their farm system.

Royal Curve Top Stories