Top 10 Royals minor league teams since 2000

With the Bees winning the first title of any Royals' full season affiliate in nearly a decade, it's worth examining where that club ranks among other successful Royals' minor league clubs. RC took a look at all of the Royals' minor league playoff teams since 2000, the year after the organization's last full season title in 1999. Inside, check out the Top 10, and see where the 2008 Bees rank.

The Royals' last full season championship was 1999, a year in which five of the six affiliates reached the playoffs, and three brought home titles. That year, the Wichita Wranglers and Spokane Indians (short season A-ball) won their respective titles outright, while the Wilmington Blue Rocks shared the Carolina League championship with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans when Hurricane Floyd cancelled the series.

Since 1999, the Royals have fielded some quality teams, and some have reached the finals, but none of the full season affiliates have been able to win a ring. Indeed, the only championship claimed by a Royals affiliate this decade was the 2003 Arizona League crown, won by the rookie level AZ Royals.

For this list, we included for consideration only the full season clubs that qualified for postseason play since 2000. Granted, the final list is somewhat subjective, but we took into account a number of different factors, such as team offensive and pitching ranks (against their respective leagues), winning percentage, prospect talent, average age, and playoff performance (how far did they go?). In all, 16 Royals full season clubs have qualified for the postseason since 2000, including three in 2008.

The list:

10. 2007 Wilmington Blue Rocks
Record: 75-62 (.547)
Playoff result: Swept by Frederick in the first round

Team OPS (league rank): 0.704 (6 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 602 (6 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 3.43 (1 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 3.77 (1 of 8)

Why they're here:
The 2007 Wilmington Blue Rocks, like most Blue Rock teams, struggled to hit while fielding one of the league's top pitching staffs. Indeed, the starting rotation of Rowdy Hardy (the Carolina League's Pitcher of the Year), Blake Johnson, Julio Pimentel, and Daniel Cortes was easily the best in the league, and one of the best staffs (if not THE best 4-man rotation) any Royals affiliate has fielded in the last decade. And while the offense sputtered along for most of the year, there were at least a few interesting prospects, such as Mario Lisson, Jose Duarte, and Brian McFall, who each had fine seasons. Unfortunately for the Blue Rocks, they were swept away in two games by the eventual Mills Cup Champion Frederick Keys.

9. 2000 Wichita Wranglers
Record: 76-61 (.555)
Playoff result: Texas League runner-up to Round Rock

Team OPS (league rank): 0.758 (6 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 725 (5 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 4.22 (3 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 4.82 (3 of 8)

Why they're here:
The 2000 Wranglers, while short on offense, had an above average pitching staff that helped carry them to the Texas League championship series. Unfortunately, they only took one game off of Round Rock in the series and had to settle for second place. Nevertheless, several young starting pitchers provided Royals fans with much optimism at the time, as future big leaguers like Chris George, Shawn Sedlacek, Kiko Calero, and Kris Wilson all had very good seasons, while Scott Mullen and Shawn Sonnier were excellent out of the pen.

8. 2004 Wilmington Blue Rocks
Record: 77-62 (.554)
Playoff result: Carolina League runner-up to Kinston

Team OPS (league rank): 0.698 (5 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 618 (4 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 3.40 (1 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 4.03 (2 of 8)

Why they're here:
The 2004 Blue Rocks came within one win of the Carolina League title. After taking a 2-0 lead against Kinston in the final series, the Blue Rocks just needed to win one of the final three games to clinch the Mills Cup. Unfortunately, Kinston rallied for three straight wins, denying the Blue Rocks their first crown since 1999. Pitching was once again the Blue Rocks' strength, as the club led the league in ERA behind starting pitchers Trae McGill, Devon Lowery, and Dusty Hughes. The bullpen was particularly good, with Ryan Braun emerging as a dominating closer behind set-up men Barry Armitage and Nate Hoelscher. The offense wasn't great, but Donnie Murphy, Mike Aviles, Shane Costa, and Mitch Maier were all interesting prospects, and Aviles and Costa in particular had very good seasons in their High-A debuts.

7. 2001 Wilmington Blue Rocks
Record: 78-62 (.557)
Playoff result: Carolina League runner-up to Salem

Team OPS (league rank): 0.675 (3 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 610 (2 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 3.27 (4 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 3.84 (4 of 8)

Why they're here:
Aside from having the fifth-best winning percentage of any Royals' full season affiliate in our study, the 2001 Blue Rocks were also just one win away from the Carolina League title, losing the decisive Game 5 to the Salem Avalanche. In what was a down year offensively even for the pitching-friendly Carolina League, the Blue Rocks fielded one of the league's best offenses, in addition to a very good pitching staff. In other words, this was a well-balanced team, and it handled the midseason departures of future Royals Ken Harvey, Alexis Gomez, and Angel Berroa without missing a beat (the Blue Rocks had identical first and second half records). On the mound, a 19-year old Jimmy Gobble anchored a young rotation that was one of the league's best, which included Ian Ferguson, Mike Natale, Matt Burch, and Junior Guerrero. In the bullpen, future big leaguers Jason Gilfillan and Ryan Bukvich dominated Carolina League hitters while closing out games for the ‘Rocks.

6. 2003 Wilmington Blue Rocks
Record: 80-60 (.571)
Playoff result: Swept by Lynchburg in the first round

Team OPS (league rank): 0.682 (5 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 589 (3 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 2.92 (1 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 3.41 (1 of 8)

Why they're here:
Hands down, the 2003 Blue Rocks had the most effective pitching staff of any Royals affiliate in the last decade. Thanks largely to 19-year old Zack Greinke (11-1, 1.14 ERA), the 2003 Blue Rocks had the lowest ERA and allowed fewer runs per game than any club in our study. In addition to Greinke, future big leaguers Zach McClellan, Brian Bass, and Eduardo Villacis, along with Kyle Middleton (who hasn't yet made the Majors) were simply outstanding, each registering ERAs under 3.00 in more than 90 innings pitched. The offense ranked third in runs scored, which was respectable, as future trade victims Chris Fallon, Trey Dyson, and Ruben Gotay all had quality seasons. The Blue Rocks were unceremoniously swept out of the first round of the playoffs, but their pitching staff alone places them here.

5. 2002 Wichita Wranglers
Record: 80-59 (.576)
Playoff result: Swept by Tulsa in the first round

Team OPS (league rank): 0.725 (4 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 689 (2 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 3.27 (1 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 3.87 (1 of 8)

Why they're here:
The 2002 Wichita Wranglers didn't last long in the playoffs, but the club had the third-best winning percentage in our study and was arguably one of the most balanced Royals affiliates in the last decade. The only problem was that much of the offensive production came from three players who were pretty old for the Texas League: Brian Harris (27), Chan Perry (29), and Shane Monahan (27). Alexis Gomez (23) was the lone legitimate offensive prospect who had a good year. Nevertheless, the pitching staff that included future Major Leaguers Jimmy Gobble, Runelvys Hernandez, Wes Obermueller, Tony Cogan, Kris Wilson and Jeremy Hill was easily the best in the Texas League, and perhaps the best Wichita staff in over a decade.

4. 2006 Wichita Wranglers
Record: 77-62 (.554)
Playoff result: Texas League runner-up to Corpus Christi

Team OPS (league rank): 0.771 (4 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 785 (1 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 4.59 (7 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 5.01 (7 of 8)

Why they're here:
With over half a dozen first round draft picks on the roster, this was easily the most talented Royals affiliate in the last decade (and the most fun to watch, in RC's opinion). Most of that talent was stacked on the offense, as first-rounders Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Mitch Maier, Chris Lubanski, and Dee Brown all had excellent years – and Gordon arguably had the best season of any player in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, the pitching staff left much to be desired. Zack Greinke was the ace, and he pitched well while overcoming the anxiety issues that caused him to leave spring training earlier in the year. Behind him was a collection of pitchers who struggled, although Cody Smith, Thad Markray, and Ryan Braun were bright spots out of the bullpen. We'd like to rank this club higher, particularly because it came so close to the Texas League title, but the poor pitching staff dooms the 2006 Wranglers to this position on our list. Indeed, for such an unbalanced roster, the sheer amount of talent on the position player side alone keeps it ranked this high.

3. 2002 Wilmington Blue Rocks
Record: 89-51 (.636)
Playoff result: Lost in the first round to Lynchburg (2-1)

Team OPS (league rank): 0.716 (3 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 691 (2 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 3.20 (2 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 3.71 (2 of 8)

Why they're here:
The 2002 Wilmington Blue Rocks had the best winning percentage of any club in our study, and the highest of any full season club since the 1994 Carolina League Champion Blue Rocks, who finished the season an absolutely ridiculous 50 games over .500 (94-44). The offense, which finished second in the league in runs scored, was paced by Tydus Meadows and future big leaguers David DeJesus, Byron Gettis, Norris Hopper, and Alejandro Machado. The pitching staff was also young and talented, with Ryan Douglass, Danny Tamayo, Wes Wilkerson, Ian Ferguson, and future big leaguers Zach McClellan and Kyle Snyder leading the way. This was a very balanced team that should have done better in the playoffs, but even though they didn't advance, they still rank among the top three teams since 2000.

2. 2001 Wichita Wranglers
Record: 76-61 (.555)
Playoff result: Lost in the first round to Arkansas (3-1)

Team OPS (league rank): 0.783 (1 of 8)
Runs scored (league rank): 776 (1 of 8)
Team ERA (league rank): 4.06 (3 of 8)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 4.52 (2 of 8)

Why they're here:
The 2001 Wranglers ranked first in the Texas League in OPS, runs scored, and home runs, and the club gave up the second-fewest runs while compiling the third-lowest ERA. As such, the 2001 Wranglers were perhaps the most balanced team of the past decade. Outfielder Brandon Berger slammed 40 homers with an OPS of 1.016 en route to picking up the Royals' "Organizational Player of the Year" award, and future Royals Ken Harvey, Angel Berroa, and Alexis Gomez complemented an already strong lineup when they were promoted to Wichita around midseason. The pitching staff was nearly as good as the offense, with future big leaguers Jeremy Affeldt, Kiko Calero, Corey Thurman, and Shawn Sedlacek anchoring the staff, and future Royal Nate Field serving as the Wranglers' outstanding closer. The Wranglers lost in the first round of the playoffs, but the roster's talent and balance makes it the second-best Royals' affiliate of the past decade.

1. 2008 Burlington Bees
Record: 73-65 (.529)
Playoff result: Won Midwest League Championship

Team OPS (league rank): 0.722 (2 of 14)
Runs scored (league rank): 617 (6 of 14)
Team ERA (league rank): 3.50 (4 of 14)
Runs allowed/game (league rank): 4.09 (5 of 14)

Why they're here:
Simply put, the Bees are the only champion in the past decade, so even though they had the lowest winning percentage of our top 10, they get a pass. Of course, the Bees' winning percentage is a little deceptive, because the team that won the title was vastly different from the one that finished the first half with a 30-39 record (and in last place). In the second half, the Bees went 43-26 (including 20-9 in August), and the .623 second half winning percentage would have been the second-best in our study over a full season. Furthermore, the 2008 Bees had a talent level that rivals only the 2006 Wranglers – Mike Moustakas, David Lough, Jason Taylor, Johnny Giavotella, Daniel Gutierrez, Daniel Duffy, Kelvin Herrera, Ed Cegarra, Matt Mitchell, and Juan Abreu are all significant prospects in the Royals' system. The team had a higher OPS and hit more home runs than any Burlington club since the Player Development Contract was signed in 2000, and the pitching staff – particularly the starting rotation – was among the best in the league. All told, the 2008 Burlington Bees are easily deserving of our designation as the best Royals' minor league team of the past decade.


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