The wave of contraction and realignment that swept through minor league baseball over the winter shook the KC Royals and their organization. Gone from the Kansas City system were long-time affiliates Wilmington and Lexington, both of whom served as early professional homes for so many future Royals.
Save for two seasons, Wilmington’s Blue Rocks were KC’s High-A club from 1993-2019 (the pandemic shut down the minors last year), and Lexington’s Legends had been a Class A affiliate since 2013. The Royals replaced those clubs with the Quad Cities River Bandits and Columbia Fireflies.
Today, the two new teams occupy opposite ends of the minor league spectrum. Columbia is struggling—the third-place Fireflies are 45-51, 22 games out of first in Low-A’s four team East-South. Quad Cities, on the other hand, owns its High-A division.
With 26 games remaining on their schedule, the River Bandits are 32 games above .500 at 63-31 and lead the Central-West Division by 11 games over Cedar Rapids, with whom they open an important six-game road series next week. Quad Cities plays well everywhere: the club is 29-12 at home, 34-19 on the road. A division championship seems well in hand.
What explains the astonishing success of this new KC Royals affiliate?
No team dominates a division without solid pitching, but the real story of the Quad Cities’ success is its offense.
Entering today’s play, the River Bandits’ run differential is +142. They lead the High-A Central in average (.261), OBP (.348), runs (564), and hits (838). They’re second in home runs (149), doubles (176), triples (33), RBIs (521), slugging (.447), and OPS (.795).
Even the best offenses are, though, sums of their parts, and that’s the case with the Bandits. Take second baseman Michael Massey for example—he’s slashing .293/.355/.533 with 18 homers and 73 RBIs in 84 games. Or catcher Logan Porter’s 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 61 games; although his .258 average could be better, he owns a .393 OBP.
Then there’s shortstop Nick Loftin, the KC Royals’ 11th best prospect per MLB Pipeline, and his .345 OBP, eight homers, 44 RBIs, and .268 average in 71 contests.
And how about Vinnie Pasquantino? The up-and-coming first baseman and Pipeline’s No. 19 KC prospect earned a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas late last month, but he played a big part in Quad Cities’ success, slugging 13 homers, driving in 42 runs, and slashing .291/.384/.565 before moving up. He’s remained hot with the Naturals with a .330/.410/.565 line and five homers in 31 games.
Seuly Matias homered 10 times in 36 games before the organization moved him to Double-A.
Center fielder John Rave has 11 homers, a .272 average, and a .354 OBP; left fielder Tucker Bradley is batting .293 with a .363 OBP; and right fielder Tyler Gentry (currently on the Injured List) has six homers and a .395 OBP.
What kind of pitching are the River Bandits getting so far this season?
The pitcher who might be the best performer during Quad Cities’ 2021 season is no longer with the club. Angel Zerpa, a lefthanded starter the Royals added to their 40-man roster last November, and Pipeline’s No. 20 KC prospect, was 4-0 with a 2.59 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 41.2 inning in eight starts for the River Bandits before moving up to Northwest Arkansas in late June. Injured part of the time since then, he’s struggled (0-3, 7.76) with the Naturals.
A long stay on the Injured List followed Zach Haake’s good start. He was 4-1, 3.83 in nine starts before landing on the IL in early July. And he combined with reliever Dante Biasi to no-hit Wisconsin June 18; Biasi is 5-2, 3.47 with a couple of saves in 20 appearances.
The Bandits’ bullpen boasts other good relievers. Peyton Gray has a stingy 1.26 ERA and is 2-1 with six saves in 15 games.
Garrett Davila won six games, saved four more, and posted a 2.45 ERA before the organization promoted him to Double-A today.
And although he’s on the IL, Jonah DiPoto leads the River Bandits with eight saves and is 1-0, 3.19.
Unfortunately, the KC Royals’ top 2020 draft pick is also injured. Asa Lacy is 2-5, 5.19 in 14 starts, but has 79 strikeouts in 52 innings. Pipeline ranks him as Kansas City’s No. 3 prospect.
The River Bandits continue their quest for a division title today when they complete a suspended game with Wisconsin, then play the Timber Rattlers in a regularly scheduled contest.