The Kansas City Royals‘ streamlined minor league system for 2021 will have two old affiliates and two new ones, the team announced Friday.
Staying in the fold are Triple-A Omaha and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. New to the organization are High-A Quad Cities and Class A Columbia, South Carolina. All four clubs have signed Player Development Licenses (PDLs) with the Royals.
“We have partnered with four great organizations,” said J.J. Picollo, Royals vice president/assistant GM for player performance. “We are excited to continue our long-standing relationships with the Omaha Storm Chasers and Northwest Arkansas Naturals, who have been phenomenal to work with over the years, and we are equally excited to have two new partners, the Quad Cities River Bandits and the Columbia Fireflies.
“We have been engaged with Major League Baseball and the Commissioner’s Office throughout this process and have been working hard to partner with great people, great cities and great facilities. We have accomplished that by staying in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas and forming a partnership with Quad Cities and Columbia. Our players will be able to maximize their personal development in this new alignment and we are anxious to engage in this new venture with MLB as Minor League Baseball takes on a new look.”
The Omaha and Kansas City franchises have worked together since both began play in 1969, forming the longest active Triple-A affiliation in Minor League Baseball and third-longest affiliation overall.
“Continuity in the face of a major industry change is something we are extremely proud of in our relationship with the Kansas City Royals,” Storm Chasers president Martie Cordero said. “While our agreement with the Royals is not perpetual, we each operate in a way that demonstrates permanence. Our organization cannot wait to welcome the next wave of future Royals big leaguers to Warner Park in 2021 and beyond.”
Northwest Arkansas has been Kansas City’s Double-A affiliate since 2008, when they relocated from Wichita, Kansas, where the Wranglers were the Royals’ Double-A affiliate from 1995-2007. The Naturals are based in Springdale, Arkansas.
“We are thrilled to continue our strong partnership with the Kansas City Royals,” Naturals GM Justin Cole said. “Through our affiliation with the Royals, we have been able to showcase many talented players on their way to Kansas City, while also providing great family entertainment to baseball fans throughout Northwest Arkansas.”
The 2021 season will mark Quad Cities’ first at the Class A-Advanced level. Quad Cities has been affiliated with six other franchises since joining the Midwest League in 1960 and has won seven league titles (1968, 1971, 1979, 1990, 2011 and 2017). The River Bandits play at Modern Woodman Park in Davenport, Iowa, and anchor the Quad Cities sports market.
“Moving up to Advanced-A and securing a long-term affiliation with the Kansas City Royals will be the best thing to happen to baseball in Quad Cities since the renovation of Modern Woodman Park,” River Bandits owner Dave Heller said. “Having Advanced-A baseball in the Quad Cities means the players who come through our ballpark are markedly more likely to reach the major leagues. It’s a higher level of play, with better pitchers and better hitters and more experienced players. And there is no better organization in baseball than the Kansas City Royals, no one with whom we would rather affiliate. Dayton Moore, J.J. Picollo, Scott Sharp – they are the best. They do things the right way, treat people the right way. And they have a proven record building a World Series champion.”
Columbia, the Royals’ other new affiliate, had partnered with the New York Mets for more than 25 non-consecutive seasons (1983-2004, 2016-20). The Fireflies’ home, Segra Park, was named Baseball Digest “Ballpark of the Decade.”
“It is with great pride that we have been selected to be part of the Kansas City Royals family,” Fireflies president John Katz said. “On behalf of the entire organization, we’d like to thank Royals GM Dayton Moore, VP/Assistant GM J.J. Picollo for entrusting us to be part of the process of helping to build the future stars of the Royals right here in Columbia. Segra Park is a first-class facility, and we’re excited to have a partner with such a rich pedigree in player development.”