You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who had a better weekend than the Royals’ player development staff.
On Friday night, the Royals’ Class A affiliate in Lexington won a second straight South Atlantic League title. The Class A team in Wilmington won the Mills Cup on Saturday, the Blue Rocks’ first Carolina League championship in two decades. Rookie-Advanced Idaho Falls won the Pioneer League title Sunday to finish off the weekend.
It was the fourth title overall this year as the Royals’ Dominican Summer League team won its championship earlier this month. There are 45 teams in that league.
“it’s a huge deal to win that league,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Friday.
Nick Kappel, communications coordinator for the Royals, noted it was the first time a major-league team’s affiliates had won four championship series in the same season since since the Indians in 2005.
Rookie Burlington, which was the fifth Royals affiliate to make the playoffs, also advanced to the championship series, but lost in the deciding third game.
“They all not only made the playoffs, but they all made it to the finals,” Moore said.
“It’s all about development in the minor leagues but winning is a big part of development. And I don’t think you can fully develop without a winning type approach a winning mind-set, and making sure the players understand the importance of winning.”
Lexington won its best-of-five series against Hickory when first baseman Reed Rohlman hit a two-run home run in the 13th inning for a walk-off 3-1 victory in Game 4.
Wilmington downed Fayetteville 2-0 in a decisive fifth game for the Carolina League championship. The Blue Rocks won the final two games of the series by identical 2-0 scorelines.
The Blue Rocks’ roster is comprised of a number of players who won a title in 2018 with Lexington, including catcher M.J. Melendez, first baseman Nick Pratto, and outfielders Kyle Isbel and Brewer Hicklen.
Relief pitcher Tad Ratliff closed out the championship wins for Lexington a year ago and Wilmington on Saturday night.
“It’s just so cool to throw the last pitch of a season,” Ratliff told MiLB.com. “To do it again, it’s just awesome.”
The Blue Rocks won five elimination games during this postseason.
En route to its championship, Idaho Falls dropped the opener, then won consecutive road games in the best-of-three series. MiLB.com said the Chukars’ opponent, Ogden, had tied a league record with 54 regular-season victories.
So none of the weekend championships came easy for the Royals’ affiliates.
“The important thing,” Moore said, “is they are figuring out ways to win games.”