FINALLY, on Friday afternoon, the KC Royals announced their minor league coaching staffs for the 2015 season. There were quite a few changes, so let’s start at the top and work our way through the rookie levels.
On that note, the Royals added back to their system the AZL Royals in Surprise.
The reigning Triple-A Champion Omaha Storm Chasers will have manager Brian Poldberg back at the helm for the second straight season. However, there are some changes to his staff.
Al Nipper rejoins the Royals organization as the Storm Chasers pitching coach, after spending the last three seasons in the Detroit organization. Nipper was the Royals big league pitching coach from 2001-2002. Tommy Gregg returns to Omaha for his seventh season as the hitting coach. Omaha also has a new strength and conditioning coach: Joe Greany, who served that same position for High-A Wilmington last season.
Gone is longtime pitching coach Larry “LC” Carter, who will now serve as the Royals minor league Pitching Coordinator. It will be his 18th season in the organization.
One of the worst teams in minor league baseball (tied for fifth in the minors in losses with 87), Double-A NW Arkansas, returns manager Vance Wilson for his second season as manager (his hometown is Springdale). Wilson spent this past fall managing the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League.
The Naturals also return pitching coach Jim Brower for his third season. New to the coaching staff is hitting coach Brandon Moore, who joins the Royals organization after serving as the Double-A Birmingham Barons hitting coach in 2014 (Chicago White Sox). Moore was drafted in the 17th round of the 1994 draft by the White Sox and played in the minors for seven seasons before transitioning to coaching in 2001. Moore has served as hitting coach for the following teams (besides Birmingham): Charlotte, State College, Altoona, and Lynchburg.
High-A Wilmington, who has not won a Carolina League title since sharing it in 1999, will have its third different manager in three seasons (13th overall). Brian Buchanan moves up a level to manage the Blue Rocks in 2015. He has been in the Royals organization for the last six seasons, moving from Idaho Falls (2010-2011), Kane County (2012), and Lexington (2013-2014). The Legends went 125-153 over the two seasons that Buchanan was the manager. Buchanan was a first round pick in 1994 by the NY Yankees and made his Major League debut in 2000 with Minnesota.
Longtime pitching coach Steve Luebber is back for his ninth season in Wilmington and 48th overall. However, the Blue Rocks will have a new hitting coach in former big leaguer Abraham Nunez, who served the same capacity with the Legends in 2014. He has served as a coach for four seasons. Nunez reached the National League Championship Series in 2005 with St. Louis and played in Philadelphia for two seasons (2006-2007). Nunez is not a stranger to the Carolina League or Frawley Stadium: he came up through the Pittsburgh organization, where he played in Lynchburg for two seasons (1997-1998).
Gone is Milt Thompson, who was a late addition to the Blue Rocks coaching staff in 2014. He returns to his original duties, as the Royals minor league outfield, baserunning, and bunting coordinator.
Low-A Lexington has a new manager for the 2015 season. That will be Omar Ramirez, who managed Idaho Falls the last three seasons (where the Chukars were champions in 2013). Prior to that, he was a hitting coach in the organization for three seasons. Carlos Reyes is the new Legends pitching coach. He served as the rehab pitching coordinator the last seven seasons. Damon Hollins is the Legends new hitting coach, a position he served in 2014 in Idaho Falls (he was also in Wilmington the season before). Glenn Hubbard returns as the bench coach.
Rookie level Idaho Falls also has an entirely new coaching staff, beginning with first year manager Justin Gemoll. He spent last season as a bench coach/hitting coach in Wilmington. Gemoll spent his entire playing career with the Royals (14th round pick in 2000) before becoming a coach for the last seven seasons.
Former Royal and veteran big leaguer Jeff Suppan will begin his coaching career as the pitching coach. After retiring from his 17 year playing career, Suppan coached high school last season in California. He was also spotted in Wilmington last summer. Andre David, who was the hitting coach in NWA last season, is the Chukars new hitting coach.
Rookie level Burlington also has a new manager: Scott Thorman. He served as bench coach last season and is in his second season of coaching. Thorman was Atlanta’s first round pick in 2000 and made his Major League debut in 2006.
Joining him with the Royals as pitching coach is Carlos Martinez, who served in the same capacity last season. He has been in the Royals organization since 2001. Jesus Azuaje joins the Royals organization as hitting coach. He was previously with the LA Dodgers.
As I previously mentioned, the Royals added their AZL rookie team after a one year hiatus. Darryl Kennedy, who previously managed that team before taking over the managerial duties in Wilmington in 2014, is back as the manager in the AZL.
DK will have two pitching coaches and two hitting coaches. Mark Davis and Mitch Stetter (who is listed on the NWA roster) will serve as pitching coaches. Davis was the pitching coach in 2014 with IF. Stetter was a 16th round pick of Milwaukee in 2003 and made his big league debut in 2007. He pitched his entire big league career with the Brewers, which ended in 2011. Stetter last pitched in 2013 in the LA Angels organization. Nelson Liriano and Willie Aikens will serve as hitting coaches. Liriano served in the same capacity last season with Burlington, while Aikens was with IF.
Terry Bradshaw, who was the Blue Rocks hitting coach back when Jeff Garber was the manager, is the minor league hitting coordinator for the third straight season. Bradshaw has been in the Royals organization for the last 16 years.
Veteran Rafael Belliard is back for his second season in the Royals organization, this year where he will coordinate minor league instruction. He was regularly in Wilmington in 2014. You may remember Belliard as a member of the 1995 World Series Champion Braves.
The minor league season officially begins on Thursday, April 9th, with all four of the Royals full season affiliates opening the season on the road.