PRESS RELEASE – The Quad Cities River Bandits and Houston Astros signed a two-year Player Development Contract on Monday, as River Bandits General Manager Stefanie Brown and Astros Director of Player Development Fred Nelson announced the new affiliation at an afternoon press conference at Modern Woodmen Park.
The agreement partners the two franchises through the 2014 season and marks their second affiliation. Houston was the major league affiliate of the Quad City River Bandits from 1993 to 1998, when the Midwest League club finished first in its division in three of its last four years as an Astros affiliate. More recently, the Astros were affiliated with the Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League. During that time, pitcher Roger Clemens did a rehab stint in Lexington.
“We are genuinely excited to welcome the Astros family into one of the finest ballparks in the minor leagues and the community with the greatest fans in minor league baseball,” said River Bandits owner Dave Heller. “The Astros currently have the single best farm system in all of affiliated baseball, according to Baseball America, and their feeder franchise to the Midwest League finished in the New York-Penn League finals last season. We are looking forward to seeing some of the best young talent in baseball play in the Quad Cities, including the first No. 1 overall pick – Carlos Correa – since Joe Mauer was here a decade ago. Those young players, coupled with the opportunity to have major league rehabs for the first time in seven years, should thrill fans across the Quad Cities all summer long.”
The affiliation with the Astros also brings former St. Louis Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development and current Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow back to Modern Woodmen Park. In 2012, Luhnow’s first season as General Manager, the Astros minor league affiliates combined for the best overall record of any domestic minor league system.
“I look forward to working with Dave Heller, Bob Herrfeldt, Stefanie Brown and the rest of the River Bandits staff again,” Luhnow said. “My experiences while with St. Louis were very positive, and I know our players will benefit from their time in the Quad Cities.”
“We’ve known Jeff Luhnow for five years,” Heller added. “He is one of the smartest people in all of baseball, a brilliant evaluator of talent, and a man who is committed to building his team through the farm system. Because of Jeff, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will be seeing first-rate talent coming through the Quad Cities for years to come.”
During the first affiliation between the Astros and River Bandits, the Quad Cities franchise was a stop in the minor league path of several major league All-Stars. Seven-time All-Star Billy Wagner pitched for the River Bandits in 1994 and went on to tally the fifth-most saves in major league history. Two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana (1998) of the New York Mets and veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia (1996) of the New York Yankees are active major leaguers who played for the River Bandits during their first affiliation with the Astros. Current Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta also managed the River Bandits in the Houston system in 1997.
Several former River Bandits contributed to Houston’s run of six playoff appearances and a National League pennant between 1997 and 2005. The Houston franchise, known as the Colt .45s from 1962 to 1964, has been a National League club for its first 51 years of existence but will move to the American League beginning in 2013.
Three current Astros played for Quad Cities in the last seven seasons. Infielders Tyler Greene and Brett Wallace played in the Quad Cities in 2006 and 2008, respectively, and right-handed pitcher Chuckie Fick pitched for Quad Cities in parts of three seasons from 2007 to 2009.
“We welcome the Astros back to the River Bandits family to continue building our shared history,” said River Bandits General Manager Stefanie Brown. “Our fans will see the bright future of the Astros organization and some of the best young players in all of minor league baseball. They will get a chance to meet some great former major leaguers, and maybe even see some current major leaguers in action while on a rehab assignment – all while still enjoying the great family fun of River Bandits baseball.”
The Quad Cities franchise joined the Midwest League in 1960. In addition to the Astros, the major league affiliates include the Milwaukee (now Atlanta) Braves (1960-1961), Los Angeles and California Angels (1962-1978, 1985-1992), Chicago Cubs (1979-1984), Minnesota Twins (1999-2004) and St. Louis Cardinals (2005-2012).