KANSAS CITY -- The Royals announced their Minor League coaching staffs for 2022 on Friday, including the replacement to longtime Triple-A Omaha manager Brian Poldberg, who retired at the end of last season.
Last season’s Double-A Northwest Arkansas manager, Scott Thorman, will take over in Omaha and look to continue his three-season streak of leading Royals affiliates to championships. He won the Double-A Central championship with the Naturals last year, the Carolina League championship with Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2019 and a South Atlantic League title with Class A Lexington in 2018.
Thorman has managed many of the Royals' top prospects as they rise in the system, including Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, all three of whom could start the season in Triple-A before their anticipated debuts next summer.
Thorman will be joined by pitching coach Dane Johnson and hitting coach Brian Buchanan, both returning to their roles from last season. Tommy Shields will serve as Omaha’s bench coach.
New next season, the Royals have added an assistant hitting coach to each of their affiliates. Ryan Powers will join the Triple-A staff as the assistant hitting coach after working as the video intern in High-A Quad Cities in 2021.
In Double-A, the Royals have tabbed Baseball America’s 2021 Minor League Manager of the Year to lead the Naturals. Chris Widger led Quad Cities to a High-A Central championship last season. The Royals affiliate finished the regular season 77-41, which was fourth best in the Minor Leagues -- and first among non-Rays affiliates.
Last season was Widger’s second managing in the affiliated Minor Leagues, but he had established a strong foundation with many of the players he took to Quad Cities thanks to managing Rookie-level ball in 2019. And many of those players will continue to rise with Widger to Double-A in ’22.
Mike Jirschele, in his 31st season with the Royals, will be Widger’s bench coach after serving in the same role last season in Quad Cities.
Derrick Lewis and Abraham Nunez will return to serve as the pitching coach and hitting coach, respectively, at Northwest Arkansas, and the staff will welcome a former Royal to the fold for his first coaching position. Christian Colón, the game-winning and title-clinching hero in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, is rejoining the organization as the Naturals’ assistant hitting coach after a 12-year playing career.
In Quad Cities, Brooks Conrad will take over as manager and will be joined by pitching coach Steve Luebber, hitting coach Andy LaRoche, assistant hitting coach David Noworyta and assistant coach Kevin Kuntz.
After serving as a Major League coach last season, Tony Peña Jr. will manage Low-A Columbia in 2022, joined on the bench by pitching coach John Habyan, hitting coach Jesus Azuaje, assistant hitting coach Chris Nelson and bench coach Glenn Hubbard.
The Surprise Royals return Omar Ramirez as the manager, and Carlos Martinez and Mark Davis will serve as co-pitching coaches, with Julio Pimentel returning as the rehab pitching coach. Hitting coach Ramon Castro will be joined by assistant hitting coaches Miguel Bernard and Alex Liddi.
The Royals will field two teams in the Dominican Summer League again, and Ramón Martinez and Sergio De Luna remain managers of the two squads. Rafael Feliz and José Veras will return as pitching coaches, and Wilson Betemit and Fernando Martínez will serve as the hitting coaches.