The Naturals starting pitcher Tim Melville warms up prior to the game. April 9, 2012. CREDIT: Alan Barrington

Scouting Report: Northwest Arkansas Naturals

You need information on the next wave of young Royals talent.  You need details about Wil Myers, Chris Dwyer, Jake Odorizzi, Ben Theriot, Christian Colon, Noel Arguelles, and crew.  You need to know if they’re making adjustments and improving their game on their road to the big leagues.  You need someone to brave the gauntlet of sunshine and TexMex food in San Antonio to give you up to the minute feedback on your favorite AA Team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, as they completed their season opening road trip.  You’re in luck, I’m here to meet your needs.

The wacky Puffy Taco mascot of the San Antonio Missions AA Baseball team

The first thing you need to know about the Naturals’ road trip to San Antonio is that they were confronted with possibly the wackiest mascot in baseball.  Nuttier than the Flying Squirrel in Richmond, VA; loonier than the Lansing, MI Big Lug Lugnut; much cuter than Gnate the Sand Gnat of Savannah; and equally as crazy as the Sushi Rolls of Vancouver, Canada.  You’ll almost never see him on a list of the most off-the-wall minor league characters, but I’m smitten with the mascot of the San Antonio Mission’s (the AA affiliate of the San Diego Padres), the Puffy Taco and his trusty companion, Ballapeño.  And don’t forget their best friend H.E.Buddy, the grocery bag mascot (yes, grocery bag) from the dominant local grocery store chain H.E.B.

Once you get past the kitschy trappings of minor league baseball, they actually play some fun games that are meaningful – at least to the players and the fans of players with high potential that we expect to eventually see in the majors.   And that’s the reason you’re reading this story right now.

I wish I could give you a sunshine and roses report of the Naturals performance, but that wouldn’t be the truth.  So, what I’m going to do is offer you is my list of “takeaways” from the game, both good and bad.

Here’s my first takeaway, and you aren’t going to like it.  Will Myers was not impressive.  Not at all.  I only saw him play one game, but he looked completely lost at the plate and nothing like the guy who tore up the Arizona Fall League a few months ago.  In the first inning he struck out swinging on 3 pitches (and looked bad doing it) immediately after the first two batters of the game hit solid singles up the middle and we needed him to move the runners.  In his second at bat he popped straight up to the catcher.  He struck out again in another at bat.  The only hit he received in 5 at bats was against a pitcher who was on the ropes, following a long delay and a coach’s visit to the mound, he squirted a broken bat single over the second baseman’s head.  Not an impressive day’s work for Mr. Myers.

The Naturals Christian Colon waits for a pitch while Wil Myers looks on from the on deck circle. April 9, 2012 CREDIT: Alan Barrington

On the other hand, on this particular day Christian Colon looked every bit the player and leader the Royals selected him to be.  He was 4 for 4 at the plate, and every hit was a ringing line drive.  He turned two nearly identical outstanding defensive plays in the field, running hard to his right, backhanding a ground ball before it could escape into left field, and throwing back across his body to force a fast runner at second base.  When Tim Melville, the Naturals starting pitcher, threw five straight balls to begin the game, Colon didn’t wait to act.  He showed leadership on the field, called time out and went to the mound alone to calm Melville down.  It must have worked, Melville didn’t give up a run and only allowed 3 hits, 1 walk (the first batter of the game), and 6 strikeouts in 5 innings pitched.

Colon stole second, only his first stolen base of the season, but when I describe the play I think you’ll agree he needs to make more attempts.  After he stole second base, he stood up and I probably could have counted three Mississippi’s before the ball arrived from the catcher.  Colon got an absurd jump on the pitch and made the Mission’s battery look like they were chasing shadows.

One other thing about Christian Colon – Baseball Reference says he’s 6’ 1” tall.  I didn’t take a measuring tape onto the field, but he doesn’t look anything close to that in my opinion.  But if you think his size might indicate he isn’t tough, consider this – He was hit by a pitch, and I don’t think he made any attempt to move out of the way.  Christian ended the night reaching base five times in five at bats.  I love the toughness and the willingness to do anything necessary to get on base and give his team a chance to win.

Tim Melville started the game on the mound for the Naturals and I didn’t know much about him before the game.  But this week I learned he knows how to mix his pitches and can make the opposing hitters chase balls in the dirt.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find the radar gun readout in the stadium until late in the game (it was lost in the sea of advertising signs on the outfield wall), so I don’t know how fast he was throwing, but he was definitely fooling people and pulling the string on occassion.

I was very impressed with the defensive play of light hitting second baseman Sharlon Schoop.  He made a fantastic play moving hard toward the right field line, throwing himself into a headlong dive, and came up firing a bullet to nail the runner at first.  It was “Frank Whitesque” and the best defensive play of the night.  However, I wish I had positive comments about the rest of his game.  He wandered two far off second and was nearly picked off by a snap throw from the catcher.  (How embarrassing would that be to get picked off second by the catcher?)  He struck out on a ball that was nearly over his head which got the crowd excited and a few of the drunk Missions fans sitting near me taunted him with a few choice words on his walk back to the dugout.  I considered joining them.

A few more miscellaneous notes:

  • Melville was replaced on the mound by Elisaul Pimentel.  Pimentel got rocked and only lasted 2/3 of an inning.
  • Catcher Ryan Jenkins did a good job of going with a tough pitch and poking it up the middle for a base hit to drive in 2 runs.
  • Third Baseman Kurt Mertins laid down a picture perfect sacrifice bunt to move two runners, then hustled down the line and beat the throw to first on an error to load the bases.
  • Edinson Rincon let a ball play him in left field.  He ran in to field a ball that was about to land in front of him, thought of diving for it (I think he could have gotten to it if he had committed rather than hesitating), changed his mind and backed off.  The ball bounced past him, but he was able to get it back to the infield before the runner could advance to second.
  • Some of the guys I really wanted to see didn’t make it into the game: Promising pitchers Chris Dwyer, Noel Arguelles, Jake Odorizzi, and catcher Ben Theriot.  And of course, pitcher John Lamb is still recovering from surgery so it will be a couple more months before anyone has a chance to see him play.

Noel Arguelles, the only Naturals player on the Royals 40 man major league roster. April 9, 2012 CREDIT: Alan Barrington

This team doesn’t appear to be full of superstars in-waiting as the Naturals of the past two years have been.  But there is talent here that the fans of Northwest Arkansas will enjoy watching this Summer, and in particular a pitching staff that has the ability to completely shut down the opposing team on any given night.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and see some of those guys take the mound the next time I get to see the Naturals play.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Ben Theriot Chris Dwyer Christian Colon Edinson Rincon Elisaul Pimentel Jake Odorizzi John Lamb Kansas City Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Kurt Mertins MLB Noel Arguelles Royals Ryan Jenkins Sharlon Schoop Tim Melville Wil Myers

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