The regular season is getting ever so close (2 more days!), and most of the Royals’ minor league rosters have been announced, which takes a bit of the guesswork out of this post. Thus far in this series, I’ve covered the Royals’ Low-A affiliate Lexington Legends and their High-A affiliate Wilmington Blue Rocks. If you are familiar with patterns, or if you can read the title of this article, you know that the next team to discuss is the Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals. While the Naturals won’t have quite as many premier prospects as the Blue Rocks, there should still be some potential major leaguers worth checking out this summer.
The manager of the Naturals is Vance Wilson, a guy many people believe is being groomed for a big league managing job. The home of the Naturals is Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas, which is a hitters’ paradise in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Last year didn’t go too well, as the team finished with just a 59-81 record.
Must-See Players in 2014:
Kyle Zimmer (RHP): Zimmer won’t actually be assigned to Northwest Arkansas until around May 20, since his injuries have caused the Royals to delay the start of his throwing program. The organization’s top prospect is hoping to repeat the success he saw in a limited time at Double-A last season (27 K, 1.93 ERA in 18.2 IP).
Jorge Bonifacio (OF): A big season from Bonifacio could allow the Royals to let Norichika Aoki go at the end of his contract, instead of worrying about re-signing him. He’ll need to stay healthy, but Bonifacio showed a terrific approach for his age last year (10% walk rate), which should pay off as he continues to mature.
Jason Adam (RHP): While Adam’s overall numbers from last year don’t jump off the page (5.19 ERA), he was much better after a disastrous April. In his last 21 starts, Adam struck out 7.6 batters per 9 innings, and had an ERA of 3.93. He doesn’t have elite stuff, and projects to be more of a back-end, innings-eating starter, but the addition of a slider to his repertoire appears to have been a big key to his resurgence.
Cheslor Cuthbert (3B): This will be an important season for Cuthbert, as he’ll need to excel in order to not be surpassed by Hunter Dozier. He struggled a bit in his Double-A debut last year, but the 21 year old has shown a patient approach, drawing walks in over 9% of his plate appearances in 2013.
Worth Keeping an Eye On:
Lane Adams (OF): None of Adams’ tools are exceptionally loud, but he does many things well. He could get a September call-up this season, where his speed could be used as a late-inning weapon.
Scott Alexander (LHP): A 6th round pick from 2010, Alexander struck out over a batter per inning last year, and he held left-handed batters to a minuscule .394 OPS. Not a .394 slugging percentage. A .394 OPS.
Justin Trapp (2B): Trapp has great athleticism, good speed, and a patient eye at the plate. However, his lack of outstanding contact skills and power potential limits his ceiling to more of a utility player.
Sugar Ray Marimon (RHP): Worth watching for his name alone, Marimon had solid peripheral numbers last year (7.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9), but he allowed 26 home runs in 27 games at Double-A. At 25, he’ll need to improve soon if he hopes to have any kind of a big league future.