I will be keeping a close watch on Double-A NW Arkansas all season long, and not just because they are the KC Royals affiliate.
24 of the 27 players listed on their roster I personally covered over the last two seasons. Many of them were in Wilmington last year and some I was a little shocked they were promoted (but I still wish them luck). They open their season at home on Thursday night against Midland.
The Naturals pitching staff was awful as a whole in 2012, but that could change in 2013. The rotation could look like this: Yordano Ventura, Jason Adam, Noel Arguelles, Sugar Ray Marimon, and Andy Ferguson.
Ventura and Marimon struggled in their mid-season promotions last season, but Ventura further put himself on the map with his performance this spring (in terms of competing for the fifth starter’s spot). Arguelles had a rough 2012 in NW Arkansas, but seemed fully healthy this spring and threw well. I expected Adam to to earn the promotion, but he needs to keep the ball in the ballpark (which he struggled with at spacious Frawley Stadium). The big surprise may be Ferguson, who pitched at three levels in 2012 (and pitched well). He dominated at times in Wilmington and he could end up pitching the best, especially close to home (he attended Arkansas State).
If any of those struggle, there are more starters in the bullpen, four to be exact. I’m also not sure if the Naturals will go with piggy-back combinations at the start of the season like they do at lower levels.
Edwin Carl started and relieved in Wilmington and really pitched well for the Blue Rocks late in the year (after dominating at Low-A Kane County). Santiago Garrido was part of a piggy-back combo in Wilmington, but was limited by an injury. Brooks Pounders joined the Blue Rocks rotation in the second half and pitched well late in the season. As did Matt Ridings.
Sam Runion pitched well in the Naturals pen after a much-deserved promotion from Wilmington in the second half. Nick Rogers struggled in his Double-A promotion last season and after returning to the Blue Rocks. He is looking for a solid second chance. Jon Keck also split time between High-A and Double-A in 2012 (I saw him pitch in Wilmington every time I went). Cole White, who missed a good chunk of the 2012 season, is the surprise entry to the Naturals bullpen.