The Naturals are coming off an up and down season that was filled with weird streaks. However, some of those guys are gone, and some are back. You never really quite know what you are getting with a minor league team when guys are being promoted and moved around often.
This roster is based off the roster prediction posted by the Naturals yesterday on their site. It will obviously change as the season goes on and probably even before the season starts. I also talked with Naturals GM Justin Cole on what it takes to get ready for a season from an affiliates point of view.
Catchers: Meibrys Viloria and Nathan Esposito
Infield: DJ Burt, Gabriel Cancel, Samir Duenez, Taylor Featherston, Travis Jones, Emmanuel Rivera
Outfield: Nick Heath, Khalil Lee, Anderson Miller, Kort Peterson
Starting Pitchers: Gerson Garabito, Ofreidy Gomez, Connor Greene, Andres Sotillet, and Jace Vines
Relief Pitchers: Andrew Beckwith, Grant Gavin, Franco Terrero, Gabe Speier, Walker Sheller, Emilio Ogando, Yunior Marte, and Jake Kalish.
I think this year’s Naturals are immensely improved from a 70-70 overall team that just missed the playoffs twice last season. I think these Naturals will be good in the first half and better in the second half as talent from Wilmington starts to permeate the roster. This Naturals team has more of an offensive profile with what should prove to be a strong bullpen.
For starters, the Naturals catcher position was weak at the beginning of last season with Nick Dini starting in Omaha and finished strong with Xavier Fernandez. This year, the Naturals will have a big league catcher for the entire season (barring promotion) in Meibrys Viloria. Pitchers love throwing to both Viloria and the backup catcher, Nathan Esposito.
Samir Duenez will anchor first base for the Naturals. Duenez is primed for a breakout coming off a wrist/hand injury from last season with several years of experience in the Texas League. He should hit for a high average and drive in some runs.
Emmanuel Rivera is a strong third base prospect and will see a lot of time for the Naturals at the position. DJ Burt and Gabriel Cancel will share time at second base. One of them may get an opportunity to get some innings on the left side of the infield as well. Veteran Taylor Featherston has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues and looks to share that information with the younger guys as well as work toward a 2019 stint in with the Royals. Featherston should get most of the time at short stop to start the season. Travis Jones will likely be a super utility player for the Naturals backing up first, third, left, and right. He is a true four corners player.
Khalil Lee is the highest rated prospect on this team at #2 in the Royals organization. He will either anchor center field or right field depending on the day and hit in the middle of the order. Nick Heath will have a shot in center on some days and move over on the others as well as hit at the top of the order this season after having a strong Arizona Fall League. Kort Peterson will play a few different spots and may spend time as the team’s DH. When he is in the lineup, Peterson has power potential and should hit fourth, fifth, or sixth. Anderson Miller has big league potential and played a lot of left field last season. I imagine he will hit fifth, sixth, or seventh.
The early confirmation on the rotation is Connor Greene, Jace Vines, Gerson Garabito, Ofreify Gomez, and Andres Sotillet. Of course, this is always subject to change as the Naturals have several other pitchers who could be starters. Greene pitched in the Cardinals organization last year after spending time with the Blue Jays. He throws hard and will get a chance to prove he belongs in the Royals organization this year. Vines was a 4th round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M. He has a strong arm and made it to NWA last year although the results aren’t indicative of his stuff. Garabito earned a promotion last year and I honestly thought he would be here last season based on performance. Garabito has thrown 222.0 solid inning of ~3.00 ERA over the last two seasons. He did battle his control a little last season which is probably why the Royals held him back. Gomez showed big growth in his ability last season and the Royals want to give him every chance to start this season. The Royals are being aggressive with Sotillet moving him quickly. The Venezuelan has some big time stuff and the Royals hope to challenge him this season with an assignment to NWA.
Jake Kalish and Emilio Ogando are both LHPs who have started in the past but look like they will be in the pen this season. Ogando struggled for part of last season early but really figured some things out late and had good results. His curve is good enough to get him to the big leagues by itself. He can maximize its usage in the pen and force his hand as a LOOGY. Kalish is a guy who has bounced between NWA and Omaha several times. His stuff is solid striking out almost a batter per inning last year but he just can’t seem to stick. Kalish will pitch this season as a 27-year-old so his time is running out. The Royals are trying to find a way that he can solidify a shot in the majors.
There are several other guys from last year’s team who will be back in the bullpen this year. Franco Terrero throws hard but struggles with runners getting on base and had a hard time limiting runs last season. He was some people’s pick to be a fast moving sleeper last season and he has the arm strength to do it. Gabe Speier is back. Speier came over from Arizona last year with Elvis Luciano for Jon Jay. Speier should see a bigger role this year. Grant Gavin had a strong season and will be back. Gavin is from the greater KC area and went to the University of Central Missouri. He should move up sooner rather than later. Yunior Marte is also returning. Marte throws hard and a strong season last year. Walker Sheller made a few appearances in the Arizona Fall League last year and is someone the Royals really like. He threws low-to-mid-90’s and has closing experience.
Andrew Beckwith is the only real new guy in the pen this year. Beckwith had a strong 2018 season posting a 1.75 ERA in 61.2 innings while only walking 14 batters. He is going to pound the zone and make hitters beat him.
I expect the Naturals to have a really strong season. I expect them to compete for a playoff spot during both halves of the season with the second half potentially becoming a Who’s Who of Royals prospects from Khalil Lee to possibly the top three pitching prospects with Singer, Kowar, and Lynch.
On a more personal note, I’m excited to take my family to see this team play. I am ready to see some of the top prospects in the organization as well as some guys develop into future major leaguers. This will be an exciting season in NWA.