If you are thinking about taking a late summer trip to Little Rock, this would be the perfect time as the Naturals travel to play the Travelers in a seven-game series from Tuesday until Sunday. I haven’t kept this series running this season, but let’s check in with the Naturals. Currently, they are 25 games into a 46 game stretch of playing teams with a better than .500 record. The Naturals have a run differential of +67 this year and are 26-27 against teams with a record better than .500. These next 19 games can make a big difference in their league standing. Currently, the Naturals are 3.5 games out of first place. That sounds great but there are four teams bunched together in the North division. The Naturals are currently fourth. The North just keeps beating up on the South.
First, if you aren’t paying attention to the minor leagues, a few things have changed. The Texas League is gone. In it’s place is the Double-A Central. A product of the Manfred regime, 10th Commissioner of Major League Baseball. One of the many things that are diffent is the full week series in the minors this season. Hence, the Naturals played the Wind Surge (Twins) from Wichita Tuesday through Sunday, a six-game series. This is supposed to cut down on travel time and limit loss of games if COVID exposure takes place for one of the 12 teams in the Double-A Central.
The Naturals and the Wind Surge split the series three games each. As a partial season ticket holder that goes to games when I can, I was able to witness four games this week. The Naturals pitching staff got destroyed on Monday giving up 18 runs on 23 hits. The Wind Surge scored in every inning. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a professional game in which a team scored a run in all nine innings. It was quite an impressive offensive display.
Dairon Blanco has caught my eye this summer. Granted he is 28-years-old, but he has only played three seasons Stateside growing up in Cuba. Blanco came to the Royals in the Jake Diekman trade with the A’s in 2019. Blanco missed some time after leaving the Cuban National League before being signed by the A’s. He is making up for lost time and should see a promotion to Omaha soon. Blanco was considered one of the, if not the, fastest player in Cuba. Blanco has a strong right arm and covers a ton of ground in the outfield. This week, he put together some strong games. Blanco hit .384/.392/.750 in 29 plate appearances. He hit three home runs and a triple. Blanco scored 5 runs and drove in 11. He did not walk, was hit by a pitch, and struck out seven times. I don’t see him staying in Springdale much longer.
MJ Melendez is a name familiar to Royals prospect watchers. Melendez made an appearance in the Baseball America Mid-Season Top 100 this week at number 100. He has earned it re-working his swing, approach, and contact. Melendez was leading Double-A Central with 25 home runs. Personally, I feel he should have moved with Witt and Pratto to Omaha. However, he and Pasquantino now form a formidable three four combo in the Naturals lineup. Sometimes Blanco hits ahead, sometimes behind in the five spot. Melendez did make a high throw on Tuesday in an attempt to backpick a runner on third. But, his defense seems ready to move up.
Vinnie Pasquantino moved up to replace Pratto at first base when Pratto moved to Omaha. Pasquantino has killed the ball at Double-A hitting his first multi-homer game at the level on Tuesday. For the week, he hit .400/.520/.750 with a double and the two home runs. Vinnie had seven runs scored and seven runs batted in. He walked three times and struck out only twice. The leftie crushed a ball to right-center and pulled a ball dead into the right field corner.
Austin Cox shut down the hot offense of the Wind Surge on Thursday when he dominated through 6.0 innings. Cox allowed just one hit while striking out seven. He did walk four which was higher than the average of two per start. Cox seems to be putting things together throwing 86 pitches and collecting 11 swings and misses. He still needs to command the zone better, but his stuff seems to be getting harder to hit as evidenced by zero line drives hit by one of the leagues hottest offenses.
Foster Griffin continues to work his way back from injury toward the big leagues and made a stop in Springdale to start on Friday. Griffin worked 4.1 innings allowing one run on three hits, no walks, and four strikeouts. Josh Dye bounced back from a tough outing earlier in the week and threw 3.2 innings of scoreless ball. He gave up one hit, no walks, and struck out four. The game was won by the Naturals but the important part was they destroyed Twins #2 overall prospect RHP Jordan Balazovic. Balazovic didn’t make it out of the fourth.
The Naturals have another tough week lined up as they travel to Little Rock to take on the second-place Travelers. They will play seven games because they have to make up a rain date from earlier in the season.
Image of a July evening baseball sky at Arvest by Drew Osborne.