Minor League Roster Breakdown: Northwest Arkansas Naturals

The 2022 minor league season is here! The Royals’ farm system was ranked #8 in Major League Baseball by MLB Pipeline at the end of March. Having the #1 overall prospect in Bobby Witt, Jr. helps. Still, some of this can be attributed to the development of their prospect bats with the likes of Nick Pratto, Vinnie Pasquantino, and MJ Melendez taking off. Along with others who showed some real potential like Nick Loftin, Michael Massey, Tucker Bradley, and others. This development of their hitters and their already stacked pitching prospects helped the Royals farm system take it to the next level.

On Monday, the Kansas City Royals announced their minor league rosters to start the season. There is a lot to be excited about at each level. Whether it is the massively stacked lineup in Omaha or the rotation that will be looking to dominate hitters in Northwest Arkansas. No matter what level you look at, some prospects get you excited for the future of the Kansas City Royals. In the following four articles, I’ll break down each team’s rosters and some players we should watch at each level. We are diving into the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, who kicked off their season last week. 

You can check out the other affiliates I’ve already covered here:

The Rotation

The rotation is the most exciting thing about the Naturals: Alec Marsh, Drew Parrish, Angel Zerpa, Yefri Del Rosario, and Anthony Veneziano. Not to mention Jonathan Bowlan will likely join the team once he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. The strikeouts for opposing hitters will often be when they face the Naturals. Angel Zerpa is the one that sticks out to me the most. He was impressive in his major league debut last year and showed flashes of his plus-plus command this spring. Many thought he would start in Triple-A, but the 22-year-old will head back to Double-A to see if he can iron out a few things. The lefty’s pinpoint command gives him the ceiling of being a starter. He’s got a good fastball that generates sink paired with an above-average changeup and decent slider. If he starts the season dominating hitters, he could quickly make his way to Triple-A and even the big leagues.

Of course we all know Asa Lacy is the top pitching prospect on the Naturals roster. In my recent article on overcoming injuries, Lacy mentioned he is looking to take that adversity from last season and bounce back healthy in 2022. “I’m a believer in how adversity can impact an athlete for the better and it certainly has been that way for me,” Lacy said. “Regaining my health and letting go of the small fear that each pitch might hurt me has been huge. I learned how to listen to my body better.” He bounced back very well in the Arizona Fall League showing his elite stuff and even getting his fastball to touch 100 mph. It is great to see him healthy and he will be looking to dominate hitters in Double-A this year.

Alec Marsh is another one who should be high on everyone’s watch list. In one of my recent articles looking at Royals pitching prospects to bounce back from injury, I highlighted Marsh. In 2021, he struck out an absurd 42 batters in 25.1 innings pitched. I mentioned in that article that Alex covered it best in the Royals Farm Rankings, “Marsh has legitimate top-100 stuff when he’s healthy and might even have the most advanced repertoire in the system”. He has a starter’s profile with a ton of above-average secondaries in his curveball, slider, and changeup. He has a good feel for the strike zone when on, but he lacks control as he struggles to throw strikes and execute some of his pitches, especially with his fastball. The key for him in 2022 will be just to stay healthy and on the field.

I wrote about Drew Parrish last year when I featured five under-the-radar prospects for the Kansas City Royals’ in 2021. He has very legitimate potential to end up as a starter with his command and control progressing in the right direction. Baseball America noted that Drew Parrish’s fastball was in the upper-90s in one of his most recent outings this spring. Suppose Parrish can sustain that velocity over multiple innings. In that case, this could be a massive step in his advancement as he pairs his fastball was an above-average change up that does a great job at missing bats and a curveball that keeps on improving each year. 

The Outfield

The Naturals outfield got me almost as excited as the rotation. Nick Loftin headlines the outfield as he is coming off a year where he showed the above-average tools he has across the board and the versatility he brings by playing all over the field. The Royals moved him to centerfield this year as it is a spot that they are genuinely lacking offensive production from. Loftin doesn’t necessarily have a massive carrying tool like Seuly Matias’ power, but he can flat out hit, field, and throw above-average. He’s got enough power to hit double-digit home runs, speed to get double-digit steals, and smooth defensive abilities to give him one of the safest floors in the system. 

The Infield

The middle infield of Maikel Garcia at shortstop and Michael Massey at second base might be one of the most fun defensive middle infields in minor league baseball. The Royals added Garcia to the 40-man roster after flying under everyone’s radar last year. He flashed plus-plus speed and an excellent feel of the strike zone, shown in his walk and strikeout rates. The only place he lacks due to his size is the power department. Defensively he looked like he could hold his own at shortstop. He will also have a great double-play partner in Massey, the 2021 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award winner at second base. He couples his excellent defensive ability with a great approach at the plate. He is quick to the ball and makes a ton of contact. His power developed last year, and it will be interesting to see if he can sustain it at the higher levels. 

Gavin Stupienski and Nathan Eaton are some exciting names at the corner. Eaton recently slashed the Arizona Fall League .317/.352/.463 with five doubles, four stolen bases, and 13 RBI. He’s always flashed plus speed and an outstanding ability to get on base. He profiles more as a utility-type player. Stupienski is a bit older at 28. He was originally a 12th round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016 and then released. He wound up catching on in the independent American Association League in 2018, the Frontier League, and Can-Am League in 2019 and finished up in the All-American Baseball Challenge. After some success in independent ball, he caught on with the Royals and played most of his season with the Quad Cities River Bandits last year. He will see if he can carry that success over to Northwest Arkansas.

While predicting prospects can sometimes be like mining gold, the Royals have a promising near-future with numerous young ballplayers in the pipeline headed toward 1 Royal Way. This and the proposed legalization of sports betting and Kansas sports betting apps makes it an exciting time for Royals fans.

5 thoughts on “Minor League Roster Breakdown: Northwest Arkansas Naturals

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