The fine folks at the Northwest Arkansas Naturals provide us with a brief rundown of the Royals farm system every week. The details are listed below:
The Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League) rolled through another solid week, posting a 4-2 record since last week’s report. With their combination of a potent offense and strong pitching, the Storm Chasers have put themselves in prime position for a playoff spot. With just 19 games remaining in the season, the 69-55 Storm Chasers are at least five games clear of every other team in the PCL’s American Northern Division.
Before last week, speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson had hit just two home runs in over five professional seasons. But last week, Dyson accomplished the improbable, homering in back-to-back games against the Salt Lake Bees. Dyson had four multi-hit games last week and is now hitting .294 with 35 stolen bases in 37 attempts. Several recently promoted relievers are excelling for the Storm Chasers as well. Kelvin Herrera has allowed just one run and struck out 13 batters in 9 1/3 innings with Omaha, while Willy Lebron (1.80 ERA in 3 games) and Zach Miner (1.80 ERA in 7 games) have been dominant as well.
Though he has still put together an outstanding season in the PCL, Lorenzo Cain had a bit of a quiet week, going 5-for-22 at the plate with five strikeouts in six games. The recently acquired Yamaico Navarro is off to a slow start in his new organization, as the shortstop is batting .205 with two extra-base hits in 11 games with the Storm Chasers. Now working in the bullpen, Kevin Pucetas had a rough go on Aug. 13, when he allowed three runs on four hits in less than an inning against Salt Lake.
The playoff future of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Texas League) is a bit less secure than that of their Triple-A brethren, but the Naturals helped their cause with a 4-2 week. With 19 games remaining, the Naturals are four games ahead of the Springfield Cardinals, their chief competition for the North Division’s second playoff berth. A series to watch will take place late next week, as the Naturals head to Hammons Field to battle the Cards from Aug. 23-26.
Chris Dwyer looks like a completely different pitcher from the one who struggled with his control during the first half of the 2011 season. After a bit of a rocky start in Frisco last Thursday, Dwyer bounced back with 6 2/3 strong innings this past Wednesday night. Dwyer struck out eight while only walking one, and is now 5-1 with 40 strikeouts in his last six starts. Performing right along with Dwyer in the Natural rotation are Will Smith and Jake Odorizzi. Smith has spun three consecutive quality starts, while Odorizzi befuddled Frisco hitters to the tune of 6 1/3 scoreless his last time out.
Jeremy Jeffress has spent the past month in the Natural rotation as the right-hander attempts to harness his control. After beginning the season in the Kansas City bullpen, Jeffress has struggled to throw strikes at times in Northwest Arkansas, issuing 17 walks in 23 2/3 innings of work. On the bright side, Jeffress has allowed just one home run and is inducing ground balls at a very high rate (2.83 ground out/air out ratio). Though he may have righted the ship with a scoreless outing in his last game, reliever Kevin Chapman had allowed five runs over his previous three appearances.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League) were not able to match the performance of their high-minors counterparts last week, as they went 2-4 and enter this week’s report having just suffered a three-game sweep at the hand of the Frederick Keys. Though the team is not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the chances that Wilmington plays into the middle of September are slim.
Nick Van Stratten put together a solid week at the plate for Wilmington, as the outfielder has hit safely in his last six games. His week included three doubles and four RBI, as Van Stratten is now batting .297 in the Carolina League. Acquired with Omaha’s Yamaico Navarro at the trade deadline, reliever Kendal Volz has yet to allow an earned run in four appearances with the Blue Rocks. Starter Justin Marks pitched into the eighth inning his last time out, allowing just two runs on four hits against Lynchburg.
Wilmington is batting a collective .244, struggling to generate offense in the pitcher-friendly environs of Frawley Stadium. First baseman Ryan Stovall has hit a rough patch of late, going just 3-for-19 last week. Outfielder Whit Merrifield has also stumbled to a 1-for-12 showing in his last three contests.
Trying to make the postseason in their first year as a Royals affiliate, the Kane County Cougars (Midwest League) went 3-3 this week. Though they treaded water in the games that they played, the club took advantage of a rough week for the Quad Cities River Bandits. Kane County and Quad Cities are now tied atop the league’s Western Division second half standings, three games ahead of third-place Clinton in what could be a two-team race down the stretch.
This week saw more impressive production from outfielder Brian Fletcher. The 22-year-old racked up three two-hit games in the five contests in which he played last week and roped a pair of doubles along with his 11th home run of the season. Producing along with Fletcher of late is Brett Eibner, who has now hit safely in seven straight games. On the mound, Greg Billo has fired five consecutive quality starts. Though he allowed three runs over six frames his last time out, Billo still leads all qualifying full-season minor leaguers with a 1.56 ERA.
Like Wilmington, Kane County’s offense is hitting under .250 this season, and of late first baseman Jacob Kuebler has not provided much pop. Kuebler has gone just 2-for-16 in his last five games. Shortstop Orlando Calixte is 1 for his last 18 as his batting average has slipped to .215. The right-hand batter is hitting just .189 against lefties this season. Reliever Chas Byrne was tagged for three runs in an inning of work as he suffered a loss to Peoria on Aug. 11.
The Idaho Falls Chukars (Pioneer League) broke out the lumber in the middle of last week, scoring 28 runs a two-game span. The club might wish that they could have spread those runs out, however, as the team went 3-3 last week and did not get any closer to the .500 mark. The Chukars are currently in third place in the South Division second half stadings, three games behind Orem and Ogden.
Edwin Carl has put together one of the most impressive campaigns of any reliever in minor league baseball. He struck out 8 of the 11 batters he faced last week and has now racked up an incredible total of 58 strikeouts in 27 innings with Idaho Falls. Carl has only issued three walks and has allowed just four earned runs.Richard Espy has cranked a pair of homers in his last four games, hitting safely in every game in which he played last week. Promoted after shredding the Arizona League, Nick DelGuidice is off to a hot start for Idaho Falls with six hits in his first 16 at bats.
Moved into the starting rotation in the last few weeks, right-hander Willian Avinazar has not found his stuff yet, allowing four or more runs in each of his last three starts. A move to the bullpen has not helped Arkansas native Jonathan Dooley, who retired just two batters while giving up four runs in his last appearance.
The Burlington Royals (Appalachian League) did not fare well last week, going 2-4 as the team continues to fall off the pace. At just 20-35 overall, the Royals are likely to find themselves on the outside looking in at the end of the regular season.
Center fielder Lane Adams was an offensive bright spot for Burlington last week, notching three consecutive two-hit games at one point. Adams has at least one knock in 11 of his last 12 games, a surge that has raised his batting average from .268 to .305. On the mound, reliever Rudy Brown (2.97 ERA, 7 BB, 36 K) has been a standout on a staff that has a subpar 5.12 ERA this season.
Joining the Royals at the beginning of August, reliever David Middendorf is off to a slow start as he has allowed at least three runs in each of his first three apperances in the Appy League. Opponents are hitting .448 off Middendorf to this point. Starter Angel Baez has struggled as well, posting a 9.00 ERA through three starts in the month of August. At the plate, second baseman Derek Hamblen is just 5-for-49 (.102) with no extra-base hits in 20 games with the club.
Down in Surprise, the Royals’ complex league club picked up just one win last week, as the AZL Royals (Arizona League) are now 17-29 this season. With that said, now that the amateur signing deadline has passed, there is a chance that some of the club’s recent draft picks could begin their professional careers with the team in the next few weeks.
Outfielder D’Andre Toney continues to swing a good bat down in Arizona, as he is batting .322 in 35 games with the team. Producing right up there with Toney is infielder Adrian Morales, who has three three-hit games in the last 10 days and is batting .355 with an impressive .483 on-base percentage. Morales has walked (21) more often than he has struck out (15) in AZL action.
Collectively, the AZL Royals have a 6.63 staff ERA. Starter Cesar Ogando yielded three runs in four innings last time out, while Andrew Durden allowed four runs in less than an inning during a relief appearance on Wednesday. At the place, 2011 draftee Cameron Gallagher is still finding his feet at the plate, as the catcher is batting .174 in his first 11 professional games.
Former Naturals outside the Kansas City organization
A former Natural who began the season in the independent ranks is back in affiliated ball, as the Boston Red Sox recently purchased the contract of Jeff Howellfrom the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association. Howell has been assigned to Double-A Portland, where he will join former Naturals’ infielders Josh Johnson and Chris McConnell in the Eastern League. McConnell is currently batting .233 for the Nationals’ affiliate in Harrisburg while Johnson is batting .253 in 110 games.
After pitching sparingly in his first week or two with the Seattle Mariners, Dan Cortes is beginning to establish himself in the big leagues. The big right-hander tossed five scoreless innings last week, though he has not yet struck out a single batter in eight innings with Seattle. Fellow reliever Juan Abreu is making a case for a spot in the Houston Astros ‘pen, as he has not allowed a run in any of his last four outings with Triple-A Oklahoma City. Also now in the PCL is Blake Johnson, who fired three scoreless innings last week for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
Down in the Southern League, Corey Smith is hitting .270 for the Chattanooga Lookouts. He is joined in that circuit by a bevy of former Naturals, as Ernesto Mejia(.300, 30 2B, 20 HR), Ed Lucas (.281, 3 HR in 25 games) and Rowdy Hardy (3.14 ERA) all play for the Mississippi Braves.
Ben Swaggerty had been on the M-Braves roster as well, but recently eared a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he allowed a run in 3 1/3 innings over two appearances last week. He joins Jordan Parraz in the International League, as Parraz is batting .295 for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
Rounding out this week’s report is a look at the Florida State League. Outfielder Jose Duarte remains on the Jupiter Hammerheads’ disabled list, while Harold Mozingo has a 3.29 ERA for the Dunedin Blue Jays.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.