Hot Stove: International representation may bolster ’12 Nats
Current, former Naturals wrap up winter ball stints
SPRINGDALE, AR – In the first four years of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ existence, their roster has been dotted with Latin American players representing Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and even Brazil. While that is no doubt a diverse group, the 2012 Naturals may have to hang a few extra flags.
Cuba, Panama, and Curacao could all find themselves represented on this season’s Naturals’ roster as Northwest Arkansas attempts to cover all of its international bases with respect to baseball-playing nations. The quartet of potential Naturals is led by a pair of intriguing Cubans – left-handed pitcher Noel Arguelles and outfielder Yem Prades — who spent their first full seasons in professional baseball together last season at Advanced Class-A Wilmington, and also includes Panamanian reliever Yeliar Castro and Curacao-born utility player Sharlon Schoop.
Royals fans may remember Arguelles, who Kansas City GM Dayton Moore signed to a $7 million contract prior to the 2010 season. Perhaps due to fatigue related to helping the Cuban National team, Arguelles didn’t make it out of Arizona that season but finally got on the field last year with Wilmington. The southpaw got off to a fast start, allowing just two runs over 17 2/3 innings (the Royals limited his innings) in his first four starts, good for a 1.02 ERA. Though he was shut down for the season after reaching 104 innings in early August, he finished his first professional season with a 4-5 record and a 3.20 ERA. Perhaps more importantly, he allowed just 93 hits and issued only 24 walks in those 104 innings and held opposing hitters to a .245 average.
Arguelles doesn’t possess the raw stuff or radar-gun lighting abilities of a higher-profile Cuban defector that came to the United States around the same time (Cincinnati Reds’ Aroldis Chapman), but at well over $20 million less of an price tag, he represented a younger investment and perhaps a better play. The 6’3”, 215 pound lefty will be just 22 on Opening Day, when he should take his low 90’s fastball and complementary breaking pitches into the Naturals’ rotation.
Prades was even less hyped than Arguelles coming from Cuba. He defected to the Dominican Republic in 2008 and was signed in April by Rene Francisco, the Royals’ Special Assistant to the GM/International Operations. The 23-year old outfielder was assigned to Wilmington in May and was fairly consistent at the plate, batting .289 with four homers, 11 steals, and 24 RBI’s in 80 games, holding his own in the pitching-oriented environment the Blue Rocks play in. Francisco was quoted on a blog site that Prades, who’ll turn 24 during spring training, has “above-average tools.” Between that and serving as a companion for Arguelles as they continue their assimilation to professional baseball in the US, expect those tools to be on display in Double-A this year.
Castro may not be familiar to Naturals fans but would be familiar with Moore and Francisco, who both worked for the Atlanta Braves when the right-hander signed out of Panama on July 2nd, 2004. Fast forward to 2011 – Castro became a minor league free agent, and the Royals, with several ex-Braves front office staff members still familiar with names they signed out of the international market, gave him a contract. A countryman of Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera, Castro strikes out a batter or more per inning – 44 in 39 innings across three levels in 2011.
Lastly, Schoop is a versatile player who can play all four infield positions and the corner OF positions. Should he end up on the Naturals, he’ll be the first player of Dutch heritage to play for Northwest Arkansas. Schoop spent the first part of his career in the San Francisco Giants’ organization and batted .243 in portions of three seasons in the Eastern League, but has the potential to offer Naturals’ skipper Brian Poldberg tremendous versatility – last season he played 34 games at shortstop, 25 at first base, 11 at third base, and three games at second. Like big league outfielder Andruw Jones, Schoop is a resident of Willemstad, Curacao, a baseball-appreciating nation that sits in the middle of the South Caribbean – typically soccer-loving countries.
Naturals/Texas League Notes
Managerial Notes: Between the announcement Monday that Brian Poldberg and his entire staff will be returning to Northwest Arkansas and last week’s announcement by the Corpus Christi Hooks that they’ll have a new skipper (Keith Bodie) again in 2012, the Arkansas Travelers and Frisco RoughRiders are the lone two teams yet to name their field staffs for the upcoming season. The Naturals will open the season on a six-game road swing that starts against Bodie’s Hooks on April 5th in Corpus Christi.
Winter League Report
The Winter Leagues have wrapped up across Mexico and the Caribbean…
Puerto Rico: Rey Navarro (Crillos de Caguas) wrapped up his season in the league with hits in four of his last five games to finish at .187 (14-for-75). He did have a homer and 11 RBI’s… Irving Falu (Indios de Mayaguez) had a solid campaign in Puerto Rico, batting .284 with 13 RBI’s in 41 games… Angel Sanchez, teammates with Falu, had a stellar winter league season, batting .293 with a homer and ten RBI’s as he preps to compete for playing time with the Houston Astros this year…Mario Santiago, having completed a stint in the Dominican Republic that saw him go 2-0 with a 2.62 ERA in nine appearances for Tigres del Licey, now has re-located back to his native Puerto Rico and joined his usual club, the Gigantes de Carolina. He made four starts for that club and finished allowing just two runs in 23 innings, holding batters to a .222 average.
Venezuela: Mario Lisson (Navegantes de Magallanes) got more playing time than ever before in winter ball and carried his solid average and power production from the Naturals’ regular season with him, batting .279 with 11 homers and 29 RBI’s. He’ll hope that translates into a push for a spot with Triple-A Omaha this spring…Former Natural Ernesto Mejia (Aguilas del Zulia) cooled off late in the season to finish at .262 with ten homers and 49 RBI’s, which led his team…Manny Pina (Bravos de Margarita) sees mainly defensive duty only for the Bravos, and he finished with a .128 average in 18 games.
Dominican Republic: Manauris Baez (Estrellas de Oriente) finished out a stellar winter league season, making ten starts among 11 appearances and going 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA… Willy Lebron made one more appearance late in the year for Licey and finished with a 2-3 record and 3.28 ERA, fanning 22 in 24 2/3 innings… Kelvin Herrera (Leones del Escogido) completed his stint in winter ball after 12 outings, having allowed just one earned run and fanning 15 while walking four in 17 1/3 innings pitched…He was teammates with Everett Teaford, who finished his winter league season with five starts, during which he went 1-1 with a 3.04 ERA, striking out 29 batters and walking only three in 23 2/3 innings. Elisaul Pimentel (Leones del Escogido) made eight appearances out of the bullpen with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 12 in 13 1/3 innings of work…Naturals’ southpaw Andrew Dobies (Toros del Este) really struggled in six appearances as a lefty specialist, allowing five runs in 2 1/3 innings of work. Edgar Garcia (Tigres del Licey) made just two appearances and had a 5.40 ERA.
Mexico: Federico Castaneda (Tomateros de Culiacan) had an up-and-down season in the Mexican League and completed his year with a 1-2 record and 5.75 ERA in 25 outings, although he displayed a great strikeout to walk ratio of 24-8 in 20 1/3 innings…Royals’ minor league Rule 5 acquisition Thomas Melgarejo (Aguilas de Mexicali) finished with a 3.57 ERA in 26 appearances. Marlon Arias, a southpaw signed by the Royals in December, played in both the Dominican and Mexico and pitched to a 2.08 ERA in 13 appearances between the two stops.
These teams and respective leagues will play the round-robin Caribbean Series which takes place in February just before early reports for Major League Spring Training.
Transaction Log: Former Naturals’ pitcher Barry Bowden, who appeared with the club late in the 2010 season, was released by the Royals in late December. Bowden, a right-handed reliever, missed all of 2011 recovering from a shoulder injury…Former Naturals’ slugger Corey Smith, who hit 21 homers and drove in 90 runs during the 2009 season, signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox after two seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization, where he split time between their Double-A and Triple-A levels. It is a homecoming of sorts for Smith, who played for the White Sox’ Double-A Birmingham affiliate in 2006…Third baseman Josh Fields, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy quarterback who spent 11 games with the Naturals on a rehab assignment in 2010, signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers that includes an invite to big league spring training. He is returning to the states after spending the bulk of the 2011 season in the Korean Baseball League…
Check nwanaturals.com twice monthly for the Hot Stove Report, where we’ll continue to follow Royals’ minor leaguers in winter ball as well as cover other off-season baseball information that pertains to the Naturals and the Texas League.
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.