SPRINGDALE -- Northwest Arkansas Naturals manager Vance Wilson said next year's team could look very similar to the one that ended this season as several players may not be ready for the move up to Triple-A.
The Naturals, the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, came within one win of a third consecutive appearance in the Texas League Championship series, despite significant second-half struggles that saw the roster ravaged with call-ups and injuries.
NWA Naturals Attendance
Source: NWA Naturals/Texas League
By The Numbers
10 — Seasons the Naturals have been in existence; wins by NWA starter Emilio Ogando.
4 — Naturals players who will participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
12 — Naturals players on both the opening day and playoff rosters.
7 — Regular-season Texas League North Division titles; Naturals ranking in attendance in the Texas League this season.
80 — Home runs hit by the Naturals, which tied for last in the Texas League.
"It was a funny year; at times it was great and at times grueling," Wilson said. "We saw a lot of growth from guys like Jack Lopez. Donnie Dewees and Nick Dini came a long ways. But the majority probably need at least another half in Double-A."
Dini put himself on the map as a prospect at catcher by skipping High-A Wilmington and adjusting quickly. He hit .310 in 64 games. Dewees Jr. finished his first season in Double-A with a .272 batting average, while Lopez hit .281 after managing no higher than .238 in his last five minor league seasons.
The Naturals' 10th season saw their 3 millionth fan come into Arvest Ballpark. They also won the Texas League regular-season North Division title for the seventh time.
The second half didn't go nearly as well with the roster being shuffled because of shortages in Triple-A and the Major League club. The Naturals finished last in the division, including a franchise worst 8-28 on the road.
Northwest Arkansas pitchers didn't perform as well as he expected overall. But Wilson said a lack of offense -- especially in the second half -- also put pitchers in a bind. Northwest Arkansas ranked last in the Texas League in runs scored, doubles and slugging percentage and tied for last with just 80 home runs in 140 games.
Pitcher Foster Griffin won a team-high 11 games, while the hard-throwing Lovelady turned heads in the bullpen. But as the roster changed at midseason, the offense suffered as the team managed for a couple weeks with as few as 21 active players -- four under the regular limit of 25.
"We had some guys trying to catch up to the league," Wilson said. "Our guys weren't getting breaks and wore some guys out. That's frustrating as a manager. But on the development side, it's great experience for these guys to learn the grind."
Slick-fielding shortstop Humberto Arteaga is one that Wilson said wore down playing in 124 games. His offensive numbers reflected that as he was having a career year pushing .300 in the first half. He hit just .234 over the final two months.
Naturals general manager Justin Cole said season 10 was a success from his standpoint, too, as more than 300,000 fans came through the turnstiles at the local park for the ninth time in 10 years.
"The only year we didn't do that, we had five rainouts," Cole said. "The average attendance number of 4,450 is something we're proud of. We're not content. We want to keep trying to grow. Hopefully fans think we're doing a good job.
"Opening day for season 10 is something that stuck out for me. A lot of people were there who helped bring the Naturals to life. And the Salvador Perez bobblehead was one of our more popular items for a giveaway. We gave away 2,000 in less than 20 minutes. It shows the culmination of 10 years and how the community has latched onto some of the players who have gone on to Kansas City."
Sports on 09/17/2017