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2023 Season in Review: The Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Double-A was lacking big time prospects.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Royals have typically used Double-A to test their best prospects once they’re ready for the upper minors, but with a weaker farm system this year, the club had little top shelf talent. The Naturals had their second consecutive last place finish this year, although they did finish with a winning record in the second half, just three games out of a playoff spot. The team struggled to score runs, finishing second-to-last in the league in home runs. They hit .246 in a league that hit .253 overall, but finished with the third-worst on-base percentage and second-worst slugging percentage.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Record: 64-74

Finish: 5th (last place), North Division of the Texas League (Double-A)

Manager: Tommy Shields

Runs scored-per-game: 4.77 (9th out of 10 teams)

Runs allowed-per-game: 5.17 (6th out of 10 teams)

The best hitter for the Naturals was not a prospect, but 30 year old former Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who hit .267/.354/.483 with 22 home runs, tied for fifth-most in the Texas League. John Rave hit well in the outfield with a line of .275/.379/.430 before being promoted to Omaha. Parker Bates struggled to hit in left field, and Diego Hernandez showed good speed but no power in center. The outfield did get a boost when Javier Vaz was promoted up from A-ball, and Tucker Bradley was demoted down from Triple-A. Gavin Cross spent two games with the Naturals but was immediately sidelined with an illness.

Dillan Shrum, a 25-year-old undrafted free agent first baseman out of UNLV, led the team with a .399 on-base percentage, drawing 54 walks with 13 home runs in just 358 plate appearances. The Naturals were strong up the middle, with second baseman Peyton Wilson batting .286/.366/.411 with 19 steals and shortstop Tyler Tolbert hitting .276/.336/.419 with some newfound power with 10 home runs in 574 plate appearances. Tolbert’s 50 stolen bases were tied for the fifth-most in all of Double-A baseball.

Third base was manned by a mix of older players like Jimmy Govern and Jake Means, who struggled with the bat until prospect Cayden Wallace was called up. Utility infielders Morgan McCullough and Jeison Guzman filled in as needed around the field, each getting on base at a solid clip. Luca Tresh saw a dip in his power, but was still tied for third on the team with 10 home runs, but hit just .228/.313/.362 behind the plate.

Naturals pitchers had the third-most strikeouts, but the third-most walks. Their pitchers were the second-youngest in the league, with 23-year-olds in their rotation like Andrew Hoffman, Noah Cameron, Beck Way, and Chandler Champlain. Champlain was the only one that performed well with a 3.82 ERA after he was promoted from A-ball, with the others struggling with high ERAs. Alec Marsh and Anthony Veneziano began in Double-A but were soon promoted, with William Fleming and Mason Barnett replacing them with solid performances after they earned promotions from A-ball. Jonathan Bowlan returned from Tommy John surgery for 10 games with the Naturals, and while he had an ugly 7.20 ERA, he had a terrific 12.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate with an average walk rate.

Yefri del Rosario put up the best numbers by a Naturals reliever with a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 52 innings, but was released at the end of the season. Steven Cruz had a high walk rate, but racked up strikeouts and put up an impressive 2.20 ERA before being promoted. Jacob Wallace and Dante Biasi both struggled with high walk rates, while TJ Sikkema and Noah Murdock struggled with high ERAs (and high walk rates). Will Klein and John McMillon both excelled in the Naturals bullpen before moving on up, and former MLB pitcher Brett de Geus pitched well in Double-A with a 2.80 ERA in 20 outings.