In case you missed it, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the 2021 Double-A Central champions.
The Kansas City Royals' Double-A affiliate team went 64-55 this season, peaking at the right time and using its immense talent to win the Central. Manager Scott Thorman's bunch has been a bright spot for the Royals organization this year, and so have several of the team's players. Some of the crew here at Inside the Royals has gathered to list which Naturals are the most exciting to them.
Tyler Dierking: Northwest Arkansas is loaded with potential big leaguers. While I could pick Jonathan Bowlan as the guy to watch, I’m going to be looking at another player next year more (considering I already follow Bowlan pretty close). The most intriguing player looking forward that fans should be watching just might be first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. He finished the year hitting .300/.394/.563 between Quad City and Northwest Arkansas over 116 games, but hit .310/.405/.560 over 55 games in Double-A. His 13.1% BB% and 11.0% K% are both fantastic.
Had Pasquantino met the qualified playing time limits, his .965 OPS would have saw him finish second in all of Double-A behind fellow Royals prospect MJ Melendez. His .405 OBP would have had him ranked third. Pasquantino logged 54 extra-base hits, and that's something to be excited about. While currently ranked as the Royals' No. 18 prospect, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes the jump into the top-10 with some notable names coming off the board and another year of continued improvement.
Jerry Edwards: The most intriguing player for me (not named Vinnie Pasquantino) is actually someone that didn’t even play in the series against Wichita: Jonathan Bowlan. Bowlan would’ve probably made it up to the big leagues this year if he didn’t hurt his elbow and have Tommy John surgery just four starts into the year. In those three starts prior, he pitched 16.1 innings and allowed only three earned runs while striking out 23 batters against only three walks.
The big issue with the young Royals pitchers right now is that they struggle to throw strikes consistently. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the issue with Bowlan. The 6’6" righty's main pitch is a fastball that sits in the mid-90s that gets on hitters quickly. Pair that up with an improving slider and changeup combo, and you have a possible workhorse that could entrench himself into the middle of the rotation in future years. The main concern will be how Bowlan heals from Tommy John, but he might (keyword: might) crack the starting rotation for Kansas City in 2023.
Lucas Murphy: One of the most interesting players at Northwest Arkansas (who was promoted to Triple-A this week) is Angel Zerpa. He is 21 years old and currently on the 40-man roster. He has high upside throwing left-handed and touching 94-96 mph. He throws a hard slider and a changeup that plays well off of his fastball in the mid-80s. Zerpa is currently the Royals' No. 19 prospect. I look for him to build comfortability at each level and command his pitches. Anticipate a role out of the bullpen, but he could project as a starter as well.
Mark Van Sickle: There are a lot of pitchers who have a ton of upside from this group of Double-A champions, but I’m having a tough time choosing just one so I’ll pick a position player: Seuly Matias. The outfielder has fallen off as a prospect since he first entered the scene about five years ago as an 18-year-old. The raw power at the plate and incredible arm in the outfield gives me hope that he can still make the jump to the next level and be a part of the next championship run in Kansas City.
Matias will need to make more contact at the plate and cut down on the strikeouts for him to receive an opportunity. However, watching him hit long jacks gives off the feeling that being a Jorge Soler-type player could be his ceiling, which could be fun if he can give you a 40-plus home run season and assist during a playoff push.
Christopher Tenpenny: He might not be my most anticipated player and I might be breaking the rules a bit here, but the most intriguing player for me at Double-A is Jimmy Govern. Govern’s story alone draws interest, as he was a 30th-round pick in 2019 and has already seen time at Omaha just two years later. Govern has spent most of the season at Double-A, though, where the infielder has struggled. In 44 games, he's slashing .215/.281/.396 with an OPS of .677 in 163 at-bats.
This is the first level at which the 24-year-old has struggled at the plate, but the Royals clearly see value in his skill set. He can play anywhere in the infield and has shown some upside (has a career OPS of .877 in 582 minor league games). The jury is still out on if he’ll be the next Whit Merrifield or the next Johnny Giavotella. Still, Govern looks to have potential as a utility infielder at the MLB level. He's a name to keep an eye on and could make more of an impact than previously expected.
Jordan Foote: This is almost surely a cop-out answer, but I'm going with Vinnie Pasquantino. The rest of the team here has covered most of why I'm rolling with him. I get that he's old relative to the levels he's been playing at and he may not be the speedster nor defender that many think is ideal, but he's managed to have a patient approach at the plate and screams professional hitter. If he can have a Billy Butler-esque career in terms of production, there's some value present for the Royals. Time will tell if he gets the chance to unleash it, because the farm system is loaded.