SPRINGDALE, Ark. - Four prospects and 12 returnees headline the 2014 Northwest Arkansas Naturals roster released by the Kansas City Royals earlier this morning. The Naturals will commence the 2014 season on the road, Thursday April 3 against the Frisco RoughRiders with opening day at Arvest Ballpark coming on April 10.
Two top-20 prospects will range the outfield for the Naturals this season as Lane Adams (No. 18) and Jorge Bonifacio (No. 4) return for their second stretch and first full season in Northwest Arkansas. Adams, a versatile outfield played in 44 games for the Naturals in 2013 making 18 appearances in right field, eight in center and 15 in left. The Red Oak, Okla. native hit .244 with five home runs with 26 RBI and 15 stolen bases and made his mark when he became the first Natural since Clint Robinson in 2010 to have seven RBI in a game.
Bonifacio continues to hit at every level he plays. Outside of his short 21-game spell in the Arizona League in 2010, the smooth-hitting Dominican has never hit below .282 in four seasons in professional baseball. In 25 games for Naturals, Bonifacio hit .301 with two home runs, seven doubles and 19 runs batted in. He is expected to patrol right-field this season.
Joining the prospects in the outfield will be returnee Edinson Rincon and newcomer Ethan Chapman will join the Naturals for 2014. Rincon spent 13 games in Northwest Arkansas in 2013 while Chapman split time between Lo-A Lexington and Hi-A Wilmington a season ago.
Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert (No. 14) return to anchor a combination of returnees and new faces. . Cuthbert returns to Northwest Arkansas after playing 64 games at the hot corner in 2013. The Nicaraguan prospect remains an integral ingredient to the plan. Yowill Espinal returns to Northwest Arkansas after a brief stint in 2012. The Dominican infielder played 2013 in Hi-A Wilmington starting nine games at shortstop, eight at third and six games at second base.
Utility man Whit Merrifield is back for his third season in Northwest Arkansas and will continue to play everywhere on the field. The former South Carolina Gamecock played eight of the nine positions in 2013 including tossing one inning in relief to record a three-out save. Angel Franco is back for his second stint with the Naturals after playing in 83 games in 2013. The shifty middle-infielder hit .294 with four home runs and drove in 27 runs.
Newcomers to the infield are corner infielder Jared Schlenhuber and second baseman and outfielder Justin Trapp. The duo each played in Hi-A Wilmington in 2013 and also played together for the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League this past off-season. Schlenhuber hit .310 for the Aces - good for fourth best in the league - while Trapp swiped nine bags in 46 games for Melbourne. Mark Threlkeld will also be in the mix in the infield.
Catcher Juan Graterol was part of a three-catcher rotation system for the Naturals in 2013 and is the only returnee of the trio from a season ago. The Venezuelan backstop caught the most of the three appearing in 53 games while he threw out nearly 30-percent of would-be base stealers. In Graterol's first season in Double-A, the catcher hit .286, with three home runs, 17 runs batted in with six doubles. Graterol will be joined by former third round draft pick of the Cubs, Micah Gibbs and Parker Morin. Both spent time in Wilmington in 2013.
The Naturals return a pair of work horses in RHPs Jason Adam and Sugar Ray Marimon to anchor the pitching staff. Adam, tabbed as the No. 9 prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization by Baseball America, returns for his second season with the Naturals. The 6-foot-4 right-hander spent the entire 2013 season in Northwest Arkansas making 26 starts tied with Sugar Ray Marimon for most on the team. The former fifth round draft pick finished 8-11 on the season with a 5.19 ERA and tossed 144 innings recording 126 strike outs for tops on the team and third-most in the Texas League in 2013.
In the 26 starts for Marimon, the Columbian hurler logged a 4.31 ERA in 148.1 innings. This will be Marimon's third season with the Naturals as the right-hander ranks third on the all-time list for games started tied with former Naturals pitcher RHP Dan Cortes with 38 while ranking fourth in innings pitched with 215 to date.
The Naturals bullpen will see many familiar faces who hold a plethora of experience the return of left-handed reliever Scott Alexander, RHPs J.C. Sulbaran, Andrew Trigg, along with Noel Arguelles and Andy Ferguson. Alexander, the former sixth round pick of the Royals in 2010, appeared in 24 games for the Naturals in 2013. The southpaw compiled a 2-0 record in 33 innings pitched with a 5.18 ERA.
Headlining the newcomers to the pitching staff are RHP Angel Baez (No. 27) and right-handed reliever Malcom Culver. The Dominican born Baez made eight starts for Wilmington in 2013 compiling a 3-1 record with a 4.38 ERA while Culver appeared in 39 games for the Blue Rocks and finished 15 games recording five saves. The reliever logged a 2.79 ERA.
Others on the staff will be Cuban-born right-hander Hassan Pena, RHPs Tim Melville, Greg Billo and Cody Fassold. Pena pitched at the Triple-A level in the Mexican league in 2013, while Melville, Billo and Fassold all pitched in the Royals organization a season ago.
The Seventh Season of Naturals Baseball begins Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Frisco, Texas. The team opens at Arvest Ballpark on Thursday April 10, 2014 against the same Frisco RoughRiders, the Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. The Naturals play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark. For more information including statistics, ticket options, and more, please visit NWANaturals.com, and follow us on Twitter @NWANaturals and Facebook.com/Naturals.