Naturals Announce Preliminary Roster

Nine players return from North Division Championship club

Rowdy Hardy returns to the Naturals in 2010. (KC Star)

By Frank Novak / Northwest Arkansas Naturals | April 1, 2010 10:29 AM ET

SURPRISE, AZ - The Naturals announce a preliminary 2010 roster as spring training camp breaks.

The roster includes nine players who finished the 2009 season in Northwest Arkansas, including three members from the starting rotation: Blake Johnson, Everett Teaford, and Rowdy Hardy. It also includes left-handed reliever Ben Swaggerty, who was named after the season as the Naturals' 2009 Pitcher of the Year.

Diversity is a standout trait of the 2010 Naturals, as their preliminary roster includes representation from six countries plus Puerto Rico. The 2010 Naturals hail from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and from every corner of the United States. The roster includes a player originally scouted while playing soccer in Brazil, and a speedster from Florida who the Royals were able to sign away from a scholarship offer from the University of Florida, where he would have played cornerback for the Gators.

The roster also includes six of the Royals' Top 30 prospects according to Baseball America.

And of course, the roster includes Aaron Crow, the first-round selection by the Royals in last year's draft. The highly touted right-hander, who anchored the rotation at the University of Missouri where he was the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and a Golden Spikes Award winner in 2008 after going 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 15 starts. Crow is the second-best prospect in the system according to Baseball America

Crow will front a Naturals' rotation that also should include Johnson, two-year veteran starter, who leads the Naturals in all-time victories with 18, and Teaford, the left-hander who pitched well down the stretch and into the playoffs as the Naturals reached the Texas League Championship series. Right-hander Mario Santiago joins the rotation after spending two seasons with Advanced Class-A Wilmington and starring as one of Puerto Rico's best pitchers during this past offseason in Winter Ball. Right-hander Eduardo Paulino finished fourth in the Carolina League in wins for the 2009 season. He was also fifth in innings pitched and eighth in ERA, going 10-6 with a 3.63 ERA for the Blue Rocks.

The bullpen will have some new names but, if the newcomers can duplicate their numbers from last season, they look to be a promising group. Swaggerty returns to serve as the main left-handed late-inning relief option, while Brandon Sisk (2-3, 1.92 ERA, 21 saves for Wilmington) and Kelvin Villa (6-8, 3.38 ERA for Wilmington). Right-hander Louis Coleman, who was a star pitcher on LSU's College World Series squad and a 2009 draftee of the Royals, leads the right-handed relief corps which will also include Federico Castaneda and Chris Chavez, who both served in the Naturals' bullpen down the stretch last season.

The Naturals catching corps will take on another new look in 2010 with Manny Pina, acquired in a September trade with the Texas Rangers. Pina hit .259 overall for Frisco in 2009 with eight homers and 42 RBI in 86 games. He is regarded as a skilled defensive catcher and was amongst the Texas League leaders in throwing out opposing basestealers last season, catching over 40% of the runners attempting to swipe on him. He was also added to the Royals' 40-man roster this winter. Jeff Howell, who hit .262 for the Naturals last season and missed time with injuries, returns, and Ryan Eigsti, another well-regarded defensive catcher who played for Wilmington last season, rounds out the trio.

Clint Robinson, who was second in the Carolina League in batting average last season as well as fifth in slugging percentage and sixth in hits, will serve as the primary first baseman. Ernesto Mejia, signed from the Atlanta Braves as a minor league free agent this offseason, will also see time at first as well as designated hitter. Mejia is thought to be the organization's best right-handed power bat and will be expected to help anchor the middle of the Naturals' lineup.

Around the rest of the infield, the Royals' second-round 2008 pick, Johnny Giavotella, will man second base. Giavotella has been one of the Naturals' hottest hitters this spring. Steady defender Chris McConnell and Anthony Seratelli, who hit .268 for Wilmington last season, will man shortstop in the stead of Jeff Bianchi, who will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Kurt Mertins, who hit .275 as the primary second baseman last season, returns to the lineup to man third base. It is expected that the hot corner will be manned by 2007 first-round pick Mike Moustakas once he is fully recovered from a right oblique injury which has sidelined him the past two weeks. Moustakas will remain in Arizona with Extended Spring Training and by all reports, should join the club by early May.

Derrick Robinson joins the club as the center fielder after swiping 131 bases the past two seasons at Advanced Class-A Wilmington. One of the fastest players in minor league baseball, Robinson was offered a scholarship to play for the Florida Gators, but chose to play baseball after he was selected by the Royals in the 2006 draft. Tim Smith, who hit .309 in 36 games for Frisco last season during an injury-shortened campaign, will suit up for the Naturals after being involved in the same trade with the Texas Rangers that brought in Pina. The outfield rounds out with Paulo Orlando, the former Brazilian soccer player who has spent the past three seasons in the Carolina League, also joins the outfield mix along with Nick Van Stratten, who batted .288 in 42 games with Wilmington down the stretch last year.

Because the Royals have not completed their 25-man major league roster, this preliminary roster is subject to change, possibly more than once, before the Naturals' season opening game at Arvest Ballpark on Thursday April 8th.

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. You can purchase season tickets and group outings with the Naturals by calling (479) 927-4900.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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