SPRINGDALE, Ark. - The Kansas City Royals announced today the 2017 field staffs for all minor league affiliates. Springdale resident, Vance Wilson, returns to lead the Naturals for a fourth consecutive season as manager.
Pitching coach, Steve Luebber, returns to Arvest Ballpark for his second season along with Masa Koyanagi, who will begin his sixth season as the Naturals' athletic trainer. Newcomer, Leon Roberts, comes to Northwest Arkansas as the Naturals' hitting coach while Jarret Abell, enters his first season as Northwest Arkansas' strength and conditioning coach.
Wilson, 43, has led the Naturals to consecutive Texas League North Division pennants, taking Northwest Arkansas to two straight Texas League Championship series. The former Major League catcher has been pivotal in the development of a vast core of current Kansas City Royals, with six 2016 Naturals playing for the Royals at some point during the season.
Throughout his managerial tenure with the Naturals, Wilson has seen 10 players play in Northwest Arkansas and make Major League debuts during the same season, sending three in 2014 (Lane Adams, Brandon Finnegan and Wilking Rodriguez), three in 2015 (Dusty Coleman, Raul Mondesi and Miguel Almonte) and four in 2016 (Hunter Dozier, Kevin McCarthy, Alec Mills and Matt Strahm).
Luebber, 67, guided an elite Naturals' pitching staff last season to a number of franchise records. The hurlers posted the lowest ERA in franchise history with a 3.55 average, third best in the Texas League, while leading the league in strikeouts (1,163), also a franchise-best. Under Luebber's tutelage, the pitching staff walked the fewest amount of batters in Naturals' history (373) and posted a franchise-best, 1.24 WHIP.
Roberts, 65, enters his first season as the Naturals hitting coach, after spending the last five seasons in the Houston Astros' organization, including four (2012-15) as the hitting coach at Triple-A Fresno and one (2016) as the club's roving outfield and base running instructor. Roberts played 11 seasons in the Major Leagues as an outfielder, including his last two seasons (1983-84) in
Roberts replaces former hitting coach, Brian Buchanan, from the 2016 team following Buchanan's promotion to Kansas City. Roberts is the eighth hitting coach in franchise history.
Royals Spring Training begins in February as the first workout for pitchers and catchers is slated for Tuesday, February 14, while the first full team workout is scheduled for Friday, February 17.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals will host the San Antonio Missions, the Double-A Affiliate of the San Diego Padres, on Thursday, April 6 at 6:25 p.m. for Opening Day of Season 10 of Naturals Baseball at Arvest Ballpark.
Follow the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on Twitter @NWANaturals all throughout the year by using the hashtags #NaturalPastime and #CrowntoCrown for all of our up-to-date information on the 2017 schedule, tickets, group outings, promotions, roster, and Spring Training information as we prepare for the Season 10 of Naturals Baseball.
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.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.