2011 NW Arkansas Naturals preview

The Naturals open their season on April 7

The NW Arkansas Naturals on Wednesday unveiled their 2011 opening day roster. The club returns a number of key players from the 2010 Texas League Championship squad, along with a few new top prospects. The Naturals open their season at home against San Antonio on April 7.

Northwest Arkansas Roster

Catchers
Salvador Perez
Ryan Eigsti
Ben Theriot

Comment: Perez, the top catching prospect in the organization, will make his Double-A debut and should receive the vast majority of playing time.

Infielders
Jamie Romak
Anthony Seratelli
Kurt Mertins
Jeff Bianchi
Mario Lisson
Christian Colon

Comment: Romak should see the most time at first base, while Bianchi (2B) and Colon (SS) will man the middle infield. Third base will likely include a rotation of some kind between Lisson, Seratelli, and Mertins, although the latter two can play anywhere on the infield.

Outfielders
Derrick Robinson
Tim Smith
Nick Van Stratten
Wil Myers

Comment: Robinson returns as the Naturals' centerfielder after a 2010 offensive breakout in which the 23-year-old speedster hit .286/.345/.380 with a league-best 50 stolen bases. Myers, the team's best offensive prospect, will play every day in right field, while Van Stratten and Smith should share left field and DH duties.

Starting Pitchers
Chris Dwyer
John Lamb
Will Smith
Heath Rollins
Edgar Osuna

Comment: Dwyer and Lamb are the headliners, with both southpaws ranking among the Royals' top 10 prospects. Osuna began the 2010 season with the Naturals, going 6-2 with a 2.95 ERA before being promoted to Omaha, where he was roughed up in seven outings. The Royals selected Rollins in the Double-A phase of the 2010 Rule 5 draft. The 25-year-old right-hander was 5-3 with a 5.27 ERA in 44 appearances last season between the Rays' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

Relievers
Blake Johnson
Patrick Keating
Mario Santiago
Eduardo Paulino
Brandon Sisk
Eric Basurto
Buddy Baumann
Harold Mozingo

Comment: Keating and Sisk combined for 19 saves with NW Arkansas last season, and both return to Springdale this spring. Buddy Baumann makes his Double-A debut after a sensational 2010 campaign (4-2, 2.24 ERA, 113 Ks in 100.1 IP) for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Santiago and Paulino were two of the Naturals' most reliable starters last season, but the Royals shifted them to relief duty this spring. It will be interesting to see if Santiago's already plus fastball plays up out of the bullpen. Mozingo, a proud VCU alum, made the switch to the bullpen last season after a few injury-plagued seasons, and he will make his Double-A debut in the Naturals' bullpen.

Final Analysis
There aren't many surprises on this year's club. The Naturals boast a very balanced squad this spring, returning much of their 2010 lineup while adding a few high-ceiling prospects (Perez, Colon, and Myers). In Lamb, Dwyer, and Smith, the starting rotation includes three Top 60 prospects, and the fourth starter – Osuna – was a Texas League All-Star last season. Keating, the hard-throwing Florida alum, should handle the majority of save situations behind a talented group of relievers. Indeed, the Naturals seem well-poised to make some noise again this season.

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