Texas League Playoffs: NW Arkansas Naturals Lose But Hope Springs Eternal

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Texas League Playoffs: NW Arkansas Naturals Lose But Hope Springs Eternal
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With Game one of the Texas League semis in the books, the league's best team in the regular season finds themselves in a 1 - 0 hole, having lost in 12th as the semi-stable Patrick Keating gave up two earned on Peter Kozma's second home run of the night.

This all came well after Danny Duffy ran his pitch count up to 100 with two outs in the sixth. While one could opine that Duffy was not economical with his pitches, it should be noted that the man who had to take time off to rediscover his love for the game struck out 10 while walking three and allowing four hits. After running into a bit of trouble in the second, he dominated, striking out the side in two of the five innings he saw all the way through.

When Duffy walked away from baseball in the end of March, I was at my wit's end. While the future was anything but certain, the alarmist in me began to panic. Was this the beginning of the end? After a harrowing 2009 in the minors for the Royals, this was just more fuel to the fire.

Wow, what a difference a season makes.

After a worrisome 2009 season split between low-A Burlington, where he struggled, and the notoriously unfriendly confines of the Royals' high-A affiliate, Wilmington, DE, where he bombed, the 24th ranked prospect in the game according to Baseball America heading into 2019 found himself un-ranked to start this season.

Mike Moustakas found himself plummeting down the ranks after two straight seasons ranked in the top 20, landing at the 80th spot to start the 2010 season. Today, he finds himself having been voted the Minor League Hitter of the Year by the Sporting News.

Danny Duffy came back and hasn't looked to have missed a beat. Sure, his K-rate dipped a little upon reaching Northwest Arkansas, but it was still over a strikeout per inning, and the sample size is probably to small to get too concerned over.

John Lamb and Mike Montgomery have both pitched so well at times to have elicited praise so effusive that even I blushed, and the praise wasn't for me. The unofficial title of best left-handed pitching prospect in the game has been used in reference to both, and that application seems to be warranted. Yes, Lamb certainly struggled after getting promoted to Double-A, but if memory serves me correctly, Lamb became the third-youngest player* in the Texas League this year when he was called up to join the Naturals. It also bears mentioning that his BABIP was .333 which certainly helped nudge his WHIP up to the unhealthy 1.515 it reached over his 33.0 innings of work.

* I believe the two younger players were Jordan Lyles and Martin Perez. Of course, the (Dis)Astros then saw fit to promote Jordan Lyles to AAA - Round Rock....

Then there's Wil Myers, one of the few bright spots from last season. In very limited time after signing his much-above-slot contract shortly after being drafted only to have his contract put in the do not approve until the signing deadline bin by Bud Selig & Co., Myers exploded onto the scene, but having logged only 22 games between two rookie level teams, Royals fans had to be cautiously optimistic regarding the possible-catcher/probable-outfielder heading into 2010. Myers has proven that his 2009 was indicative of what was to come, as he tore up Burlington and Wilmington(!). The 19-year-old triple-slashed .315/.429/.506 between the two A levels of ball. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that he actually played better in Wilmington than he did in Burlington, posting a .346/.453/.512 slash line while playing half his home games in hitter's hell. Sure, his home run totals dwindled a bit once reaching Delaware, but his 54 extra base hits in 128 games at each level as a 19-year-old is tantalizing, and the potential value of his bat is extraordinary regardless of where he ends up biding his time on the field.

With these big question marks have been re-punctuated as exclamation points, the fact that the struggles of Aaron Crow and the season-long absence of high-profile Cuban defector Noel Arguelles effectively knocked two of the Royals four Top 100 Prospects (as usual, according to Baseball America) out of the rankings, and the Royals still find themselves with five likely top 50 (conservative estimate here) prospects heading into 2011 has to been reassuring to even the most pessimistic of Royals fans.

Furthermore, no mention has been made of Chris Dwyer, the potential of Cheslor Cuthbert, the new fan favorite Tim Collins, and 2010 draftees Christian Colon and Brett Eibner. With the two highest levels of the Royals farm having been in the playoff hunt until the final days of the regular season and one of those teams looking to be the class of their league (by having said that, I'm sure the Naturals will be three-and-out), the talent has advanced to the higher levels of the farm system and should begin infusing the Major League roster with some legitimate prospects as early as this spring.

As Danny Duffy did his part to put to bed any residual worries I had and Eric Hosmer cranked yet another home run, it seems like the bright future is much closer than the standard carrot dangled at the end of a three-year-long stick that we have been perpetually teased by.

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