Double-A NW Arkansas had the best season of any of the KC Royals full season affiliates: they made the playoffs (though they finished with an overall losing record). Quite a few of their players had successful seasons.
My Player of the Year Award comes down to two corner infielders who both represented the Naturals at the Texas League All-Star Game.
Third baseman Mauricio Ramos had yet another solid season, but is often overlooked. His .288 batting average was tied for second in the TL and his 28 doubles ranked him eighth.
In 125 games (most on the team), Ramos hit nine home runs and drove in 60. Unfortunately, he only walked 19 times compared to 92 strikeouts. In 105 games at third base, Ramos made just nine errors, two less than last season.
First baseman Frank Schwindel hit .270 with 20 doubles. His 20 home runs ranked him seventh in the TL and his 68 RBIs were ranked eighth.
Schwindel also did not walk much: just 18 times in 120 games (compared to 86 strikeouts).
Unfortunately, both Ramos and Schwindel play positions that are blocked in the big leagues, with Ramos having both Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier ahead of him in the minor league system.
Pitching is what carried the Naturals to the second half title and choosing just one for Pitcher of the Year is not easy.
Right-hander Jake Junis had a run of eight straight starts from May into June where he allowed two earned runs or less. He eventually earned a promotion to Triple-A in August.
In 21 starts with NWA, Junis was 9-7 with a 3.25 ERA, which ranked him third in the TL. He walked just 27 in 119 innings, while striking out 117 (sixth in the TL).
Fellow right-hander Yender Caramo made one appearance for Triple-A Omaha and despite a losing record (5-7) and pitching ten games out of the bullpen, he won the TL ERA title (2.45).
Over 114 innings, he allowed 101 hits (six home runs), walked just 23, and struck out 67. Oh and he earned five holds in those 24 relief outings. In the second half (14 games, ten starts) Caramo had a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings.
Lefty Eric Skoglund pitched a full season for the first time in his brief career. He was 7-10, but had the seventh-best ERA in the TL (3.45). In 27 starts, he struck out 134 (which led the TL).
On the downside, Skoglund allowed 135 hits (third in the TL) and allowed 19 homers (tied for first).
In 14 second half starts, Skoglund held opponents to a .193 batting average and struck out 71.
I am leaning towards Caramo, mainly because he spent the whole season with the Naturals, though Junis’ fiance revealed that he was the Royals choice.
*Tomorrow I will reveal my picks for Player and Pitcher of the Year for High-A Wilmington.