When Mike Moustakas first stepped to the plate for Northwest Arkansas, the team realized that it may have something special brewing.
The third-base prospect had missed the first two weeks of the season with a minor injury, but in his first swing as a Natural, he lined a home run. In his next swing, he crushed another home run.
Two swings, two home runs and the start of a pretty impressive run.
“He came in and his first two swings were home runs,” Northwest Arkansas manager Brian Poldberg said. “We had seen a little bit of what he could do in spring training, but we hadn’t seen him a whole lot (because of injuries). Other guys saw that and saw that they didn’t have to press. It took the pressure off the other guys.”
Before the first half of the season was over, the Naturals had bashed their way to the best record in the Texas League and a first-half title. Moustakas moved on up to Triple-A Omaha after hitting .347/.413/.687 in 66 games, but a new wave of prospects, led by first baseman Eric Hosmer and lefthanders Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer replaced him.
The Naturals wrapped up the second-half title as well, then won the Texas League title with wins over Springfield and Midland in the playoffs.
Having great prospects doesn’t always equate with winning. Young prospects can get overmatched by teams filled with minor league veterans.
Northwest Arkansas managed to win and develop. The Naturals had one of the most prospect-laden lineups and rotations in the minors and they went on to win 92 games. For that combination of success and future stars, the Naturals are the 2010 Minor League Team of the Year.
“I knew we had some good players, but I didn’t sense that we could have a chance to be as good as we would become,” Poldberg said. “I didn’t expect to end up winning 92 games when we left spring training.”
The Naturals got contributions from a variety of sources. Moustakas and Hosmer (who hit .313/.365/.615 in 50 games) were the big names of the lineup, but first baseman Clint Robinson was just as vital. Robinson won the Texas League Triple Crown. And second baseman Johnny Giavotella and outfielders Paulo Orlando and Derrick Robinson each had the best seasons of their careers.
And when the playoffs rolled around, it was the Naturals pitching that provided a needed boost. In the Naturals three wins in the championship series against Midland, the Rockhounds scored just three runs. Starters Everett Teaford and Duffy had ERAs under 2.00 during the playoffs while lefthander Will Smith finished off the series by shutting out Midland. Teaford, like Clint Robinson, came a long way during the 2010 season. He started the season in the rotation, moved into the bullpen when the more highly regarded prospects arrived from high Class A Wilmington, then moved back into the rotation to fill in when injuries struck. Along the way he succeeded in whatever role, and actually helped his own status as a prospect by showing improved velocity to go with his excellent command.
“He didn’t allow the bouncing around affect him. He took advantage of it every chance he had to pitch,” Poldberg said