In my four days in Arizona, I could not have been more impressed with the Royals organization. Previously, all my observations were as a fan, and this was my first real opportunity to have access to anyone in a professional capacity.
Before I even arrived in Arizona, I started communicating with the Royals Director of Media Relations, David Holtzman. He was always very courteous and professional via email, and upon my arrival he introduced me to several people and set up several player interviews for me. That first point-of-contact with the Royals organization was just the beginning of a trend. In my observances and in my conversations with minor-league players, major-league players, Scott Sharp, J.J. Picollo, Dayton Moore, the word that stuck with me the most was "family". These people all like and care for each other, and it's obvious. To me, that's the mark of any great organization - whether it be in baseball, or anywhere.
J.J. Picollo went out of his way to have a good conversation with me about the Royals drafting strategies, expectations of some players within the organization, and what we should look forward to this year and in the future. My comments/opinions/feelings will be in italics.
To see part one of my interview with J.J. Picollo click here.
To see part two of my interview with J.J. Picollo click here.
How do you describe the young shortstops in the system?
· Adalberto Mondesi is really good. What he's done at his age is phenomenal.
· Humberto Arteaga was compared to Omar Vizquel.
· Jack Lopez is a field leader.
· Orlando Calixte is going to be ready soon offensively. This year they will expose him to some other positions (3B and LF were mentioned specifically) because he'll be ready to play in the major leagues before Alcides Escobar is gone.
From talking to several people, they can't say enough good things about Adalberto Mondesi. Because Mondesi gets all the attention, Humberto Arteaga flies under the radar. Arteaga's defense is as highly thought of as Mondesi's, he just doesn't have the offensive upside. With all the options at SS in the Royals organization, Lopez might need to go to another organization to stay at SS, or he could become a utility player. Calixte's offense might be good enough that he becomes the answer at 2B. He's not bad defensively at SS, he's just not as good as Escobar, Mondesi, or Arteaga; but his bat might be better than all of them.
· Alexis Rivera is a power guy with better-than-anticipated foundational skills. He didn't show the power they had anticipated, but he showed more ability to hit for average than the Royals thought they would be getting. Look for him to start at Lexington as an 18-year-old that will turn 19 during the season.
· Jorge Bonifacio has great instincts. Up to this point, he has focused on hitting the ball the other way, and he's just now getting more comfortable pulling the ball.
· Elier Hernandez has tools and physicality to spare. He's built like a tight end. He got frustrated last year, and it really affected his game. He's a high-risk, high-reward player.
None of these guys are guarantees, but they all have the potential to be above average outfielders. It's hard to say whose ceiling is highest. I would say that Rivera and Bonifacio are most likely to reach their potential, but if Hernandez "gets it", he'll take off, too.
If Francoeur isn't brought back in 2014, is the Royals 2014 right fielder currently in the organization?
"We always look internally to fill our positions before we look outside the organization." Picollo said that David Lough, Jorge Bonifacio, Brian Fletcher, and Brett Eibner all have the potential to be the 2014 right-fielder in Kansas City.
I'm not sure that any of those players will be ready and/or capable of being the starting right fielder in Kansas City in 2014. The conversation shifted towards Eibner. The organization has had no discussions about shifting him to pitcher; furthermore, he doesn't want to pitch. Eibner still has a ton of projection as a hitter, and when he was drafted, the Royals knew it would take him awhile to be major-league ready. Picollo said that Eibner is one of those players that he would pay money to see. He can do everything. He can hit the ball a mile, and he plays fantastic defense (He was recognized as the organization top defensive as the recipient of the 2012 Frank White Defensive Player of the Year).
There is a growing trend of Major League teams owning their minor league affiliates. Is this something the Royals have looked into?
"We've talked about it." It's something the Royals looked at five or six years ago, but they have not discussed it much recently. The organization is very happy with the relationships they have with each of their affiliates. That all being said, "if the opportunity presents itself..."
I got the feeling that the relationships with their minor-league affiliates maybe had been a problem in the past. Minor league affiliates probably weren't happy with much of the fodder that the Royals organization placed with them. Now that the Royals system is one of the better, more balanced systems in baseball, the affiliates are happy with the players that the Royals bring through.
How hard is it to separate your feelings for a player on a personal level vs. a professional level?
"In the end, it's a business." The Royals organization prides itself on having a family-type atmosphere. When scouting players, the organization feels it's important to get to know the players' families, not just the individual players. So while it's important to operate as a business, the Royals are also concerned with developing the "person" as well as the "player". One of the organizational goals is to develop "productive husbands and fathers."
First, and foremost, Picollo made it clear that it's a business. While he might be really pulling for a guy because of the relationships he has developed, the decisions that are made are still made with the business of baseball in mind. It's nice to see that the organization preaches the philosophy that all decisions are business decisions, but it seems like they attach too much loyalty to substandard players.
What is your career goal? Do you want to be a GM?
Whatever happens with the Royals will determine what other opportunities present themselves. That being said, Picollo is "not real anxious to be a GM." When the top-level front office people discuss their futures, they all admire the organizations in which the front office has stayed intact.
If the Royals front office finally finds success this year, they should be allowed to stay together to reap the benefits of their success (even though it should have come a year or two sooner). The fact that they want to stay together speaks to how well they work with other.