Royals Corner: JJ, thanks for speaking with us. First off, which minor leaguer do you think is the biggest sleeper heading into this season?
J.J. Picollo: We have an arm right now in High-A ball named Carlos Rosa. He is really coming along strong. He had some arm problems in the past, but he really showed flashes of being excellent in the instructional league this past fall.
J.J. Picollo is expecting a big year from Carlos Rosa
RC: Billy Butler went on a media tour recently in KC. How do feel about him going out there and getting his face known?
JP: This was a plan Billy and his agent approached us with, and he really wanted to get to know the Kansas City community. When you have a player who is willing to get his face out there, it is great for the Royals, and we are happy he did it.
RC: When do you project Luke Hochevar to make his major league debut?
JP: With all of our players, we don't put a timetable out there, but instead let their abilities decide when they come up. But with Luke having the experience he does, you expect him to be on a faster track. We are looking forward to having him complete his first full year in the minors, but if it is not 2007, then he certainly isn't too far behind.
RC: How healthy is prospect Jeff Bianchi?
JP: He will be participating in spring training and we will monitor his health situation very closely. We won't put him on the field until he is 100 percent. We are very excited about Jeff. He is a great offensive player, but sometimes his defensive skills get overlooked. We look at him as our shortstop of the future.
Picollo and the Royals expect Bianchi to stay at shortstop
RC: The roster is stocked with outfielders in the majors and minors. How do you see all of these guys fitting in?
JP: Yes, it is one spot we have a lot of depth in, and it is a good problem to have. The depth allows you a lot of flexibility. And also, if another team has an interest in an outfielder, we can acquire something.
RC: Among the outfielders, do you foresee any of those players perhaps returning to Double-A?
JP: It will be tough, and we will try and get all those guys in Triple-A. But again, it's a good situation to have, but we will have spring training to work that out.
RC: Can you give us some examples of things the Royals are doing differently than the previous administration in the player development process?
JP: I can only speak on our behalf, but we have made a strong commitment to scouting and player development, we now have three rookie ball teams – we're now one of just a handful of organizations with seven minor league teams. We want to be a model organization in baseball. The commitment is there from the owner all the way down through baseball operations.
RC: How important of a role will the new Dominican facility play in the acquisition of young talent in the Caribbean?
JP: It really is a major deal. Where the Royals were before, in Salcedo, we were in the northern part of the country, where there are fewer players. Now being in the capital, we have access to more players, and are able to work more guys out on a regular basis. It opened (last) Monday, and players will be impressed by what they see. Players and agents will see the kind of commitment the Royals made toward that area, and it is a very positive move for the Royals organization.
RC: What are the plans for Zack Greinke?
JP: We expect Zack to compete for a spot in the rotation. Having him in Double-A, he was more comfortable in that setting, but Zack is ready to have a big year. I don't think anybody puts more pressure on Zack than Zack.
RC: Is there a chance of him pitching in relief this season?
JP: There is always a chance, but Zack is still at a young age, and we don't want to put him in a role when he can be better than that. But we will leave that up to Buddy and his staff.
RC: It seems from reading and listening to coaches and players, you get the sense that a new wave has swept over the Royals since Dayton Moore has gotten there. Do you feel that in the front office?
JP: Oh, definitely. In our [organizational] meetings, we had the coaching staff, the scouting staff, the international guys – everybody – and it lasted two days, but it really felt like two minutes. A lot of long-time employees have told me they like the direction the team is going in, and a lot of that is because of the moves Dayton has made. But usually that type of feeling is translated onto the field as well.
RC: Dayton has really overhauled the bullpen. How do you see some of the younger pitchers fitting in the bullpen with new veterans in there as well?
JP: When you have vets in there who know how to throw strikes, the younger guys will feed off that, and we feel they will reach their potential more quickly.
RC: What does Alex Gordon need to do during spring training to make the team?
JP: We want Alex to have a great spring, but sometimes spring doesn't tell the entire story. Buddy wants to get to know Alex in the spring. Having a good spring definitely won't hurt him.
RC: How has Billy Butler been progressing on defense?
JP: He is doing very well. When I first came here to talk to the staff about Butler's defense, they told me he was the most improved defender from spring training to the end of the season. Billy does not want to be a DH. His goal is to be on the field and playing in the outfield, and when a guy gives an effort like Billy, they usually make it. We see Billy as our corner outfielder of the future.
Billy Butler does not want to be a DH
RC: What are your thoughts on Brent Fisher? Can he successfully make the next step towards Burlington?
JP: Yeah, I saw him in Idaho last year, and he really had some great pitches. He is not overpowering with his stuff. His fastball has got plenty, but he won't be a guy throwing 95 or 96. But he can locate it very well, and hitters just get ugly swings off him. He's an interesting guy to follow.
RC: Which pitcher has the best stuff in the organization?
JP: Billy Buckner probably has the best curveball. Tyler Lumsden probably has the best repertoire of pitches, but between the two of them, they would be at the top of the list.
Bryan Cisler is a host for Friday Night Lights, which airs Friday nights at 6:15pm on KJHK 90.7FM. Todd Gold and Dylan Tucker also contributed to this interview.
RC Interview with J.J. Picollo
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