RC Q&A with Dayton Moore: Part I

Last week, RC sat down for an interview with Royals GM Dayton Moore. We asked Moore to outline some of the specific changes that he's made since taking the club's reins last June, and he spoke at length about creating a new culture of winning. Additionally, we asked him about his plans in the international market, and if the Royals will favor high upside high school players in the draft this June.

Royals Corner: Dayton, you're nine months in as GM of the Royals. How's everything going so far?

Dayton Moore: OK. We've worked hard to acquire some very talented baseball people, and I think we've been successful in doing that. The other thing we've tried to do is just change the expectation level. We're trying to create a culture in our minor league players, in our scouting department, and in our development philosophy that we're trying to win championships at the Major League level. And to do that, you've got to have great scouting, great player development, and create an attitude and philosophy in our minor league system where those expectations are what it's all about. And the other way you do that is to create a professional environment – players know that there's a structure in place, character issues are very, very important, and you develop a mindset to create a winning type culture. That's what we're trying to do.

We've made some moves at the Major League level, and I think we're better on paper – we're more balanced, we have more depth, and we'll just see if it translates to more wins. We're going to put the best team we can on the field each year. It's not a three-year plan, or a five-year plan or whatever. You put the best team you can on the field each year without sacrificing your long term goals as far as moving players that fit into your core group going forward. But we want to win right away too. We're not trying to say "2010 is our year to win." No, we're going to put the best team we can on the field in 2007, and we're going to go out and play the games. I've read publications and different people saying "Well, hopefully the Royals can play .500." That's just not what we're trying to do. We're trying to win our division and get into the playoffs, and win the World Series.

None of us can predict the future and the outcomes, especially in this game. It takes one great month, and then you have to play consistent baseball, .500 baseball, the rest of the way. There's such a small, fine line in professional athletics between a championship team and a team that loses 100 games. Sure, there are differences. For instance, last year we blew 31 saves. If our bullpen's better and we're more successful matching up the last three innings of games, who knows what happens? We certainly don't lose 100 games. But again, it takes one great month, where you win 20 of 30, and then play consistent baseball the rest of the way, and with the Wild Card and the other opportunities teams have. We play in arguably the best division in baseball, so it's a challenge, but we're just going to go out and play the games.

RC: You mentioned creating a winning culture in the minor leagues. Certainly, bringing in some of the former Royals to camp this year is a part of that effort, but can you mention some other specific steps that you've taken? For instance, I noticed that everyone seems to be wearing their socks high this spring. Is that one of the changes you've made?

DM: Well, it's called a uniform for one reason, and everybody needs to wear their uniform the same way. We don't have a lot of rules…in fact, they're not rules, they're standards, certain absolutes that we expect, and wearing your uniform and taking pride in it, and taking pride in being a professional baseball player with the Kansas City Royals is very important. I know J.J. [Picollo] and Scott Sharp have implemented baseball history classes that our players are going to attend, specifically on Royals history, and those are things that we've always felt were important with raising a group of baseball players. That's simply what we're trying to do.

Not all of these guys are going to play in the Major Leagues, but at some point in time, they're going to enter into their communities, wherever they're from, and they need to have a great experience about being a Kansas City Royal and take that seed and plant it and use it in their baseball communities around the world. That's how you create a culture. Ten or 15 years from now, this needs to be an organization viewed the way the Big Red Machine was viewed, the way the Atlanta Braves were viewed with 14 straight division championships. The Yankees have their own special tradition in all of sports, but there's no reason that we can't look back upon the Kansas City Royals 15 or 20 years from now the way people looked at the Big Red Machine, and even in the way the Royals were viewed in the ‘80s. But as much as I love that tradition and respect that tradition – I was a fan and I loved the Royals – we need to create our own tradition. We need to create new traditions here.

RC: As far as acquiring new talent, I know you've added at least a dozen new scouts. We've also heard that you're planning to acquire more talent in the international market and becoming a big player there. I know part of that is opening the new academy in the Dominican Republic, but I was wondering if you could outline some of the things you expect we'll see in the coming years out of the international market?

DM: The Latin American player has a special place in the culture and the history of baseball. They're becoming the high ceiling, high risk, high reward player. Not a lot of guys are playing in our inner cities now. We're losing athletes in this game. So the Latin American player, the international player, is a talent pool that we need to be very aggressive in, and be successful in. I felt in Atlanta that for us to be the best organization in baseball, we had to have the best Latin American programs in baseball. Rene Francisco, who spearheaded those efforts, is now over here with us. He's an outstanding talent evaluator, he understands the culture, and has a great way of implementing ideas. We're already seeing a big improvement with some of the decisions we've made, and we've already signed some solid players down there.

The Latin player takes time – five to seven years once you sign them. They've got to assimilate to the culture, and they've got to learn the language. They come over to this country, and they're expected to fit in and perform. But when they don't do well, sometimes the safety blanket and safety net that exists for American kids doesn't exist for the Latin American player. In a lot of cases, they don't have the benefits that some of the kids here do, so sometimes they put more pressure on themselves.

See, it's great to have a great Latin American program, and understand that it takes five to seven years, but we've got to have men around those players who understand the process and know what those young players experience, and are able to identify with them. Part of creating a great development system is having those men around who understand, because college players are different than high school players, and high school players that come from different parts of the country are different. Guys up north don't play as much baseball, and guys from the south play a little bit more, and hitters and pitchers are all different. Then you put in the Latin player, who takes longer. And they're all different; the Venezuelan player is different from the Dominican player and is different from the players from Puerto Rico and Mexico. And then you start going to the Eastern rim, where there is a different culture as well. The Asian player is different. Players from Australia don't play as much baseball as we do in the states and Latin America, so sometimes they adjust much slower.

The statistical part of it plays a role as well. The first two or three years of a player's career, I don't even look at the statistics. Just let the players play, and let them adjust to professional baseball. They're playing every day now, where in high school and college, they were playing three or four times a week, 56 games a year. They may have gone and played in one of the college leagues in the summer, but here they're playing every day. They've got to learn to manage failure. They've got to learn to manage their routine and manage their time, and there are a lot of adjustments that have to be made with a young player. We're going to get younger, and in time we'll have one of the younger minor league systems in all of baseball. And to be successful with that, you've got to have men around who understand what those players experience.

RC: In Atlanta, you drafted overwhelmingly high school players in the first couple of rounds of the draft. Do you think we'll see something similar to that here, drafting more guys with high upsides?

DM: Well, I think you've got to have a good blend, and a good balance. It depends on where you are as an organization. One of the reasons we did that in Atlanta is because we were forced to. A lot of the top college players were taken in the first 10 or 15 picks, and we were picking at the bottom all the time. And the other part of that is when you have a stable group of players in the Major Leagues, there's less opportunity to break into the Major Leagues. So you're forced to be patient with players, even if you don't want to be patient with players.

There are three things that always have to happen in order to move a player up a level: a player has to have ability; they have to be performing to a certain degree; and then there has to be an opportunity. If there's no opportunity, players stay longer in the minor leagues. Think of all the shortstops that the Baltimore Orioles signed and developed over the course of Cal Ripken's career. Well, there was never an opportunity for them.

But I think there has to be a good blend. I do like the idea that we can raise the players ourselves. The younger you get them, the more you can raise them. Again, you better have men around that want to raise them. To me, it doesn't matter necessarily what philosophy – which is better, which isn't – but if you have a philosophy that everyone believes in, it will work.

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Editor's Note: Part II -- the second half of our interview with Dayton Moore -- will be published later this week.

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