Interview with Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore

I spoke with Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore on Sunday morning. Here is a transcript.

 

Interview with Dayton Moore

SICKELS: What is a typical day like for you during Spring Training?

MOORE: Well, Spring Training is obviously one of the most exciting times of the year. My typical day begins very early. I'll talk with Ned (Yost, Royals manager) and Bob (McClure, Royals pitching coach) first thing in the morning. We'll converse about the players and where they stand. Then most days I'll talk with J.J. (Picollo, Assistant GM for Scouting/Player Development) and Mike Arbuckle (Senior Advisor for Scouting and Player Development) to discuss any developments on their end, with scouting and the farm system. After that I'll talk with Dean Taylor (Assistant GM) and Jin Wong (Director-Baseball Administration). Seems like a lot of talking, but straight-line communication is the way we begin each day. Making sure we all know what is going on is crucial.
      Once the spring training games begin, we have a meeting with Ned and the coaches every four or five days to discuss where the players stand. After every game, everyone in baseball operations will get together and talk about what they saw. We exchange opinions and observations, then I'll talk with Ned again, talk about what the scouts saw, what the player development people say, etc.
      When the minor leaguers start playing their games, I will watch as many minor league games as I can, along with watching the major league game of course. So basically, Spring Training involves a lot of communicating, talking, and observing before we start making roster decisions.

SICKELS: As good as the farm system is, there is a lot of frustration among Royals fans that it hasn't translated into major league success yet. There is a lot of talk about "The Process."  But fans don't seem to know what "The Process" means. How would you define it?

MOORE: We recognize that the fan base is frustrated. "The Process" means that we focus on scouting and player development.
      Now, the thing is that the organization has been saying that for a long time, and the fans are tired of hearing it. We recognize that. We sympathize with that. I've tried to be honest about it.
       When I got here, the farm system was almost empty, so we were starting from scratch. But even if you have a perfect draft, even if you are 100% right about a player, it can still take him three or four years to get to the majors, then another two to four years before he becomes a consistent performer. The 2007 through 2009 drafts have given us a really great farm system, and the early returns for 2010 look good too. But it takes time for that talent to flow to the majors. We want players to be reaching the majors in waves, two or three new guys per year, who have played together and know how to win together. And we are just starting to see the first results of that.
      When Terry Ryan took over the Twins in 1994, it took them six or seven years to get to the point where they were consistently competitive. It doesn't happen overnight. But that is the model we have to follow to be competitive in Kansas City.

SICKELS: I think the fans understand that, but there is concern about how you make that transition from having a strong farm system to actually seeing the results in the majors.

MOORE: Of course. The other day I was looking at some notes I made during organizational meetings early in 2007. We decided then that by 2012 or 2013, we wanted the majority of our players to be home-grown, from the farm system. We wanted a young core in place by that time. We knew it would take at least five years for that to happen.
       The first thing we had to do was get a leadership team in place, quality scouts and player development people. We wanted there to be some organizational stability, with quality people. That is something they have in Minnesota and Colorado and Atlanta. We have that now.
    Another issue was morale. It isn't just the fan base, we had to turn morale in the organization around, too. We want players when they get drafted or signed with the Royals to feel like they are joining the best organization in the game. Everyone has to buy into it, coaches, players, development. It is hard to keep morale up when the major league team is losing. It affects everyone whether you like it or not. Baseball is a pass/fail system, but we refuse to just roll over because we are in Kansas City. Other teams in our situation have shown that you can succeed and we will too.
       It is starting to happen now. We already have the second-youngest 40-man roster in baseball. Only Cleveland is younger. And that doesn't include players like Moose or Hosmer or most of the young pitchers not on the roster yet. We are finally at sea level and we can see the future ahead. In some ways, I feel like this is my first year on the job, and that the next one-to-three years we will take things to where they need to be.
       I mentioned earlier that it can take a player three or four years before he's fully comfortable in the majors. Look at Billy Butler. He's been a really good hitter so far, but he's improved every year and we think he's about to take that to another level. That's why we gave him the contract extension last month. We believe he's a key part of that core we're building. That's the process.

SICKELS: Ok, let's get more specific. The Royals are universally considered to have the deepest farm system in the game right now. On the hitting side, you have Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers, all outstanding bats drafted out of high school. How difficult is it to project high school hitters? That is something I've had a lot of problems with personally.

MOORE: It is very difficult. It's hard enough for college hitters but even harder for high school hitters. The aluminum bat is a big factor, but the level of competition is an even bigger one. It is hard for hitters to develop beyond their level of competition. It is easier for pitchers to improve their game in some ways, a 90 MPH fastball is a 90 MPH fastball. But a hitter, he gets used to facing whatever pitchers he's facing, he gets grooved to facing that. You can't learn to hit against pitchers with plus velocity or great breaking stuff unless you see them.

SICKELS: So how do you do it? How do you project these hitters?

MOORE: You look at them in a physical way first, what physical tools they have. You look at their swing mechanics, how good their timing is, bat speed, how they position and use the legs. But even beyond that, and this is one thing we have really focused on, is their personality.
       We are looking for players with a balanced personality. Calm, patient, poised. Strong character traits. This game will beat you up, and players need to have a strong support system and some mental, emotional security, in order to handle failure. Many of them haven't faced failure before and we have to get a feel for how they will handle it when they do fail, because at some point they will. Some hitters get into a bad habit of tinkering with their approach too much when they struggle. If there is a specific weakness, sure, but one of the things that hurts a hitter is a constantly changing approach, overreacting and panicking during a slump.
     Just looking at our top two, both Moustakas and Hosmer have experienced failure, and they both showed they could handle it. That makes us very optimistic.
        
SICKELS: Anything else you look for?

MOORE: Lack of fear is a huge factor. They can't be afraid to hit with two strikes. We don't want a guy to be reckless, but he has to be able to hit without fear, too. You want a hitter who has both aggression and plate discipline.

SICKELS: Let's talk about some specific players. Mike Moustakas: can he stick at third base, and do you have any concerns about his ability to hit left-handed pitching?

MOORE: He can stick at third base, no question. He has the arm for it, and the body control. He makes backhand plays well, and his body positioning on slow rollers is improving. I don't worry about his glove. Hitting lefties will be a challenge. You don't see a lot of good left-handed pitching in the minors. Most lefties who command a breaking ball get to the majors quickly. Moose has some problems handling the ball away from him against left-handers, but he is recognizing the importance of that. He has short levers and that makes it easy for him to handle inside pitches. He's still working on the outside, but we think he'll get more competitive against them at least.

SICKELS: Eric Hosmer ?

MOORE: We have no worries about his bat at all. He handles the ball away naturally and has excellent command of the strike zone. He can play in a corner outfield spot but he has Gold Glove potential at first base. We'll have to see how things look when he's ready.

SICKELS: Kila Ka'aihue?

MOORE: Kila is a smart kid. He works hard. We think that what we saw in the last three weeks of the season from him is what he's capable of. We think he can hit .240-.260, hit 20-25 homers, .370 OBP. It will be a nice problem fitting all these guys in the lineup.

SICKELS: Does moving Wil Myers to the outfield boost his timetable for promotion?

MOORE: It might get him to the majors faster, but we'll see. He liked to catch. We think he could have handled it and become at least average, but the demands of the position could have hurt his bat, and that bat is special. He's a tremendous athlete, very strong, easy demeanor. He has that confidence I talked about earlier.

SICKELS: There's been some comment that his swing mechanics are unorthodox.

MOORE: His swing isn't typical, but I Iike it. He doesn't stay on his legs the way some hitters do, but it has worked so far. He may need to make some adjustments in Double-A, but we think he will do it. When we drafted him, there were three questions: what position does he play? How much money does he want? And his high school competition wasn't very good. A lot of teams discounted him for the draft because of that, but our scouts loved him and he did great when we brought him here for a stadium workout. The first two questions were answered and so far he's had no problems with pro competition.

SICKELS: Two players who had great years in Double-A were Johnny Giavotella and Clint Robinson. How do they fit in your plans?

MOORE: These guys had great years. Gio, he can hit, he gets on base, he plays tough, hard. We like the bat a lot. He's greatly improved at second base. He played outfield in high school and he could move back there if we need him, or maybe play some third base, but we're committed to him at second.
     Clint gives us additional depth at first base and DH. He's a bigger guy and has holes, but the numbers were great. Both of these guys will move to Triple-A and they enhance our depth. You have to have depth to win a World Series, you have to have depth to handle injuries, you have to have depth to make trades. If all of our first base/DH players perform well there won't be room for everyone, but it is better to have too much than too little.

SICKELS: Can Christian Colon stick at shortstop?

MOORE: We believe he can stay at shortstop. He's very sure-handed, very good arm. His range and body control have improved between last fall and this spring. He's looked great so far in workouts and we feel good about his ability to stay at short. He can be an Orlando Cabrera type at short, or a Placido Polanco if he moves to second. Either way he keeps us strong up the middle.

SICKELS: Brett Eibner, he was a two-way player at Arkansas. How did you decide he was more of a hitter than a pitcher?

MOORE: Mitch Webster was on him from day one last year as a hitter. Mitch was talking up Eibner to us last February, he was totally convinced that this guy will hit. We see him as a center fielder with a good glove who will provide power. He strikes out a lot but we think the power will make up for that, and concentrating on hitting will help him blossom. Mitch really pushed him in the draft meetings. Brett is very smart, good family, very competitive. He'll strike out, but the ingredients are there, the intangibles plus the power.

SICKELS: As good as the hitting is, the pitching is also outstanding, especially lefthanders Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Dan Duffy, and Chris Dwyer. And you have another group beyond them like Will Smith, Buddy Baumann, and Everett Teaford. Was gathering so many lefties something you did on purpose?

MOORE: Roy Clark taught me a long time ago that you have to be aggressive about acquiring left-handed pitching. We made a conscious effort to find lefties. We have the power arms, but the finesse guys are valuable too. But the four guys at the top have such upside. They all can be special. Duffy can throw his changeup at any point in the count and is very aggressive. Lamb has terrific fastball command. Montgomery's upside is huge.
      So many of the best major league hitters are left-handed, that we have to have pitchers who can neutralize them. That means power arms but also guys who can command a breaking ball. Good lefties are one of the hardest things to find.

SICKELS: Tim Collins is an interesting acquisition.

MOORE: Mike Toomey (Special Assistant) really liked him. I had heard about him. We had been tracking his numbers for a couple of years. He has amazing velocity for his size, has a good curve, and a terrific changeup. I love the huge strikeout rate, and he gets the swing-and-miss on all three pitches.

SICKELS: There is the stereotype of the situational lefty, but I think his stuff is good enough that he doesn't have to be limited to that role.

MOORE: Yeah. Bobby Cox never liked the situational lefty thing. Ned is the same way. We want pitchers who can get anyone out, and Collins is like that.

SICKELS: You have all these lefties but less depth in right-handers. But the Greinke trade brought in a couple of good right-handers in Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress from the Brewers. Where does Odorizzi start? Wilmington?

MOORE: Yeah, he's going to Wilmington. He could get to Double-A by the end of the year. The Brewers moved him slowly. We really like him, we liked him out of high school. Very athletic, very intelligent, great fastball command. Good feel for the changeup. He needs to settle on one breaking pitch, he uses both a curve and slider but we think he'll do better if he commits to one or the other.

SICKELS: Jeffress has a great arm but there are the inevitable makeup questions.

MOORE: Jeffress has had some problems, but you have to take a risk sometime and trust your support systems. He comes from a good family, he's a good kid. People in the fall league loved him. The arm strength is amazing and he can dominate with his fastball and curve. His command is inconsistent, but he has a real grip-and-rip mentality, attack mentality, that should fit well in the bullpen.

SICKELS: Finally, what do you think is the biggest weakness in the farm system?

MOORE: We need more speed and athleticism. My ideal team would have someone like Adam Jones or Torii Hunter up the middle, a guy who can provide speed, defense, and power. We'll have to see if Lorenzo Cain can be a player like that.
      We need more right-handed power pitching in the system. We have all those lefties but we could use some balance.
      We need more depth in catching.
      You can never be satisfied, there is always a weakness somewhere. Even the best farm system is a fragile thing. Injuries can wipe you out fast.
      We know we'll never win free agent bidding wars for catchers who can hit, middle-of-the-diamond players who can hit, and impact pitching. We'll have to develop those ourselves. In the end, we'll win with pitching. That's our focus.

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