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J.J. Picollo on the Royals minor league rosters

The Royals Assistant GM gives his thoughts on the rosters and players

Kansas City Royals spring training John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Royals Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel J.J. Picollo met with members of the media Thursday night to discuss the different rosters at each level, some of the players and thoughts on how the staff will have to manage them during the season.

Let’s toss some read meat your way and talk about Bobby Witt, Jr. and why he was sent to Double-A first. The staff thought for Witt that it made more sense for him to execute his plan at-bat to at-bat at the Double-A level, where he will face a little more velocity. They believe that level will help him to become the most well-rounded player that he can be. He will work on the left side of the infield with the possibility of pushing Hunter Dozier to the outfield if Witt should shove his way quickly to the bigs.

Pitchers missing from rosters such as Noah Murdock, Austin Cox, and Christian Chamberlain ran into minor injuries that set them back a little. All are still working and could be landing on rosters very soon. Chamberlain was looking dominant and was on his way to a High-A assignment before tweaking his hamstring.

They feel they limited the workload with Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, or anyone else at the Triple-A level through spring. If they’re needed to contribute later in the year at the major league level, they will be in a good position to do so. J.J. said he couldn’t remember when he had this young and talented rotation at Triple-A and hasn’t had this much depth in starting between the two highest levels ever, including his days in Atlanta.

The pitchers that stood out in the conversation, according to Picollo:

Ben Hernandez, the 2020 second-round pick out of high school in Illinois, has seen an improvement in velocity, consistently 94 to 95 mph, while improving his breaking ball significantly since signing while the changeup remains his best pitch. Besides the stuff, his cool and calm demeanor stands out, not getting too up or down in between innings which can be difficult for a pitcher his age. He expects him to have a big year.

Kris Bubic has refined his delivery some and working the best command of his spring recently.

With Alec Marsh, it is pretty clear how much he has improved, with one rival scout saying this is a different pitcher than they saw at Arizona State. The right-hander is consistently 95-96 mph with his fastball while hitting 98/99 mph. His delivery has tightened up, and he’s improved his curveball, a pitch that lagged behind the slider in college. There was little to no doubt that he was ready for Double-A.

Jon Heasley had an excellent spring. The Royals faced off against the Brewers and Brandon Woodruff during the spring. J.J. didn’t want to say his stuff was as good as Woodruff’s, but it wasn’t far off.

The Royals will employ quite a few piggyback roles at the Low-A and High-A levels. As the season goes, they will evaluate if they need to extend it longer than they do in some other years just based on player’s workloads. One pitcher at Double-A will be in a piggyback role is Yefri Del Rosario, working behind Stephen Woods. The idea is to evaluate Yefri to see if he will work more into the bullpen role or take off and move back into the starting role. Another Latin player, Yohanse Morel, will work more from a bullpen role to get him more touches and more work.

A couple of pitchers mentioned as possible breakouts were A.J. Block, the undrafted signee from Washington State last year, and Matt Stil. For those unfamiliar, Stil is still just 20 years old after signing as a 21st rounder out of junior college in New Jersey in 2019. His fastball is 95-97 mph with a good breaking ball.

Positionally the idea to get Erick Peña some additional work at extended was more of a philosophical one they discussed. Get him work against players in his age range, which is something he hasn’t had a chance to do yet since he’s been pushed to work in alternate sites and Arizona. Help him build confidence and be prepared for when they’re ready to send him to Columbia.

Nick Pratto has been unbelievable, and it seems like every at-bat is a home run, double, or a walk. The work they did has carried over, and they’re quite confident he and M.J. are ready for Double-A. In terms of Melendez, he’s turned it up the last ten games with quite a few home runs. The group felt it was an excellent time to break up him and Sebastian Rivero with Melendez heading to Double-A to continue to work on his offense since that carries a large part of his game.

They went back and forth on Seuly Matias on High-A or Double-A but ultimately felt that they wanted him to execute his plan often before bumping him a level. His hard-hit rate is still at the top of the organization’s charts but needs to continue working on that swing/miss.

J.J. raved about Omar Hernandez, the 19-year-old catching prospect, as a possible breakout performer lauding his skills behind the dish and his bat.

The teams will have to stay at 180 players between all of their stateside rosters. The Royals plan to have the four full-season teams in Omaha, Northwest Arkansas, Quad Cities, and Columbia (SC), two Arizona Summer League teams, and two Dominican Summer League squads this year. The industry as a whole could see significantly more cuts during the season than usual as teams balance out the number of players they can have on their rosters. For the Royals, in particular, the organization is as deep as it has ever been, with plenty of talented players left in Arizona that will be itching to land on rosters which could force the hands on the organization. Players may be expected to perform more quickly now so they don’t get lost in the wash.