It has been less than a year since Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman ended the Dayton Moore era in Kansas City. The man that many fans with back-to-back World Series appearances, the franchise’s first championship in 30 years, and the revival of baseball in Kansas City was gone on a September afternoon. In his stead, Sherman promoted J.J. Picollo to lead the organization he joined in 2006. Fans cannot move Picollo out of Moore’s shadow though, and that is selling Picollo’s potential extremely short.
Picollo is not just a guy who followed in Moore’s footsteps. He has proven himself to be a capable and innovative leader in his own right. The two men still remain different people in ways that matter in running a ball club.
Picollo has succeeded at every job he has had, both in Kansas City and Atlanta. It is easy to forget that Picollo oversaw the highest heights of the Royals farm system when he led scouting and player development from 2008 to 2015, producing the talent that resulted in the championship core. Moore was at the top, adding players to that core through a series of strategic trades and acquisitions. But Picollo’s work laid the foundation for the team’s success.
His work earned him an interviews with the Astros, Phillies, and Twins for their general manager job openings through the years. Front office members come and go, but Picollo established himself in Kansas City and climbed up the ladder. That climb did not happen with Moore pulling Picollo up behind him, but rather with Picollo taking initiative and proving his worth through hard work and dedication.
That hard work took Picollo to an unexpected place when he was Vice President/Assistant General Manager, Player Personnel, from 2015 to 2021. He left the front office and returned to baseball’s basics, donning a uniform for the first time in 15 years to oversee the minor leagues. Again, it was Moore who enabled Picollo to do this, but it was Picollo himself who led the charge for innovation. That drive for winning and the keen coaching eye he learned at George Mason University resulted in a revamped hitting development process.
The polished results come from Alec Zumwalt and Drew Saylor, but Picollo’s return to on-field baseball sparked a change in the Royals’ minor leagues. Those changes revitalized Nick Pratto’s prospect status, after struggling for two seasons in A-ball. It launched MJ Melendez to his full potential and became an unexpected member of the current Royals’ core. Both Pratto and Melendez are not perfect players right now, but could still be wallowing in the minors or worse right now without Picollo’s changes.
This experience opened Sherman’s eyes to Picollo’s potential as well. While Picollo’s time in the minors grew his as an executive, it showed Sherman what he can bring to the table. The decision-making and results from that time certainly set a good first impression on Sherman.
Then there are the front office changes. The people around him are similar, but not all the same. Two other members of the Royals’ senior administration are in their first seasons at the top of their respective fields. Lonnie Goldberg is no longer overseeing the MLB Draft; Danny Ontiveros is in his second year overseeing the draft as Director of Scouting. Kristin Lock is in her first season as the Assistant Director of Minor League and International Operations. There are many of the same faces but with different powers and responsibilities. Picollo kept some around not only for continuity but also for their expertise and knowledge in their respective roles. According to front office sources, he is a general manager who embraces the diversity of perspectives and values the unique contributions each member brings.
I am not saying that Moore did not do those things, but Picollo himself did say that “there was some pushback above” when trying to change things. Picollo is now as close to the top as he can get without buying the team. He has shown gratitude for his time under Moore and the ways the two have grown together. They have similar thoughts on respecting people as people, not just cogs in the Royals’ machine. But, in regards to the on-field product, Piccolo and Moore have different mindsets of running things. When he was hired, Picollo made the statement, “I’m not Dayton Moore.”
In less than a calendar year, Picollo has taken the best parts of Moore’s tutelage and applying them in Kansas City. The Royals’ research and development assets have grown exponentially. More analytics, more biometrics, and more of the modern principles that keep small-market teams competitive in baseball. The hitting turnaround is not a one-time evolution either. Anne Rogers recently detailed how Director of Pitching Performance Paul Gibson and Assistant Director Justin Friedman are changing everything for Royals minor-league pitchers.
“We’ve adapted to understanding what a pitcher wants to do and what his pitches are telling us he can do. It’s coming together more nicely now. We have a better balance of people to communicate with any type of player.”
That communication is where it all comes back to for Picollo. After all, it was his focus in college. Communication is key to building strong relationships and fostering success in any team or organization, and Picollo has certainly done that over his nearly two decades in Kansas City.
Two decades is a long time. The Royals still have a long way to go, especially in the standings, before Picollo’s tenure as general manager is considered successful. But he has laid this foundation for years in the Royals system. Just because something happened under Moore’s watch does not mean it was all Moore’s work. Picollo and Moore are similar in many ways. But, that does not make them the same.
Sherman did not promote Picollo to be the duplicate of Moore - he kept Picollo to be Picollo. It is not even a calendar year yet, and Picollo is already making his mark on this Royals franchise. In a few years, fans could be singing his praises or praying for a new general manager. But, no matter the outcome, Picollo will lead the Royals the way he has navigated his baseball career: successfully and in his own way.