The Northwest Arkansas Naturals hosted a Hot Stove Luncheon in conjunction with the Springdale Rotary Club Monday at the Apollo on Emma.
Royals owner David Glass, Royals Vice President and Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel J.J. Picollo, Royals bullpen coach and former Naturals manager Vance Wilson, and General Manager of the Naturals Justin Cole were on hand to answer questions and interact with those in attendance. Cole opened with a brief overview of the Naturals ten years in Northwest Arkansas. It’s amazing to think that they’ve been there that long and have been to the playoffs in 7 of their 10 seasons. In 2017, 17 former Naturals spent time on major league rosters.
Mr. Glass spoke next and talked about the model that is being followed throughout the majors that was created by the Royals. Create waves of talent, keep them together coming through the minors, and bring them all up close together in hopes to win a championship. Mr. Glass made the comment that we are working on doing that again before joking that he was done with this global warming and was ready for spring which means baseball weather.
It was then opened up to questions from the audience. I’ll paraphrase some of the information that was presented to the group. One thing Vance Wilson said is that the coaches are all really good friends. Vance is a very likable guy unless you are a young umpire who made the mistake of blowing a meaningful call against his ball club. Vance mentioned that his role will be changing from the man in charge to a supporting role and doing what Ned asks. Vance mentioned this may be tough for him because he has enjoyed being the man in charge that has to come up with the answers to all the problems. In fact, the term he used was stay in his lane.
J.J. Picollo said they knew Vance was a major league coaching candidate when he was on a rehab assignment in NWA years ago. He spoke very highly or Vance and the development that has happened under his leadership. He then spoke of Mike Rojas and how excited they are to have him in NWA. Rojas has been in the front office as someone in player development and on the field as a MLB coach in the past, so he has the ability to do whatever is needed for the Naturals.
The question was asked about our free agents. Picollo answered by saying that we are monitoring the situation. We won’t know if we can sign one, two, or any of them and continue to put our team in the best position going forward. He mentioned that it has been a really odd off season with 150+ MLB free agents still unsigned.
Picollo mentioned a 2020 or 2021 window competition. Reading between the lines I think the Royals feel in two years they will have the guys they need at the major league level and be ready to start competing again. That would a little sooner than a lot of people think but it is also really good for us at RFR as we are all about bringing you information on the Future Royals.
A question was asked about the MLB rotation and the NWA rotation. Picollo stated Duffy, Kennedy, Hammel, Karns, and Junis would be our tentative MLB rotation. He also stated that Karns should be ready to go. They were very happy at the development of Junis last year as well. He mentioned Skoglund at that point as a guy they really like and someone they think will be helping soon at the MLB level. Picollo transitioned to the NWA rotation saying that they are really looking forward to Blewett being there this year and that he may have been the best pitcher at Wilmington last year. They really like Griffin and feel like he may make his MLB debut this year but he still has to earn a promotion to AAA and then the majors if that is indeed what happens. They still believe in Staumont because he is too good of a starter to give up on at this point with where we are and the window basically being two to three years away.
They feel like there will be a lot of repeaters this year because they have a lot of guys that are solid. Dewees needs to earn the promotion and Elier was just hitting hit stride when he got hurt. They like Anderson Miller enough to use the word excited when describing him. The outfield is at AAA is really good. They believe that Starling is going to be a good player at the MLB level as he has matured and if he just plays the above average defense while hitting .250 with 50+ RBI.
Dini was a guy that surprised them. They didn’t think he would take that type of jump forward but were really impressed with him.
Picollo mentioned that it is tough to develop guys while still competing but they have been lucky enough to do that at AA. He talked about the development of Latin players and how the Royals have some structure in place for them. Picollo mentioned Duenez getting some ABs in the Venezuelan Winter League. He then talked about Greg Holland and how when Holland came back from the VWLs, he was a new player. He had a new toughness that was bread because of the environments of all those stadiums. Needless to say, these winter leagues are all very beneficial for our young guys.
Picollo also mentioned our group of 12 guys who are spending some time in the Dominican. Baseball is a fantastic game at bringing people together and can be a very powerful tool when used correctly. The guys are working in the mornings on baseball and spending the afternoons doing different things. Yesterday they spent time at an orphanage that is sponsored by the Royals. Today they are going into the neighborhoods painting houses and helping out families that need a hand. The goal is to continue to give back to the people of the Dominican while helping our American guys get a better idea of where our Latin players are coming from and how to help them. I must mention that the Royals are doing a really good job of getting involved in humanitarian efforts. Our young guys are doing a lot of good things in communities ranging from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and back home in the States. I’m very proud of the Royals in this aspect as we are all humans first.