Q&A with Trey Hillman
Royals skipper answers fans' questions during Web chat
Trey Hillman: Thanks for joining me today. Let's get started.
jarret223: Trey, what are your expectations for this upcoming season?
Hillman: Same as every year. As a manager, we want to show marked improvement on what we showed in 2008. If we do that, we should improve our overall standings and increase our fanbase.
cliperchic: I'm just wondering if you will be doing a new CD to follow up the Christmas CD released in Japan.
Hillman: I would never put the Kansas City supporters through that agony. In all seriousness, at this time, there are no plans for a new CD release.
gerg76: Good afternoon. It's great to get a chance to talk to you. As a fan, I truly appreciate the value you place on baseball fundamentals. Do you feel that your passion for playing the game the right way is sinking in with the younger guys on the team?
Hillman: Yes, the majority of the time, but we still need improvement in consistency of production and consistency of focus in all areas that affect the outcome of a game.
canes2299: Hi, Trey, great job managing this season. I've been watching the Division Series, and the announcers have been praising Kansas City for the future. Do you think in five years or less, we could be the next Tampa Bay?
Hillman: Yes, I do. I think our younger players will continue to gain valuable experience from this season and be able to better build their success ratios, leading us toward more wins and, hopefully, that dominoes more and more from year to year in producing more wins and leading into winning a Division Series championship.
royalrolly: I am from New Jersey, and have been a loyal Royals fan since 1984. I like the progress you have made with this team, and I believe in you and [general manager] Dayton Moore. Are you going to add another solid starting pitcher behind [Zack] Greinke and [Gil] Meche?
Hillman: Thank you for your compliments. In reviewing Kyle Davies' last five starts, we are very hopeful that he can add a quality piece to Meche and Greinke. We also look forward to an improved Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar in 2009, but as always, during the offseason and Winter Meetings schedule, we will continue to look for all opportunities to improve our starting pitching and the strengths of our bullpen staffs.
gerg76: Can you tell us the top two or three areas that you focus on to prep for Spring Training?
Hillman: More consistency in the quality of our starting pitching, because it impacts the game more than any other area. The continuation of shoring up the fundamentals of the game. I don't think we can work on it any more than in 2008, but we will try to improve our implementation during 2009 Spring Training, so our performance ratio is much more efficient, i.e., sacrifice bunts, stolen bases and unforced physical defensive errors.
kilsey: What do you think of Ryan Shealy's late-season performance? Do you think he's ready to come up to the Major League level full-time?
Hillman: Ryan had an outstanding month of September, both in production and helping us win ballgames. He has certainly accelerated his value in being a strong consideration for a Major League team in 2009.
Slayor09: What was your biggest challenge managing your first season in the big leagues?
Hillman: The biggest challenge, because you are around your own personnel every day, was learning the actual personalities and mannerisms that point to positive days and trying days for your own personnel. I believe my job is to enhance, as great as I can, any individual player's skills on a day when they may not have things going the way they would like.
jdmasta289: What are your realistic expectations and goals for the 2009 Royals squad?
Hillman: Continue to advance within our own division, not just in placement. We continue to shoot for first place and be realistic about shaving games back. For example, from being 27 games back after 2007 to 13 1/2 games back in 2008.
gerlach: Good afternoon, Trey. You finished 18-8 to close out the season. Do you believe you can build off that success for next year?
Hillman: Yes, I do. I believe that if we keep it in perspective and realize that we still have major strides to make, I do believe that we can carry the momentum of a positive September into a positive Spring Training and into the 2009 season.
jarret223: What's the latest on Luke Hudson? Will he play sometime next season?
Hillman: Hudson is doing a physical therapy program right now in Southern California, and we are still very hopeful that he will pitch again, but only time will tell.
cliperchic: Do you still consider yourself a "players'" manager, or have your views on that changed?
Hillman: I believe that any manager that is keeping all players happy all the time is probably not doing his job. I believe that fits into any management position in any job. I do enjoy strong relationships and close relationships. There are times when sometimes those take several years to develop.
labsorhors: Did you watch the American League Division Series games, and if so, what was your take?
Hillman: I did watch them -- not every pitch of every game, but most of them. I think the same thing continues to play out -- the teams that pitch the best in the playoffs will continue to win most of the games.
gerg76: Aside from the Winter Meetings, how are you spending your offseason?
Hillman: Plenty of baseball activity. I did a speaking engagement on Sunday for 14- to 18-year-olds. [Get] as much family time as I can possibly have. That includes a lot of baseball time with my son, wife and daughter on our private facility on our back three acres and putting me and my family in positions where we get to laugh a lot. Lots of laughter in the offseason.
canes2299: If you were MLB Commissioner for a day, what you would change about the game?
Hillman: Judging from what I saw from just my first season, I would put some very stringent restrictions on the use of specific-type bats to reduce the danger factor for not only players, but umpires and fans as well. I would also be more open-minded about implementing, when needed, the good old-fashioned doubleheaders.
roundrobin: Thank you for taking on the challenge of bringing the Royals back to a contending team. Knowing we're not there yet, what do you see as our three greatest needs and, more important, do you see any way of fulfilling those needs from within the organization?
Hillman: Number one would be the consistency of starting pitching. Number two would be the depth of starting pitching. Number three would be an accelerated understanding of the importance of on-base percentage of our offensive players until we can trade for or promote from within more slug and power in our position players. Yes, it can be developed to what we are doing in our system, but it will not happen overnight. It will take a few years.
royalrolly: Is anything going to be done to improve the amounts of walks the young Royals hitters draw?
Hillman: More continuing education, but we continue to work on all the right things. It is a maturation process that takes several years at the highest level before the plan holistically takes effect.
kcroyal45: The game itself is the same, but based on what you knew would differ from Japan, was there anything that, in retrospect, surprised you as being different from baseball overseas?
Hillman: More teams and more opposing personnel and tendencies to learn at a faster rate. More competition as well, i.e., 14 teams in the American League and six teams in the league in Japan.
parke57: What was your overall impression of Mike Aviles, and do you see him playing shortstop next year?
Hillman: Outstanding job, solid, energetic, smart young player. I have no reservations with Mike being our shortstop in 2009, but as with every other decision, we will have to wait and see what the offseason does to our potential lineup and personnel.
jdmasta289: What roles will incumbent first basemen Billy Butler, Ross Gload, Kila Kaaihue and Shealy play in 2009?
Hillman: Yet to be determined, but all bring different variables to that position. The way the position typically profiles with a slugger at first base, Shealy, Kila and Billy project beyond Gload's offensive slug, however, Gload possesses the best defensive skill set. We will massage through that in Spring Training.
royalretro: Great first year, Trey, I really supported your hiring! What are your thoughts on possibly moving [Joakim] Soria to the rotation? He's a great pitcher, and having him work 200 innings seems a lot more useful than 70 innings.
Hillman: [I'm a] big believer in that if it is not broken, do not fix it. Joakim has turned into a premier closer in a very short amount of time, and I'll never say that it is not possible and on the back burner of our thought process, but it is definitely on the back burner because of the need for a solid closer.
kcroyal45: What was your most exciting moment (or moments) from last season? Was it a specific defensive play, hit or perhaps just a certain point with the team?
Hillman: The month of September, because we knew we were not going to be playing in the postseason, but we continued to get better, and we showed respect to baseball by continuing to throw the ball well and play hard and give our fans our best efforts to improve upon 2007.
labsorhors: Who on the 40-man roster is going to play Winter Ball this year, and where?
Hillman: Too many to name, but I like the dedication of our guys to continue to improve in the offseason.
royalsnut2: Rotation stability was a big plus this season -- did Moore and yourself discuss that as a model similar to Atlanta with [Tom] Glavine, [John] Smoltz and [Greg] Maddux?
Hillman: Everyone would like to replicate what the Atlanta Braves had at one time. We do discuss the direction of every area of our team on a regular basis. We will continue to look for production as well as longevity and stability for our Major League rotation in years to come.
labsorhors: This is not a question. I just want you to know that we know you work hard, and we know that you are a good example for those looking in from the outside, including our kids.
Hillman: I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate your comments. It is comments like yours that re-energize me, and that is exactly why I came to Kansas City. I wanted to be a part of something special. I knew it would be a tremendous challenge, and I knew it wouldn't happen overnight. But I knew that as manager of the Royals, I could be a part of something special. I will continue to work as hard as I can to do my part to make that happen. Thank you very much to my energizer bunny.
pt33: Any thoughts of moving [Alex] Gordon to shortstop and [Mark] Teahen to third, if Shealy is a viable option at first?
Hillman: We believe that Alex is more geared toward a corner position than a shortstop, but I do appreciate your appreciation for his athleticism.
stephanie2701: A fan from Europe here -- congratulations on the 75 wins! What is the biggest difference between working with Japanese players vs. American players?
Hillman: This is a much harder schedule, longer by as much as 20 to 22 games, and with where we are as the Kansas City Royals, we will continue to work with as many team-building aspects, a lot of those aspects had already been implemented in the Japan program before I even took over.
Hillman: Thank you for your great questions. I have time for just a few more.
Herb28712: Do you have a favorite place to eat in K.C.?
Hillman: No, because most of my meals are either at home or at the ballpark, because those are the only two places where I spend a significant about of time. However, in 2009 I am going to attempt to explore more than I did this year.
Herb28712: What are you most excited about with the renovated stadium?
Hillman: The enhanced added beauty and amenities for our fans to what is already one of the most beautiful stadiums in all of Major League Baseball.
baseballstud114782: I was born in 1986 and have been a lifelong diehard Royals fan. Being that the Royals haven't made the playoffs since I've been alive, when do you feel, realistically, we can see some October baseball in Kansas City?
Hillman: Our intent is to plan for it every year. You can't expect to make it every year, however. Realistically, it will be a product of our starting rotation consistently performing and us continuing to grow our own talent base in our market as the Kansas City Royals.
topher0002: Do you feel Alberto Callaspo has a legitimate chance of being the starting second baseman, or are you still considering Tony Pena to be an option at short and moving Aviles to second?
Hillman: I do believe that Alberto does have a legitimate shot at being the starting second baseman.
One more question.
Royalmania: Hochevar had a pretty solid rookie campaign. ... Would it be fair to project him out to be a Derek Lowe-type sinkerballer?
Hillman: Yes, that is a fair comparison. He needs to continue to learn how to control damage and locate not only his sinker but his secondary pitchers to set hitters up.
Thank you for all your questions today. I look forward to the 2009 season.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.