Jeff Bianchi’s progression through the Royals‘ system has been anything but linear. The 50th overall pick in the 2005 draft, out of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania high school, the 23-year-old infielder has gone from being one of the top prospects in the organization to almost off the radar and back again. Dogged by injuries after a white-hot professional debut in which he posted a 1229 OPS in short-season ball, Bianchi is finally healthy and back on track, as evidenced by his strong 2009 performance. Splitting the campaign between two levels, the athletic shortstop/second baseman hit .308/.358/.435 with nine home runs and 22 stolen bases. More recently, he saw action in the Arizona Fall League with the Surprise Rafters.
David Laurila: You were drafted in 2005. How would you describe your professional career thus far?
Jeff Bianchi: It’s been an adventure so far. I started out in the [short-season] Arizona League for my first couple of years, and I had a pretty good start. Then I had a couple of injury bugs, a few little setbacks, if you will. I went to Burlington in 2007, Wilmington in 2008, and this past year I was in Wilmington in the first half, and then in the second half I was in Double-A with Northwest Arkansas. I’ve had to deal with some adversity, but it’s still been a fun ride so far, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
DL: You had a breakthrough season this year. What helped you to turn things around?
JB: Being that it’s my fifth year in professional baseball, I think I’m starting to realize what works for me, what doesn’t work, and what I have to do on a daily basis, because it’s a grind. Like they say, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. When you factor all of those things in, it just makes you better as a person, and as a ballplayer. I think that everyone has their own thing that works for them, and I’ve been trying to pick people’s brains over the past couple of years, asking them things like, “Hey, what do you do to prepare for a game?” Or I’ll ask, “What do you do throughout the season to stay healthy and to make sure that you’re there every day?” I’ve just been gathering a bunch of information and trying it out to see if it works. If I like it, I continue with it. If it doesn’t [work], I’ll try something else out.
DL: Why did the organization want you to play in the Arizona Fall League this year?
JB: I think that it was just the next step for me. I’ve been healthy for a good three years now, and playing into November was the next step, because the big league season runs into October, and possibly into November, as we saw this year. This was just the next development step in my career.
DL: Was there any specific facet of your game that they wanted you to work on in the AFL?
JB: Not necessarily. I’m certainly working on things out here, both offensively and defensively. Defensively, I’ve been playing short and second out here, so I’m making sure I learn both. You know, my approach-I’m working on that every day. I would say that it’s a combination of a few things that I’m out here working on.
DL: Which do you consider to be your best position?
JB: You know, I don’t know if I have a best position, but I’ve played short my whole life, so I guess that has to be my number one. I played second base all year in 2008, and out here in the Fall League I’ve been playing some second base. I’m trying to take more reps at second to get used to the angles, and the turns, over there. Being that I’ve played short my whole life, and this past year, it’s just better to be versatile and to know a couple of positions, so that you’re more valuable in the future.
DL: Is playing second base a bigger physical adjustment for you, or is it actually a bigger mental adjustment?
JB: I would say that for me it’s physical, just because the angle coming off the bat is different at second than it is at short. Your turns on double plays are a lot different as well. So, for me, it was more of a physical challenge than a mental challenge.
DL: Can you give a self-scouting report on your offensive game?
JB: I’m just going up there trying to have good-quality at-bats and to get on base. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily a power hitter; I’m more of a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter. When the opportunity calls for it, I’ll try to move a runner, or get a guy in from third. I try to do the little things right, being that I’m probably not going to be hitting fourth or fifth in the lineup, and trying to hit home runs. I feel that I’m going to be more of a guy who is going to be called on to get the runners over, get on base, take the extra bag, and steal a base here and there.
DL: Your parent club has struggled with OBP in recent years. Where are you in regard to plate discipline?
JB: I think that I’m making strides every day. That’s something I’ve been working on the past couple of years and I think that it’s showing. Over the past couple of years, my numbers have been going up each year, so I think that’s something I’m working toward, and trying to get better every day with.
DL: How would you describe the Royals organizational hitting philosophy?
JB: That’s kind of tough to say. I don’t know if I can really go into that too much. Really, for me, it’s just a matter of having good-quality at-bats every time, and not giving any at-bats away. I try to connect solid contact and let the ball fall where it may. I try to hit the ball hard and get on base. Like I said, I like to do the little things and move runners, and make sure that I drive guys in from third with less than two out.
DL: You’ve been playing in Wilmington, which can be a pretty tough place to hit. Does a pitching-friendly environment like that impact a hitter mentally?
JB: I think it can. Wilmington is definitely not a hitters’ ballpark, so it kind of goes back to what I was talking about earlier, which is that you have to make sure you’re doing what works for you. Not being a home run hitter, I can’t go up there trying to hit home runs every at-bat. I have to just try to work my way on, whether that’s by walking or hitting hard line-drive singles, or balls in the gap. I think that it’s all how you take it, mentally. Really, the mental aspect of the game is big, so as long as you’re strong there, you’re not trying to do too much, and you know what works, it all takes care of itself.
DL: In closing, is there anything you want Royals fans to know about you?
JB: I don’t know. I’ve never really been asked that question. I guess I want people to know that I work hard at what I do, and I take pride and passion into this game. A lot of times people take the game for granted, and you see a bunch of stuff going on in today’s game, and I just want to go out there and be recognized as someone who works hard and gives it his all on the field. That’s all you can do, really. Just play hard every day, and the rest will take care of itself.