Greg Billo was the Pitcher of the Year for Kane County last year, and it's the second time he's nabbed such an award in his short time in the minors with the Kansas City Royals. Despite the fact that he slipped to the 28th round in the 2008 MLB Draft, Billo has staked his claim as a starter to watch in an organization that needs pitching prospects to step forward.
This year, in High-A Wilmington, Billo is 5-4 with a 4.35 ERA. After some early season struggles, the dominant pitcher from last season is back in form. Billo recently took a few minutes out to talk to us about the adjustments he's made and what it's like playing for the Royals organization.
SBNKC: The MLB Draft was just a little while ago. How was that time for you?
Greg Billo: I wasn't really a high draft pick, so I obviously didn't have any big party set up or anything. [Laughs] I knew there was a chance I might get picked, so my dad and I sat around and watched it on the computer. That was really the most special part for me was being with my dad. When my name came up, to see the look on his face and the excitement it gave him was pretty cool.
When you have to wait until the 28th round, how tenuous does that become?
Yeah, you start to think maybe you'll get passed up, which was fine because I was set up for college. Either way, it would have been great. But they were talking to me throughout the process, so at some point I knew I would be coming up.
How does that work? Does someone call you ahead of time?
The scout that was talking to me would call me back and forth and let me know where they were at and where they thought I would go.
When they're in touch with you, what do they tell you? Do they say how they envision using you?
Not so much. After you're drafted, that's exactly the conversation that you have, but up until then, it's just where they will pick you and see what your signability is.
Obviously we want to talk about the year you're having. You won the Pitcher of the Year Award last year in Kane County. Can you talk about the difference this year and your own level of readiness?
Sure. Obviously every step you go up, it starts to narrow out. You start to see that already. The hitters are getting a lot more patient at the plate. They're chasing a lot less. They're recognizing your pitches a little earlier. It's been a little bit of an adjustment from level to level to what is expected.
It seems you're having another very good year where the ratios are still very solid. How are you feeling about the year you're having?
I ran into a little bit of struggles early on in the season, but we've been hammering out the mechanics, getting back to the basics. The pitching coach, Steve Luebber, and I have been working on a few things. It's been paying off. We're getting the ball back down in the zone, being able to mix in my change-up whenever I want, and I'm getting my curveball over for strikes.
How frustrating was that early on? I'm curious when you're coming off of a year like last year...
Yeah, even if I hadn't had that year, I still have high standards for myself. So when you're struggling a bit, it weighs on you. You just have to push through it and know you'll get better in the end.
Can you talk about the Royals organization as a whole at this point? The need for pitching is there and the opportunities seem to be there for you.
You know from the minute you sign that you're a priority. You're not just another guy in a uniform. They take every guy very seriously and they put all the effort they can into everybody. Being a starter in an organization like this, they're going to give us every opportunity. I don't know if you see that everywhere, but you definitely see that here with the Kansas City Royals.