02/18/08 10:00 AM ET
Mailbag: Background on Hillman?
Beat reporter Dick Kaegel answers fans' questions
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
-- Brian P., East Winthrop, Maine
Hillman was a standout shortstop at the University of Texas-Arlington and was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in 1985. He played three years in their Minor League system -- at Batavia, Waterloo, Waterbury and Kinston. He moved into scouting and coaching, then managed Minor League clubs for the Yankees from 1990-2001. His teams had a record of 855-761 (.529); in 2000, his Triple-A Columbus team went 85-58 and he was International League Manager of the Year. His Nippon Ham Fighters reached the playoffs in three of his five years and won the Japan World Series in 2006.
Is Brian Bannister going to wear No. 19 in 2008 because Angel Berroa will wear No. 40 instead of No. 4?
-- Jack J., Springfield, Mo.
Bannister is switching from 40 to 19, the number his father Floyd Bannister wore with the Royals and the White Sox. When the Royals gave 4 to Alex Gordon (his old college number), Berroa was switched to the vacant 40.
With Mike Sweeney not returning, who is expected to be the new captain? Could you see John Buck as a possible candidate?
-- Sarah N., Blue Springs, Mo.
Hillman says he likes the idea of team captains, but won't name one immediately. If someone emerges over time as a natural leader on the field and in the clubhouse, he might take over the title. Buck, who is the player representative and widely respected, certainly would be a possibility. Actually, captains are rather rare in the Majors these days and I don't see the Royals naming one this year.
Which Royals pitchers are out of options?
-- Chris K., Lincoln, Neb.
Pitchers with no options remaining are John Bale, Jorge De La Rosa, Jimmy Gobble, Luke Hudson, Ron Mahay, Gil Meche and Leo Nunez. You didn't ask about position players, but here they are: Buck, Alberto Callaspo, Joey Gathright, Esteban German, Ross Gload, Jose Guillen, Justin Huber and Tony Pena Jr.
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Injuries aside, Sweeney had a fabulous career in a Royals uniform and was a true gentleman in the community. What are his chances for the Royals Hall of Fame?
-- Matt H., Olathe, Kan.
After 13 years with the Royals, Sweeney ranks second in slugging percentage (.492), third in home runs (197) and batting average (.299); fifth in RBIs (837), extra-base hits (499) and walks (484), and sixth in games played (1,282), at-bats (4,669), runs (700), hits (1,398) and total bases (2,296). He also had considerable impact on the team as a longtime leader and captain. His 144 RBIs in 2000 stands as a team record and his .340 in 2002 is second only to George Brett's .390 in 1980. There's no reason why he shouldn't be elected.
I see that Andres Blanco was invited to Spring Training by the Cubs. When did the Royals let him go?
-- Clayton S., Great Bend, Kan.
Blanco opted for free agency after the Royals took him off their 40-man roster this offseason and he signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs. Once a highly regarded middle-infield prospect, Blanco was an excellent fielder -- but he was a switch-hitter who didn't hit much. During a 2004 September callup, he caused a stir by hitting .364 (12-for-33) in 10 games for the Royals. But he hurt his knee early the next season with Triple-A Omaha and has battled a variety of injuries almost constantly ever since. Last season he got into just 28 games for Omaha and hit .196. Blanco is just 23 and still has time to make it.