The Washington Times - September 15, 2008, 12:37AM

By JAY LeBLANC
September 15, 2008

When Jeff Bianchi with .408 with six home runs and 30 RBI in just 98 at bats in his pro debut with the Rookie-level Arizona League Royals in 2005, it appeared the second-round pick was destined for big league stardom sooner rather than later. A 6-foot, 175-pound shortstop, Bianchi had drawn raves for his approach at the plate during his high school days in Lampeter, Pa., and after it immediately translated to pro success, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 5 prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization entering 2006 and penciled him in at shortstop on their projected 2010 Royals lineup.

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However, Bianchi hit a speed bump on his road to the big leagues the following season as back and shoulder injuries necessitated labrum surgery and forced him to miss all but 12 games. Then in 2007, he just wasn’t the same player he had been before the surgery. Playing for the Burlington Bees in the pitcher-friendly Class A Midwest League, Bianchi hit just .247 with two home runs and 36 RBI in 99 games. He showed signs of life by hitting .330 over his final 91 at bats and stole 15 bases in 19 attempts for the season, but the Royals’ expectations for him had dipped, and he had fallen to No. 17 on the team’s prospect list entering 2008.

Despite his subpar 2007 season, Bianchi was bumped up to the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks this year, and while it would be a stretch to say he’s all the way back to his pre-surgery form, he’s certainly headed in that direction. Bianchi started painfully slow while battling a groin injury and just .136 in 44 April at bats, but rebounded to post solid numbers once he got healthy. He finished the year with a modest .255 average but displayed good pop for a middle infielder by slugging 10 home runs and stroking 34 doubles while playing his home games at Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium - a notorious pitchers’ park. He also stole 13 bases while being caught just four times and made a smooth transition to second base, which the Royals apparently see as his future defensive home. I recently had a chance to speak with Bianchi:

Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Royals? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?

A: I knew that they were interested in me, but not as much as they apparently were. I got drafted in the second round; I thought I was going to go maybe in the fifth, sixth or seventh.

Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you try to get into the pitcher’s head, or do you just react to what’s thrown?

A: Usually throughout the games, throughout the season, you build some tendencies from pitchers, so you kind of get some information that way. Basically I’m not trying to get into the pitcher’s head - just see it, hit it, react.

Q: Your game is still developing, but when it’s all said and done, do you think you’ll be a table-setter or a middle-of-the-order guy?

A: You know, that’s not really my call. I’m just going out there playing my game. My game isn’t really going out there and hitting home runs or anything, so I would say for me, getting on base, moving runners, bunting, things like that would really be my game.

Q: You’ve played both second base and shortstop as a pro. What position do you think you’ll end up at in the long run?

A: Right now, I’m not sure. I’m playing second right now, but I’m not sure if their plans are to move me back to short or to keep me at second. I would say, right now, I’m playing a lot of second so I would say second, but that could all change.

Q: What aspects of your game did you focus most on improving this season?

A: Definitely defense. I’m moving from short to second and it’s been an adjustment period, which I think I’ve handled pretty well. I feel comfortable over there, I’ve felt great all year, so probably my work at second base.

Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?

A: Not really. I don’t really have one guy that I say, “I want to be like this guy.” I’m trying to be the guy that people, someday, will say, “I want to be like him.”

Q: Any plans for fall or winter baseball?

A: Right now I haven’t heard anything. I would love to play some type of fall or winter ball if I get the opportunity. If not, I’ll take the offseason and just continue to get better and work on my strengths and my weaknesses.

Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Royals?

A: As soon as they need me. Hopefully, when that opportunity comes, I can. Maybe in a couple years - we’ll see.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees.