Updated: March 20, 2012 8:26AM
When Baseball America released its top prospect list for the Kansas City Royals recently, three players who were members of the 2011 Kane County Cougars made the list: Cheslor Cuthbert (5th), Jason Adam (8th) and Yordano Ventura (10th).
Right-handed pitcher Greg Billo didn’t make the list, but was noted as having the best control in the organization. Still, his effort here a year ago improved his standing just as much as other guys, and he is looking to take an even bigger step forward in 2012 at High-A Wilmington.
The 21-year-old Billo started the season in the bullpen and by May was in the rotation in a piggyback arrangement with Ventura. He earned a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game, and as the season went on became the Cougars’ No. 1 starter.
Eventually he finished with a 9-5 record and an MWL-best 1.93 ERA and 119 strikeouts against just 25 walks. He also tossed seven scoreless innings to win the Cougars playoff opener against Burlington in September.
“I learned to keep the ball down (last year) and that was a big help for me,” said Billo, who graduated from Sandburg High School in Orland Park, “and being able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes made it so much easier to pitch.”
Billo’s rise through the organization has been slow but steady. Drafted in the 28th round out of high school in 2008, he has spent a year at each level but has pitched well at each stop.
At 6-foot-4 and about 170 pounds as a high school senior, Billo was drafted with the hopes his body would fill in and add some extra zip to his then-83 mile per hour fastball. He is currently listed at 220 pounds and now brings it to the plate in the 91-93 range. His sinking action and ability to hide the ball well makes him tough on particularly left-handers, who hit just .218 against him last year.
“You can’t ignore the year Greg had and he has gotten better every year,” Royals director of minor league operations Scott Sharp said. “With maturity and weight has come velocity, and he is a completely different person the day he signed. He has really carved out his own niche, he believes in himself and is very confident on the mound.”
New voice in the radio booth
Though longtime Cougars radio voice and Aurora resident Jeff Hem has moved on to Triple-A Nashville this season, the booth will still have a local flavor.
Wayne Randazzo, who grew up in St. Charles and attended North Central College, will be taking over Hem’s duties for the 2012 season. Randazzo had spent the last four years with Double-A Mobile (Ala.), an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I’m very excited to be a part of the Kane County Cougars organization,” Randazzo said in a release. “Having grown up in the area I know how much the Cougars mean to the community and I’m so thrilled to be a part of that.”
Randazzo becomes the eighth broadcaster in franchise history and joins a list of former Cougars broadcasters that include Dave Willis (Tampa Bay Rays) and Scott Franzke (Philadelphia Phillies).