Fine! Here's an entry about Bobby Witt Jr.
I'm all about giving the people what they want.
Bobby Witt Jr is a stud.
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Ok, ok…There’s more to say.
This spring, Witt has appeared in nine exhibition games and has accumulated 22 plate appearances. He’s hitting .333/.364/.619 with a pair of dingers and six RBI to go along with six runs scored. If there was a Cactus League All-Star team, Witt would be a starter. He hit leadoff in his last outing on Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners, perhaps an indication that the Royals and Mike Matheny would like to get as many looks as possible at the young infielder.
And why not? This spring we’ve been treated to an unending array of highlights.
Look! There’s Witt rounding the bases in 15 seconds!
OMG! Witt just completely crushed one!
Holy moly! What a defensive play from Witt!
The videos allow us to use the eye test. The conclusions we draw from this sample of excellence match what we’ve read from the prospect hounds.
From Baseball America:
Witt projects as a premier starting shortstop with five impact tools.
From Baseball Prospectus:
Witt might be a superstar.
…could hit for enough contact and draw enough walks to get to his 25-30-homer power in games while also providing premium value on the basepaths and on defense.
Whew. Let’s take a moment to collect our thoughts. Breathe everyone. Breathe
Here’s the downer part of this entry. (Damnit!) Thus far, Witt hasn’t had a professional plate appearance that counts outside of the complex leagues. In that time in the Arizona League in 2019, Witt hit .262/.317/.354. He struck out in around 20 percent of his plate appearances, a rate you don’t especially want a top prospect to approach in the complex leagues.
And then Covid derailed 2020.
There is plenty of variance when it comes to prospecting. Sure, he may have struggled with contact and didn’t hit for much power in 2019 after he was drafted, but Witt didn’t participate in any official games in 2020. How would he have performed if the Royals had started him in Single-A and he had the full slate of minor league action on his resumé? We have no idea how he would have progressed. What we do know about Witt in 2020 is he appeared in summer camp at Kauffman Stadium and looked like he belonged. The reports from the alternate site continued to impress. Going forward, how prospects develop after going through 2020 will be an interesting case study. Was there a benefit of constant coaching from the big league staff and a plethora of simulated games? Was that worth more than riding buses in the low minors?
In the televised games from summer camp just ahead of the official start of the delayed 2020 season I recall thinking that it looked like the guy belonged on the big league field. He has IT. IT is that secret sauce that makes a ballplayer a BALLPLAYER. Witt, it seems, has enough for the whole damn team. If I were doing play-by-play for the Royals games I would say something like, “Witt just looks like he belongs on a big league field.”
Forget the slow start to his professional career. What Witt showed in 2020 in that small sample was enough to set hearts aflutter.
I’ve written about this before, but our collective infatuation with prospects is akin to what I call “The Backup Quarterback Syndrome.” I don’t follow football anymore, but when I did eons ago it seemed like every year there would be a handful of teams whose fanbase were dissatisfied with the incumbent signal-caller. “The other guy is way better! How can the coaching staff not see this? It’s so obvious!”
The takeaway isn’t that the starting QB was usually better than the second-stringer. It’s that you tend to crave a reality based on your expectations. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s about being a fan. The starter stinks, we saw the backup throw a nice spiral the other day, ergo the backup is miles better. (As I write this section, my thoughts turn to Johnny Giavotella.)
Add the seemingly unlimited upside of a highly-touted, toolsy prospect to the equation and you have an intoxicating mix. There’s no starter to push aside in this scenario for the Royals, but we see Witt in Arizona and it’s not difficult at all to imagine him doing similar things in May at The K. He looks ready.
Does it make sense for the Royals to move their top prospect past Single-A, around Double-A and completely bypass Triple-A to have him debut in the majors in April? When I phrase it that way, it sure doesn’t. Baseball is a grind. Major League Baseball is a super grind. It certainly helps that Witt carries baseball in his DNA. He’s grown up around the game, he has an idea of how to act, how to prepare, and perhaps most importantly, how to pace himself and handle the ups and downs that will come his way.
Ken Griffey Jr. was drafted by the Seattle Mariners out of high school in 1987 and was their starting center fielder in 1989. Like Witt, Griffey’s father was a major leaguer and he grew up around the game. (I’m not comparing Witt to Griffey as players. It’s their circumstances that are similar.) But Griffey spent that year between his draft and his major league debut getting at-bats in Single and Double-A. He was most definitely ready.
I’ve seen people mention Juan Soto as a potential comp for Witt as someone who made it the major leagues as a youngster. Perhaps, but Soto joined the Nationals organization as an international free agent at 16, made his debut in the minors at 17 and promptly laid waste to the Gulf Coast League. He repeated the destruction the next year in A ball. And then once again the next year in Double-A before getting the call.
Both Griffey and Soto are generational talents. Both were young when they debuted, but had some seasoning in the minors before making the jump to The Show.
Witt most likely needs that seasoning. Although it seems like he already knows about the grind and how to get himself through the ups and downs.
The Royals always seem to have a plan when it comes to their prospects. Yet they don’t manipulate service time and they’re not shy about pivoting from that plan when the situation warrants. I would bet that in 2020 the Royals figured Brady Singer and Kris Bubic would get several starts in at least Double-A before getting the call. Circumstances said otherwise and the results were a promising building block for the future. Sometimes the plan seems haphazard, which is how it looked in how the Royals dealt with Adalberto Mondesi. We’re still waiting for that potential to manifest itself over a full season.
I imagine the current plan for Witt has to be for him to take some hacks in the minors at some point in 2021. This means he will get his reps in Arizona, stay behind when the minor league camp opens up after the big leaguers head north and then it’s off to the alternate site camp once again until he is placed on a team within the system.
If Witt translates his performance in summer camps and alternate site camps and exhibition games into quality production in the minor leagues—if he dominates—I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in Kansas City later in the summer. It’s really up to Witt and how he does once he gets into meaningful games…once he gets into the grind. In the meantime, we watch and we wait and we hope he can force the Royals into making a decision that perhaps deviates from the plan.
Witt brings excitement with him when he’s on the field. It’s an event to watch his plate appearances and his glovework. And isn’t that what baseball is all about? I’ve written several times about how much I absolutely love to watch Jorge Soler hit. It’s because he was doing something that I, as a follower of the Royals, had never seen. The consistent power, the constant destruction of baseballs…The potential that Soler could hit another one into the fountains (ahem) was some kind of exciting. Winning baseball, like we saw around these parts years ago, and the potential for parades down Grand Avenue was exciting. Watching Zack Greinke dominate in 2009 and the potential he would do something extra-special in each of those starts was exciting.
That’s what baseball is supposed to do. The potential creates excitement.
I don’t know that Witt can set club records, or win MVP awards or lead this team back to October. But I do know the anticipation that comes from potential is building. from what I’ve seen is that watching Witt go about his business, that potential brings a certain level of excitement that has been missing around this franchise the last several years.
The future is within our sights. And it looks promising.