Report: Royals to reassign Bobby Witt Jr. to minor league camp
There was other news out of Surprise on Sunday...
How about dropping some good news to cover the bad? Just about an hour after the Royals announced the contract extension with Salvador Perez, news dropped that Bobby Witt Jr. would not be making the big league club.
Really, I mentioned it as “bad” news just to fit my good versus bad narrative. There’s really nothing bad and there’s certainly not anything wrong about reassigning Witt to the minor league camp. (While Rosenthal and Lewis broke the news which was later confirmed by Jeff Passan, as of this writing nothing has been officially announced by the team.)
As noted in a previous dispatch, Witt has zero professional experience above the complex leagues and in his time in Arizona in 2019, he hit a less-than-robust .262/.317/.354 in 180 plate appearances. No matter how good he looked at summer camp at The K last year or at the alternate site or in Surprise this spring, that matters. He’s 20 years old and less than two years removed from playing high school baseball. Have I been impressed with the way he’s handled himself on the field? Absolutely. Have I been fascinated with his plate appearances where he’s flashed a certain awareness? You betcha. Have I been taken with the tape measure home runs? Hell yeah. Has his defense looked strong, no matter where he’s playing on the field? Damn straight.
And yet I’m completely fine with the Royals sending him to the alternate site in Northwest Arkansas to start 2021.
Everything I checked above has come in simulated action. These games aren’t real. Certainly, the results matter and players want to impress, but when you’re a kid looking for experience that’s what this exercise amounts to. While players like Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier have gone on the record as to how impressive Witt is, patience is the correct course.
As Passan noted on Twitter and I wrote here a week ago, it serves both the organization and prospect well to get some reps at Double-A to start the season. Let’s see how that goes. The last thing the team should do is rush a young player just because they think he may be ready. The stakes in this situation are simply too high. The team needs to be certain. Or at least as certain as they can be. So have him show something in the Texas League for a few months. Prove that the stat line in the Arizona Summer League in 2019 was a fluke, that the Cactus League action was more in line with reality.
This isn’t about the manipulation of service time. It’s just not. Because as I said above, nobody knows for sure if Witt is ready. No matter how good he looks he cannot escape the fact he lacks professional experience. This is not even remotely similar to what the Cubs did with Kris Bryant who played three years at the University of San Diego and hit .295/.418/.619 in 297 Triple-A plate appearances his second year in the organization. This is, as I wrote previously, more in line with the Juan Soto’s and the Ken Griffey Jr.’s of the baseball world. Both players are generational talents who had 500 plate appearances before arriving at The Show. Both flashed extreme prospect pedigree in their brief stops along the organizational ladder. It’s not that Witt needs some seasoning. It’s that he really hasn’t had any seasoning.
Had Witt dominated the complex and then had Witt dominated wherever he was ticketed to play in 2020, the situation would be completely different. But he didn’t dominate in 2019 and he, like every other minor leaguer, lost the 2020 season thanks to this damn virus. Certainly, the experience gained at the alternate site and other minor league programs the Royals held was good and even invaluable, but nothing beats the grind of day-to-day game action. And that’s something that can’t be replicated at a camp or at the alternate site.
Everyone wants to dream a little…Dream that the Royals finally have that singular prospect who arrives and is just a fantastic ballplayer from the moment he steps between the lines at The K. It would’ve been fantastic if Witt was able to break camp and slot into the lineup and win the Rookie of the Year. And that may yet happen.
It’s not fun, but we’ll just have to practice a little patience.
Maybe we’ve been über focused on the wrong prospect. Maybe we should be paying a little more attention to Kyle Isbel. Entering Sunday’s game, Isbel was hitting .333/.424/.630 in 33 plate appearances while crushing with some pleasant desert power.
Isbel is the Royals number six prospect according to Baseball America, behind Witt and all these pitchers. He’s improving defensively as an outfielder and his athleticism means he can play some center, but there really isn’t room to roam out there with Michael A. Taylor in the fold. And unlike Witt, Isbel has found success in the minors, hitting a combined .326/.389/.504 in the Rookie League and Single-A in 2018. Injuries derailed his 2019 season but he did rebound that fall with a good showing in the AFL.
What if the Royals decided to option Nicky Lopez, move Whit Merrifield back to second (where he started on Sunday against the Rockies) for most of his reps and ride with Isbel in right field to open the season? Isbel can play either corner, but doesn’t have the prototypical cannon required for right, but it’s something the Royals could live with in the short-term.
It still feels like a bit of a longshot as Isbel hasn’t spent time above Single-A, but he just turned 24 and has impressed in camps the last year. The Royals always seem to make at least one roster surprise per year…maybe this is the one.
Regardless of what happens from here, the Witt decision (whenever announced) will be disappointing, it’s ultimately the correct one. And there’s still plenty of roster intrigue as we draw closer to the opening of the regular season.