By now, you’ve seen the news. Just in case you’ve been living underground (or recovering from celebrating a national championship), I’ll drop this here:
Yes, this is a massive deal. The future starts on Thursday.
We’ve experienced this frequently in Kansas City, a rebuild that has the payoff of a top prospect getting the call. While the Prospect Industrial Complex has grown and grown and grown over the years, so my assessment may be a bit skewed on this front, but it sure feels like this is monumental. Larger than when Eric Hosmer (Baseball America’s #8 ranked prospect in 2011) made a mid-season debut in Kansas City. Bigger than Alex Gordon (Baseball America #2 ranked prospect in 2007) getting the call on Opening Day. There’s just a buzz…a hype…an entire scene around Bobby Witt Jr.
Maybe it’s because we’ve been through The Process before and saw that, yes with a little patience, it can pay tremendous dividends. It took Gordon a few years and a position change before he developed into one of the best players in the game for a few years. It took Hosmer getting his fellow prospects to join him before he evolved into a leader on a World Championship team. Both outcomes took some time, but they were ultimately worth the payoff.
It’s now time for the fun part…what path will Witt take?
He’s been the Royals top prospect since he joined the organization in 2019. He’s the #3 ranked prospect at Baseball America. Number 1 at MLB Pipeline. And #1 at Baseball Prospectus. He’s come a long way from his first stop at the Complex League, where he struggled to get on base to where he crushed the souls of opposing pitchers across Double and Triple-A last summer. He, as the cliche goes, has nothing left to prove outside of the majors. Witt is ready. The time—the future—is now.
From Baseball America:
To say that Witt exceeded expectations would be an understatement, as his 2021 season split between Double-A and Triple-A was one for the ages. After a slow start when he made the necessary adjustments, Witt obliterated Double-A pitching and moved up to Triple-A at midseason. He finished in the top five in the minor leagues in hits (144), runs (99), home runs (33) and RBIs (97) and finished just shy of a 30-30 season with 29 stolen bases, all in his age-21 season at the highest levels of the minors. In recognition of his outstanding season, Witt was named BA Minor League Player of the Year.
I mean, you can’t get a more glowing review than that. If this was Yelp, they’d need to expand the rating system to include a sixth star.
This is where it’s tricky. The temptation is to transfer those expectations from the minors to the majors along with Witt. To anoint him the “Savior.” But that would be foolish. He’s one player. One player who has a chance of becoming very, very (very!) good at this game. Great even. Yet we’ve learned the road to success in baseball (and in life if I may get philosophical for a moment) is rarely linear. There will be stumbles. Where they will occur or when or for how long is yet to be determined.
Witt will be a cog in the rebuilding machine. Albeit a very important cog. The most important cog. But he is just one piece. Baseball, as we are told, is the ultimate team sport. It may seem like Witt can do everything himself on the field, but he’s just one of nine guys. It’s up to the organization to surround him with the talent to make this team competitive once again. For now, Witt is just another major league rookie, looking to make his mark on the game.
Part of the buzz is about Witt’s makeup. As the son of a former major league pitcher, the younger Witt has been around the game for his entire life. He knows about the demands and the expectations and despite possessing a ton of talent, has never big-timed his teammates or anyone else around the game. He possesses a humility that will help him weather those bumps and that has already made him accepted to his major league teammates.
From Alec Lewis at The Athletic:
Whit Merrifield called Witt “The Franchise.” When MLB Pipeline named him their No. 1 prospect, Nicky Lopez tweeted, “Damn right.” Amir Garrett rolled with “#TheTruth.” Behind these words was an understanding of an observation (former major leaguer Rusty) Greer made so many years ago: “I’ve only seen three true five-tool players in my life, and Bobby is one of them.”
Everything I’ve read and seen says Witt is basically the baseball version of a video game cheat code. Baseball America says he’s the best athlete in the Royals system. Players, both current and former, sing praises for his makeup. His numbers from 2021 back up everything. The floor is extremely high. The ceiling is even higher.
All I can tell you is that I’m excited. I’m excited that a player with the baseball pedigree and talent is joining the Royals. I’m excited to watch Witt perform at the major league level. I’m excited for the future of Royals baseball. Opening Day is a time for optimism and celebration. With Witt on the team, all that gets ratcheted up just a little more. This is going to be fun.
Game on, Kansas City.
Mr. B, How damaging would it be to the franchise if Witt fails? PS- I really like your writing.
I will be watching from 500 miles away...but would not miss this one. I have cleared Thursday afternoon for baseball.