Splash hits: The lockout can't stop Bobby Witt Jr. and his continued dominance of the top prospect lists
The lockout continues, Prospect Season kicks into high gear, the Hall of Fame election announcement is near and a thank you.
Today is the 48th day of the lockout.
(I wouldn’t be aware of the exact length of this, except for the hero on Reddit who is offering a drawing of Mike Trout every day until the lockout is over.)
There is still an opportunity for camps to open on time, but that window is getting slimmer by the day. As I stated earlier in the lockout, it’s natural for these things to drag out when there isn’t a deadline of any kind in place. While there’s still no solid deadline, time is running short to reach an agreement before camps will have to be shortened.
It’s not just that time is at a premium. It’s that both sides remain tremendously far apart on the key issues. As Ken Rosenthal points out in The Athletic, the heat isn’t necessarily on at the moment, but it’s getting warm in here. But the owners are playing a dangerous game, instituting a lockout under the lubricous pretense that it would lead to more productive negotiations and now taking a hardline on areas where they have a clear advantage. Meanwhile, the players are looking to regain some ground they perceive as lost in the last round of CBA negotiations. Remember then? The MLBPA was pilloried almost from the moment the details of the agreement became public. It was an embarrassment for leadership, one they are determined to avoid at all costs this time around.
None of this is surprising. Once the owners locked out the players, this timeline was preordained. But we’ve cruised past the first couple weeks after the lockout was instituted, past the holidays and now past the start of the new year. With so many issues to be negotiated, the margins are narrowing. The pace of negotiations has to pick up soon, or we risk the camps not opening on time. And once that happens, the loss of spring training games becomes very real.
Of course in the larger picture, a delayed start to camps or the loss of a week or so of spring training isn’t a huge deal. Camps are long, the exhibition schedule drags along…the only people who would truly lament the cancellation of a week of games in late February and early March are members of the chambers of commerce in select cities in Florida and Arizona.
Still, it’s a nerve-racking time to be following the lack of negotiations between the owners and the MLBPA. The next two weeks will be critical in that some positive movement has to be made.
One thing the lockout isn’t impacting is Prospect Season.
Baseball America dropped their annual list of top 100 prospects on Wednesday with the top three looking like this:
Adley Rutschman - Baltimore
Julio Rodríguez - Seattle
Bobby Witt Jr. - Kansas City
It is the exact same top three as last year. So basically, these guys are the studs of the minor leagues, lived up to the lofty expectations that come with the rankings and are going to be impact players in the majors. (In fact, the only difference in the top five from 2021 is that Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene—both of Detroit—flipped positions at four and five.)
It would’ve been fun if Witt Jr. had claimed the top spot, but these rankings are just snapshots of a moment. And since both Rutschman and Rodríguez ahead of him also lived up to their considerable hype last summer, it’s understandable that BA would keep the top three intact.
Can you imagine how the buzz would be building at this moment if there was an actual spring training to be excited about? FanFest would be a week or so away, Truck Day would be on the calendar and the excitement about Witt Jr putting on another show in Surprise would be the talk of the Royals universe. Alas, none of that is happening. For now.
Further down the list, you will find MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto at numbers 42 and 43, respectively. That revamped hitting program in the minors is certainly paying dividends. Melendez was the 90th-best prospect in 2021 while Pratto was at 51. I believe in prospect-speak they would say Melendez and Pratto both have some helium.
There was an interesting asterisk on this year’s top 100 regarding Asa Lacy. When Baseball America released their top 10 Royals list earlier this offseason, Lacy was the organization’s number two overall prospect, behind Witt Jr. but ahead of Melendez and Pratto. Baseball America said as they were compiling the top 100 list this year, they heard from a number of evaluators that Melendez and Pratto should be ahead of Lacy. The result was that Lacy was left off the top 100 completely.
Jackson Kowar, who was ranked at 75 last year, fell out of the top 100. He is ranked as the Royals’ fifth-best prospect by BA.
Here’s the breakdown of AL Central teams represented in the BA Top 100:
Guardians — 5
Twins — 5
Royals — 3
Tigers — 3
White Sox — 0
The Central feels like it’s going to become extremely competitive in the next couple of years.
Without any hot stove action these last several weeks, thank goodness we have the Hall of Fame balloting as a legitimate distraction.
From the moment the ballot is revealed in late November to the official announcement on January 25th this year, the efforts of Ryan Thibodaux and his merry band of ballot trackers has, in my opinion, helped keep the Hall of Fame process in the Twitter headlines for these last couple of months. And that’s a good thing for baseball.
There are good ballots and poor ballots. Blank ballots and ballots that make you wonder if the voter ever watched baseball. And Thibodaux collects them all. It’s fascinating to watch the trends develop, and now that we’re several years into this exercise, these are rarely surprising. Curt Schilling has lost support. Omar Vizquel has lost a ton of support. And Barry Bonds remains popular with those who release their ballots early and less so with those who choose not to reveal their ballots at all. Really, the most interesting trends to follow have to do with the newcomers on the ballot. This year it’s David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez isn’t going to get in this year. Ortiz has a chance. And even though as of this writing that Ortiz has almost 84 percent of the publicly revealed vote, his induction in 2022 is far from a certainty. There will be plenty of intrigue when the full results are announced next week.
While some like ESPN’s Buster Olney, question whether the ballot tracker is a good thing for the Hall, I tend to think that’s just a byproduct of when some of his colleagues are ripped on Twitter for what is perceived as a poor ballot. I can for sure do without some of the vitriol directed at some writers, the Tracker keeps the HoF process front and center for two solid months. How can that not be anything but a plus for the Hall?
The Baseball Hall of Fame is a flawed institution, but I remain a fan. Of both the institution and the tracker.
Finally, this week the newsletter turns a year old. I had no clue what I was starting last January, but it’s been incredibly fulfilling. It’s good to have my own corner of the internet once again where I can write exclusively about the Royals.
Thank you for the subscriptions, the likes, the comments and the emails. And most of all, thank you for your continued support.