KC Royals Projections: Is Bobby Witt Jr. ready now?

(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2022. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Today we consider infielder Bobby Witt Jr.

It’s been a long time since the Royals have had a prospect as anticipated as Bobby Witt Jr., perhaps as long ago as when Clint Hurdle, known more for his managing success than his playing career, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1978 as “This Year’s Phenom.”

Witt, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 amateur draft out of Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High School, was selected to be the future of the Royals at shortstop, and the expectation is far more than the production of Hurdle, who hit .276 with 26 home runs in five years with Kansas City before bouncing around another five years in the big leagues.

After the 2020 minor league season was canceled due to COVID-19, there was some anticipation that Witt would make it to Kansas City sometime in 2021. With just 37 games of rookie ball experience in 2019 and solid shortstop play from Nicky Lopez, the decision was made to keep Witt in the minors even when rosters expanded in September.

Witt began 2021 in at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, smacking 16 home runs among his 31 extra base hits while posting a .295/.369/.570 line in 61 games. A promotion to Triple-A Omaha produced more of the same—in 62 games, Witt’s numbers were 17 home runs, 41 extra base hits and a slash of .285/.352/.581. Witt also stole 29 bases on the year.

How KC Royals prospect Bobby Witt Jr. ranks among major league prospects.

Since being drafted in 2019, Witt has progressed steadily up the prospect rankings of various experts. For example, before the 2020season Baseball America had him as the No. 24 overall prospect and Baseball Prospectus had him at No. 29. One year later, he was up to No. 16 and No. 9 by those same sources. And for their 2022 pre-season rankings, Baseball America moved Witt up to No. 3 while Baseball Prospectus has him at No. 1. Bashing 33 home runs and driving in 97 in a minor league season will do that for a player.

What to expect from KC Royals infield prospect Bobby Witt Jr. this season.

As mlb.com KC beat writer Anne Rogers recently reported, Witt believes he’s ready for the majors and Royals President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore said the club will be “open-minded” in spring training to giving Witt the chance to win a spot on the big club.

Despite the current lockout, Witt is able to take part in spring workouts because he’s not on the 40-man roster. That’s good for Witt, who needs to work on identifying the strike zone after averaging more than a strikeout per game in 2021 at both Double-A and Triple-A.

The other thing Witt will likely be doing is learning to play third base. With Lopez excelling at shortstop and Whit Merrifield likely to return to second base, Witt’s immediate future looks to be at the hot corner. He showed a quality glove and arm in the minors, including 18 errorless games at third base in 2021.

At the moment, Adalberto Mondesi looks to be the incumbent at third base, but injury and inconsistency traditionally make him a question mark. Emmanuel Rivera, who hit .256 in a 29-game trial in 2021, is also a possibility.

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Although projecting 30 home runs, 30 steals, 100 RBIs and a .290 average is tempting for a player with Witt’s potential and minor league stats, it’s a big ask for a rookie. With a potential position switch and uncertainty to the season, Witt will likely start out playing every day in Omaha, but whenever the lockout ends and the Royals begin their season, expect Witt to be manning third base and looking for a breakout season.