KC Royals: Why we shouldn’t worry about Bobby Witt Jr.

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The early struggles at the plate for KC Royals third baseman Bobby Witt Jr. are no secret. So far this season, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 big league prospect is hitting just .185. Baseball, however, is a game of patience. It takes time for even the most polished hitters to find their timing. Some of baseball’s greatest hitters—even Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn—have seen poor stretches at the plate.

It was to be expected that Witt might struggle once he reached the major leagues, even if the hope was that he’d be a star right away. Shortened spring training spawned concerns across the majors, including that hitters might struggle after not getting as many at-bats as usual. And that may be happening.

For example, the Royals’ offense is one of the worst in baseball and the current league batting average is just .232 which, if it holds over the full season, will be the lowest in the history of baseball. Any prospect entering the majors for the first time in 2022 is facing some of the toughest conditions ever for hitters.

This, on top of the normal struggles many prospects see when adjusting to major league hitting, renders it no surprise that Witt is faring so poorly at the plate—he’s slashing .185/.214/.278 going into the three-game series with the White Sox that begins tonight in Chicago. Regardless, expectations were sky high for Witt and it’s an utter disappointment to see the future of the Royals struggling so mightily.

But just how much should Witt’s subpar hitting worry the Royals and their fans? To determine that, it’s important to see how similar prospects performed in their debuts.

Recent top prospects have struggled like KC Royals rookie Bobby Witt Jr.

The easiest part of gauging whether to worry about Witt is finding other top prospects to compare him to. Major league baseball has a plethora of young talent and dozens of exciting young superstars have made their mark on the game over the past decade, from Mike Trout to Juan Soto, and to Wander Franco last season.

This long list of prospects a good frame of reference for grading Witt, who’s played 14 games so far. Here are stats for some top prospects through the first 14 games of their recent rookie seasons:

  • Bobby Witt Jr. (2022, age 21): 14G, 56PA, .185/.214/.278, 28% SO%, 3.5% BB%, .263 BABIP.
  • Julio Rodriguez (2022, age 21): 14G, 57PA, .192/.263/.250, 42% SO%, 8.7% BB%, .357 BABIP.
  • Jarred Kelenic (2021, age 21): 14G, 59PA, .146/.203/.351, 18% SO%, 5 BB%, .143 BABIP.
  • Wander Franco (2021, age 20): 14G, 62PA, .211/.274/.351, 29% SO%, 8% BB%, .238 BABIP.
  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr (2019, age 20): 14G, 58PA, .235/.328/.392, 20% SO%, 12% BB%, .270 BABIP.

These top prospects all struggled early to adjust to big league pitching. Much like many of his young counterparts had, Witt Jr. has a low BABIP and a high strikeout rate. Julio Rodriguez, another top prospect making his debut this season, has actually fanned more and has a very comparable batting average but a much higher BABIP.

The Royals will continue to be patient with their young third baseman and allow him to make necessary adjustments. And he’s quietly making some of them. Witt currently has a four-game hitting streak. In that span, he’s slashing .333/.375/.400 and, in the club’s recently-completed three-game series with Seattle, a solid pitching team with a 2.96 ERA, hit .308 with a lower 23% SO%.

What should the KC Royals expect from Bobby Witt Jr. the rest of the season?

No two players are alike, so Witt may not blossom as rapidly as some other top prospects have. It may very well take multiple seasons for him to become the superstar he’s believed to be. Kansas City fans should be familiar with a delayed path to stardom after Alex Gordon’s time with the Royals.

However, it’s entirely possible that Witt realizes his potential this season—just look at how some of the prospects on our list did after their first 14 games:

  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s last three months of the season: 69G, 288 PA, .287/.351/.444, 17% SO%, 8.6% BB%, .330 BABIP.
  • Jarred Kelenic’s final month of season: 29G, 118 PA, .248/.331/.524, 24% SO%, 10% BB%, .275 BABIP
  • Wander Franco’s last two months of the season: 41G, 180 PA, .323/.383/.506, 6% SO%, 7% BB%, .329 BABIP

All three saw major improvements in production by the end of their rookie seasons. Sure, it took longer for some. Guerrero played a full three months of superstar baseball before his rookie season ended; Kelenic, on the other hand, didn’t put things together until the season’s final month. Franco finished his rookie year with a magnificent streak of 43-consecutive games on base.

Positive results are on the horizon for Witt and the Royals. As he continues to work good counts (51% of Witt’s plate appearances have ended with him even or ahead in the count), the hits will drop and the runs will come. The most important things for him now are to remain confident in his approach and to stay patient. Patience will be important not only for Witt, but for his fans as well.

Next. Some Royals' favorite opponents. dark

Look for Bobby Witt Jr. to break out this season.