Later tonight, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred will step up to a podium inside a studio in New Jersey to speak the name of teenagers and young men. In those very few upcoming hours, Bobby Witt, Jr. will likely be a Royal. The probability isn’t 100%, but the outcome seems inevitable.
From then on, this Royals front office will seal some sort of fate and require some sort of responsibility: to develop Witt into what he could possibly be. I disagree that he’s nearly as good a prospect as Alex Rodriguez, as some of the recent hype has portrayed. But he doesn’t have to be A-Rod to be worth selecting at #2 overall. He’s inarguably at this time one of the best prospects in this draft.
While it’s easy in hindsight to look at the selection of Bubba Starling as a “bad pick”, at the time Starling was the best high school prospect in that draft. An easy choice at #5 overall, and one at the time no one could really scoff at. In retrospect, it didn’t work out, but that wasn’t an issue with the pick but a function of development.
The selection of Witt brings just that: the same risk Bubba Starling bore. The same that Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Wil Myers all carried too. High school players come with longer development times and more risk, but that doesn’t mean a team should avoid them. Instead, a team should seek out the tools to development them. If an organization has a poor track record of developing a type of prospect (like pitchers with the Royals), they shouldn’t shun their selection, they should fix their issues developing them. You can’t just swear off prep pitchers and hitters.
The selection of Witt brings that risk, but he also brings the often thought of reward that prep prospects bring. It’s no secret on these very pages that I prefer Andrew Vaughn of Cal or JJ Bleday of Vanderbilt. But that reason isn’t because of their demographic exclusively.
This draft for the Royals will be a question of development, not a question of selection. Whether they take Witt or Andrew Vaughn or JJ Bleday or even CJ Abrams, this tier of talent is tightly bunched. Picking at 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th overall allows the selection of the best relative talent in that draft. Last year the Royals were at the mercy of the draft gods, just waiting to see which names remained on their draft board. This year, the Royals only will remove one name from their board. Of the 1,000 players they’ll line up on their boards, they’ll have 999 to choose from, for the first time in a while. Last year was a question of selection, this year will be just one of development, mostly.
Witt, if selected, brings a challenge the Royals have typically failed at recently: the development of high school players. Yes, there have been a few turn into some sort of major leaguers (Jake Junis, Jake Newberry, and Cam Gallagher) but none taken early or reaching high returns. The Royals have been run over by this risk more than not recently with players like Nick Pratto, Ashe Russell, MJ Melendez, and Nolan Watson. First round selections turned to first round struggles. So the selection of Witt will be taking that risk, once more but also knowing that risk can bring reward.
It should bring reward, otherwise the risk isn’t worth taking. Yes, I prefer Vaughn or Bleday (or Rutschman) but the Royals are going to accept the challenge again, and I think that’s fine if they can live with it or think they can beat it finally. There might not be a knowingly correct pick, but Witt at least makes sense.