Watching Bobby Witt Jr. play at Kauffman Stadium is nothing short of exciting. One, because, well, IT’S BASEBALL, BABY! Two, because we almost always have to dream more when it comes to top prospects.
After their selection in the draft, prospects usually take between three and five years to get to the big leagues—if they do at all—and they spend those years zooming around minor league stadiums out of sight and out of mind. The closest they get to the big leagues is in Spring Training, and it’s just not the same watching a prospect in Surprise as it is watching a prospect in the same stadium you saw the Royals walk off a World Series game in.
Really, Witt is only here because he desperately needs playing time. There ain’t no minor league season this year, and the best way to get him plate appearances is to include him with the 59 other guys on the summer camp roster. It is absolutely the correct move, as hitting against legit big league pitchers, and working with the best coaches on staff, is an irreplaceable experience.
But Witt has made quite a name for himself so far. In a game earlier this week, Witt worked a long plate appearance against Danny Duffy, coming back from an 0-2 count to get an opposite-field single. For a 20-year-old who has yet to ascend beyond short-season Rookie leagues, that is quite some poise and skill. Duffy agreed, and was quick to sing his praises:
It'd be an understatement to say Danny Duffy is excited about the #Royals' top prospects: "I love me some (Daniel) Lynch, man. Brady Singer, same, (Kris) Bubic, all these guys, man. ... Oh, and Bobby Witt — the guy's the best hitter of all time already." pic.twitter.com/Dso8eKfEkF— FOX Sports Kansas City (@FSKansasCity) July 15, 2020
A shortstop in high school with all the defensive skills to stay there, the Royals nevertheless had Witt playing third base a bit when camp kicked off. It was certainly intriguing, because you’d think that the Royals would keep Witt playing shortstop. But he was playing third, in part because of Adalberto Mondesi:
Mike Matheny on having Bobby Witt Jr and Adalberto Mondesi on the left side today: “There are times when they are going to be on the field at the same time, and Mondi is going to be the shortstop. Felt better putting Witt (at 3B), so he wouldn’t have to make the turns (at 2B).”— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) July 7, 2020
If you squint your eyes and dream a little, you could draw some conclusions from this that may or may not be correct—but are certainly exciting. For instance, you could look at the dearth of third base talent in the system and easily see Witt as a guy who could fill that void at the big league level. And, you could also see that the Royals playing Witt and Mondesi together as evidence that the Royals are thinking about using Witt this year even.
I am very interested in Witt. He is the type of prospect that the Royals haven’t had in a decade. His performance in the last two weeks has shown a level of polish that Witt’s closest draft parallel—Bubba Starling—never did early in his career (or later in his career, if we’re being honest with ourselves). But let’s pump the brakes a little bit on Witt here.
Witt just turned 20. The Royals were a 100-loss team two years ago. They were a 100-loss team last year. They were potentially a 100-loss team this year, should the season have been a full one. The reasons for Witt to remain on the sidelines this year honing his craft are many. He’s not going to make a difference on a playoff-bound squad (like Mondesi in the 2015 World Series), he’s never been above Rookie ball, there are plenty of guys who can be a strong defensive infielder this year, and it would be a waste of service time.
It is entirely possible we see Witt sooner rather than later. That would be fun! It would be a blast so see him in 2021. But at the same time, rushing a prospect to the big leagues is never a great idea. We’ll see Witt eventually. But, like the other best prospects in baseball, he still has something to prove.