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What are your expectations for Bobby Witt Jr.?

Being a rookie is hard.

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Bobby Witt Jr batting for the Omaha Storm Chasers in 2021
Minda Haas Kuhlmann

The big leaguers aren’t in camp yet, but non-40 man roster minor leaguers are in Arizona, preparing for the minor league season which will begin in April regardless of the MLB lockout. All eyes are on Bobby Witt Jr., who capped off a fantastic 2021 season by being named Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year and anointed as one of the top prospects in baseball.

Many are expecting Witt to make his MLB debut this year, if not on Opening Day. But what should we expect from the 21-year old infielder who hit .290/.361/.576 with 33 home runs and 29 steals in 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year?

The transition from Triple-A to the big leagues is a difficult one, with many prospects unable to catch up to the velocity, adjust to the movement, and endure the grueling schedule of the majors. Even those that eventually become All-Stars have trouble initially. Johnny Damon, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Hall of Famer George Brett were all highly touted prospects who put up below league-average numbers in their first full season.

First full season for selected Royals

Player Year Age PA HR BA OBA SLG OPS+
Player Year Age PA HR BA OBA SLG OPS+
George Brett 1974 21 486 2 .282 .313 .363 91
Johnny Damon 1996 22 566 6 .271 .313 .368 73
Carlos Beltran 1999 22 723 22 .293 .337 .454 99
Alex Gordon 2007 23 543 15 .247 .314 .411 90
Billy Butler 2007 21 329 8 .292 .347 .447 108
Eric Hosmer 2011 21 523 19 .293 .334 .465 118
Mike Moustakas 2011 22 365 5 .263 .309 .367 86

But every case is different, and Bobby Witt Jr. brings his own unique blend of power and speed to the table. The PECOTA projection system developed by Baseball Prospectus is a bit conservative in their 50th percentile outcome for him, with a line of .249/.311/.432 with 16 home runs and 17 steals in 427 plate. Perhaps you’re more swayed by the 99th percentile projection of .273/.346/.542 with 26 home runs. The ZIPS projection system developed by Dan Szymborski at Fangraphs is higher on Witt with a line of .268/.323/.454 with 21 home runs and 23 steals in 569 plate appearances.

If there is a worry with his game right now, it is his ability to recognize pitches. Keith Law, who ranked Witt #2 on his prospect list, wrote about the concern recently.

The one knock here, and it is a small one, is that Witt has some swing and miss in his game, with a tendency to get too long and overrotate just a little — something he may very well improve once he has a few hundred at bats in the majors under his belt.

But striking out a lot is pretty common in the first season for many top prospects, particularly very young ones. I took a look at infield prospects from the last decade that ranked in the top five by Baseball America, and what they did over their first 150 games. Some of them took a few seasons to reach 150 games, so perhaps this isn’t the most standard comparison, but it shows a pretty wide range of outcomes. But one thing that is fairly common is a high strikeout rate.

Top five prospects since 2011, infielders, first 150 games

Player Team PA HR K% BA OBA SLG OPS
Player Team PA HR K% BA OBA SLG OPS
Fernando Tatis, Jr. SDP 660 41 27.8 .294 .367 .572 .939
Corey Seager LAD 654 26 18.0 .324 .385 .542 .927
Bo Bichette TOR 674 30 22.6 .295 .340 .514 .854
Kris Bryant CHC 646 26 30.8 .274 .365 .488 .853
Carlos Correa HOU 654 30 20.3 .269 .343 .479 .822
Gleyber Torres NYY 598 28 25.1 .268 .329 .469 .798
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. TOR 628 19 17.2 .248 .333 .436 .769
Yoan Moncada CHW 638 20 34.2 .234 .320 .415 .735
Nick Senzel CIN 558 14 22.6 .246 .308 .402 .710
Addison Russell CHC 557 14 28.4 .239 .308 .386 .694
Jurickson Profar TEX 548 12 19.7 .250 .316 .368 .684
Dansby Swanson ATL 573 9 22.0 .247 .322 .359 .681
Javier Baez CHC 531 19 31.8 .229 .279 .390 .669
Xander Bogaerts BOS 594 12 23.6 .237 .302 .363 .665

The other thing I’ll note is that aside from Nick Senzel, every single player on this list has either been named an All-Star, earned an MVP vote, or both.

What is your expectation for Bobby Witt Jr. this year? Should we expect some struggles, or is he the odds-on-favorite for Rookie of the Year?

Poll

What do you predict out of Bobby Witt Jr. this year?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    OPS above .850
    (56 votes)
  • 25%
    OPS between .800 and .849
    (96 votes)
  • 46%
    OPS between .750 and .799
    (174 votes)
  • 11%
    OPS between .700 and .749
    (42 votes)
  • 2%
    OPS below .700
    (9 votes)
377 votes total Vote Now