Bobby Witt Jr. has become what we thought he’d be. He was taken second overall back in 2019 with the idea that he could become a cornerstone for the rebuilding Kansas City Royals franchise. Pre-draft, Prospects Live called Witt a “potential franchise shortstop.” The hype continued into the farm system, where Bobby continued to excel, eventually becoming the number one prospect in all of baseball prior to his debut on Opening Day in 2022.
In a 2022 interview, then-Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said of Witt, “You just keep checking boxes, and the intangibles keep piling up for long-term success. And it should happen for him, and it will happen for him. When that is and how big it is, I don’t know. I know his ceiling is endless.”
The hype was sky-high for Witt, even back as a talented high schooler entering the draft. 2021 seemed like a mild disappointment but he rebounded nicely this season and looks to have become exactly what we all hoped for back in 2019.
A look back at Witt’s 2023 Season
This season, of course, Witt became the first 30/30 player in franchise history, falling just short of 50 stolen bases to cap off an even more impressive feat. He finished the season worth 5.7 fWAR, good for 11th in all of baseball. His defense was phenomenal, as he finished the year with 14 Outs Above Average (OAA), tied for 11th-best in all of baseball. Looking ahead, the only real question remaining about Witt in Kansas City is how much longer he will be a part of the organization. The clock is ticking on an extension and the front office has indicated they hope to sign him to a long-term contract.
This year, Bobby cemented himself as the cornerstone the franchise needs right in the heart of their order. From 2022 to 2023, Witt improved his barrel rate from 8.7% to 11.5%. As a result, his hard-hit rate rose from 38.6% to 45.6%. At the same time, he struck out less, hit for a higher average, and hit for much more power. Witt hit .239 against fastballs in 2022 but was much better in 2023, hitting .295 against the heater.
Witt’s approach at the plate also improved, as evidenced by his drop in chase rate, down to 30.6% against 34.7% in 2022. His whiff rate also fell from 25.2% to 22.6% and that improved approach created more walks than the year before. Witt still isn’t going to take many walks — his 5.8% walk rate ranked just 16th percentile in baseball — but that’s always been the case for Bobby. He’s an aggressive hitter who seeks to put the ball in play when given the chance and that lets his power and speed impact the game each and every day.
How can Bobby Witt Jr. continue to improve next year and beyond?
Right now, Witt looks like an easy pick as a perennial All-Star moving forward, with an outside shot to earn MVP votes each year. He’s an outstanding player already, but somehow still lags behind those around him on the fWAR leaderboard. Much of Witt’s value this season came from his power, defense, and speed. That’s not a problem at all, but his wRC+ of 115 was the second lowest of any hitter in the top 20 this season on the fWAR leaderboard.
Witt was among the very best players in all of baseball but finished his season just 15% above league average as a hitter. So how does he get even better? Next season, it would be nice to see him improve yet again in the walks department. Expecting Witt to ever have a 12-15% walk rate is probably not realistic. In fact, it probably isn’t even really desirable, as you’re limiting how much his speed and power can impact the game when he’s swinging that much less.
However, 5% is pretty low and it would be great to see Witt finish next season somewhere around the 50th percentile in walk rate. This season, that mark would’ve been right around 8.4%. For reference, if Witt had finished this season with a walk rate of around 8%, he’d have been right around Corbin Carrol’s 133 wRC+.
Bobby Witt Jr.’s 2023 season will forever be remembered as one of the best seasons in Royals franchise history. In the midst of a 106-loss season, Bobby put his name in the record books and started to make a name for himself as a true star in this league. What comes next is seemingly unlimited, as Witt is still just 23 years old. 2023 showed us that he can truly be a legitimate franchise cornerstone that the team can build around.
It’s time to build, J.J.
What grade would you give Bobby Witt Jr. for his 2023 season?
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