The expectations have been high for Bobby Witt Jr., perhaps his entire life. The son of a former big leaguer, Witt had a leg up, but he also combined his advantage with hard work to become Gatorade High School Player of the Year and the #2 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Jim Callis at MLB Pipeline called him the “second-best shortstop prospect” in his 30 years of draft coverage. No pressure, kid.
In his MLB debut, Witt came to the plate at Kauffman Stadium with fans chanting “Bobby, Bobby” and he promptly rose to the occasion with a game-winning hit. In his rookie season he became just the fifth player under the age of 22 to have a 20+ home run, 30+ stolen base season. But he also seemed to be an unfinished product. His defense was erratic, filled with mental and physical miscues. He had the 14th-lowest on-base percentage out of all qualified hitters, with the seventh-lowest walk rate. Even in the first half of this season, Witt struggled. Matthew LaMar pointed out his hitting was a problem, Rany Jazayerli even suggested he be demoted, and by mid-June Bobby’s OPS sank below .700. Witt seemed less Alex Rodriguez and more Adalberto Mondesi.
And then, everything seemed to click. Since June 13, Bobby has been as good as any hitter in the league. In 52 games, he has hit .329/.371/.591 with 12 home runs and 13 steals. His wRC+ of 159 over that time is 12th-best in baseball. He has cut down on his strikeouts and is now among the top 30 in lowest strikeout rate.
We knew he had elite speed, so it is no surprise he is fourth in baseball in steals and is the seventh-best baserunner in Baserunning Runs. More surprising has been the turnaround on defense. The Royals moved him to shortstop full time this year and he worked with infield coach José Alguacil and private coach Nate Trosky to become perhaps the best in baseball at the position. He leads all players in Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average and leads all shortstops in Fangraph’s Defensive Runs Above Average.
When you combine the bat, the speed, the defense, you get a complete player. Despite a slow start, Witt is now eighth among all position players in WAR with 4.8, according to Fangraphs. That is MVP consideration territory (well, at least if Shohei Ohtani wasn’t an absolute freak). The last month has seemed to be Bobby’s coming out party, as the baseball world has begun to recognize him as an emerging star.
I see Bobby Witt Jr. has reached the superstar chapter of his story. Have a feeling this will be a long one.— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) August 15, 2023
Bobby Witt Jr. is casually becoming one of the best players in baseball this season. Along with the sick baseball savant stats he also has the 9th highest fWAR in MLB (4.6) pic.twitter.com/9yZrcixEQs— Marc Luino (@GiraffeNeckMarc) August 15, 2023
Bobby Witt Jr. since the start of June:— David Lesky (@DBLesky) August 15, 2023
This is who we all thought he’d be for the #Royals.
Carlos Beltran (Age 22 season)— Jack Johnson (@JohnyJ_15) August 15, 2023
156 G, .293/.337/.454, 22 HR, 108 RBI, 27 SB, 6.4 BB%, 17.0 K%, .161 ISO, 95 wRC+, 4.3 fWAR
Bobby Witt Jr (Age 22/23 season)
117 G, .277/.318/.492, 22 HR, 72 RBI, 34 SB, 5.1 BB%, 19.2 K%, .214 ISO, 116 wRC+, 4.6 fWAR
Bobby Witt Jr. is now on pace for 30 HR and 45 SB.— Nick Kappel (@NickKappel) August 16, 2023
That combination has been matched in a single season only five times in Major League history:
1969 Bobby Bonds
1987 Eric Davis
1990 Barry Bonds
1998 Álex Rodríguez
2012 Mike Trout
The exciting thing is Witt just turned 23 this summer - we may be seeing just the beginning of what he’s capable of. But the lingering worry in the back of every fan’s mind is - how long will we get to enjoy him? The last superstar the Royals developed was Carlos Beltrán, and the countdown to his free agency seemed to begin once he won Rookie of the Year. Bobby has four more years after this one before he becomes eligible for free agency. Will he and the Royals come together on an agreement to keep him in Kansas City beyond that? It would certainly help owner John Sherman’s standing with a fanbase that has soured on the losing under his watch and is unsure about his controversial proposal to move the team to downtown Kansas City.
In the meantime, enjoy what Bobby is doing right now. Great players don’t grow on trees, and we may be seeing Bobby blossom into a star.