Bobby Witt, Jr. is Fun
And what is baseball, if not fun?
Baseball is a game and while I could spend hours just digging through numbers and heat maps and charts and graphs and all that, sometimes it’s just fun to have fun. I think the Bobby Witt, Jr. hype train is about to get so far away from the station that you better hop on now or else risk getting left behind. And I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that Bobby Witt, Jr. is FUN.
He’s started the spring scorching hot after impressing everyone at the alternate site last season and adding muscle without sacrificing much in the way of speed during the offseason. This is what an uber prospect looks like, and it’s pretty fantastic that we get to watch this development happen as we watch the Royals throughout the spring.
And the Royals are giving us plenty to watch as Witt is second on the team in plate appearances through their first nine games with 17. He’s hit .353/.389/.706 with two homers, including this absolute BOMB yesterday.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Surprise, but since the Royals moved to Arizona, I’ve probably been to 25 games there. It’s not a ton, but it’s enough to have seen a lot of different things there. I’ve never seen someone clear the berm. The 484 foot estimate may or may not be right, but I’d believe you if you told me it was 500+. Seriously. If you ever get the chance to see spring training, just stand out there and look toward the field. It’s a long way away.
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When the Royals drafted Witt, he was pretty much recognized as the obvious number two pick after Adley Rutschman, but there were some critics. He had the tools for sure, but he struggled enough with contact that there were questions. Add in that he was an older high school draft pick and some believed the Royals could have gone a different direction and been justified.
And then his first taste of professional baseball didn’t provide for especially great numbers. He hit a pedestrian .262/.317/.354 but he only struck out 19.4 percent of the time, which was encouraging. The 7.2 percent walk rate was a bit disappointing, but that part of his game wasn’t quite as advertised. One thing that stood out in his lone minor league season was the quality of contact as he did hit the ball hard.
It might seem weird, but I sort of wonder if the pandemic was the best thing for Witt’s career. He had the opportunity to participate in Summer Camp and that led to one of my favorite quotes about a prospect from a current big leaguer. He was appointment watching in intrasquad games!
“Bobby Witt, Jr. is the best hitter of all time. Seriously. He has such good at bats. So impressed.”
-Danny Duffy, 7/14/20
Yesterday, when discussing the Royals lineup, Hunter Dozier gave his unsolicited thought on Witt, Jr. calling him a “freak.” To say that the team is excited is probably an understatement.
He worked with Bobby Stroupe this offseason, the same trainer who Patrick Mahomes works with and was able to do this a couple months ago:
So yeah, it’s fun.
But you know all that. You want some analysis here. I said yesterday that he would struggle to crack the roster in 2021 because of all the roster questions that the Royals have in the next year. I think that’s probably true, but he’s just been so good in the first week and a half of spring games that the question has to be asked about how close he is to ready.
That leads to a question from me of how we value the alternate site from last season, and I don’t think anyone has an accurate answer. It’s easy to see that Witt, Jr. hasn’t spent time above rookie ball, but also he faced big league pitchers last summer. Where’s the line? I legitimately don’t know, but I sure wish I did.
For me, I want him to be up when the Royals feel like he can hit the ground running. I think there’s an argument to keeping guys like him in the minors for six or eight weeks that I don’t see mentioned much. A young player who hasn’t seen much big league pitching is put in a bit of a tough spot having to face the best pitchers in the world when the weather is colder than it will be at any point the rest of the year. Sure he’ll have to deal with that eventually, but I’d let him get his timing down in the minors before being put on the biggest stage in a tough time.
I also would like him to get an opportunity to see some of the junk you see in AAA. He can clearly hit a fastball, but wait until he gets a veteran who throws six different pitches at four different arm angles just in an effort to prolong his career. It provides a different challenge. I’m also curious to see if he’s still doing this late in spring when he’s facing big league pitchers more often. Based on the Baseball Reference Opponent Quality number that refers to the opponent’s level of play from the previous season, Witt has seen a lower level of opponent than anyone but Nick Pratto with 10+ plate appearances.
So I’m not exactly sold on him making the team out of spring training, but like I said, the fact that the question is even coming up says a lot. And I like it. It’s really, really fun.