On Tuesday, Major League Baseball canceled the season’s first two series. Opening Day, then, will not happen as scheduled. Rather, it will take place at a later date, once a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is ratified and the owner-imposed lockout is lifted. When that happens, and when teams are allowed to prepare for Opening Day, Bobby Witt Jr. will be given the opportunity to make the Kansas City Royals roster.
“He’s very talented and we’re going to give him that opportunity,” Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore told reporters this week, including Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star. “And he’s continued to do everything necessary to put himself in a position to make our team at some point in time, and so we’re very proud of him.”
Witt, 21, was so impressive last spring that Moore suggested he was in the running to break camp with the big-league team. That didn’t happen, but not because the Royals were manipulating his service time. Witt had just 37 games of professional experience at that point, having been selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft. The Royals sent him to Double-A to begin the season, and he finished the year in Triple-A, compiling a cumulative line of .290/.361/.576 with 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases.
Witt was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, making this the second time he’s finished a step behind Rutschman. That’s no knock on him, however, as he’s a high-grade prospect in his own right. He proved as much by hitting .290/.361/.575 with 33 home runs and 35 doubles across Double- and Triple-A in his first full professional season. There used to be fear that Witt would swing-and-miss too frequently to maximize his loud offensive tools; those concerns haven’t materialized, and he struck out in just 22.5 percent of his Triple-A plate appearances. Factor in an above-average glove, and Witt should accomplish something his father never did over the course of his 16-year big-league career as a pitcher: make an All-Star Game.
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Witt will crack the Opening Day roster. He would seem to have a good chance, however, based on the complexion of Kansas City’s depth chart. The Royals have just two players on their 40-man roster who appear to be options to start at third base: the oft-injured Adalberto Mondesi and Emmanuel Rivera. Neither had an OPS+ above 90 last season in a combined 216 at-bats.
Witt certainly has a higher ceiling than either Mondesi or Rivera. Oddly enough, the lockout may also work in his favor: because he’s not yet a member of the 40-player roster, and therefore not a part of the union, he’s allowed to partake in camp and play in minor-league contests. It’s possible that Witt will look even better in contrast to Mondesi and Rivera, each of whom will be shaking off a long winter’s rust.
That might not be enough for Witt to secure the job out of the gate. Still, barring an injury, he’s all but certain to assume a major role for the Royals this season.