Witt Jr. keeps wowing as Opening Day nears

MLB Pipeline's No. 1 prospect winding up outstanding spring with hopes of heading to KC

April 3rd, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals invited MLB's No. 1 prospect, Bobby Witt Jr., to big league camp this spring and told him the best opportunity to win a roster spot on Opening Day was to show that he can handle third base and let his talent shine.

With two Cactus League games to go, the 21-year-old phenom has done all that and more.

Witt Jr. has long been expected to break camp with the Major League team as the starting third baseman, based on where he’s played this spring (with the Major League regulars) and how he’s played (1.138 OPS in 11 games, with two home runs and three strikeouts).

In the third inning Sunday against the Mariners, Witt Jr. reached on an error, stole second base, then scored from second on Andrew Benintendi’s single to shallow left field. In the fourth inning, he roped a single up the middle against starter Logan Gilbert.

“He’s played exceptionally well,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “There’s no doubt he’s performed well. … I don’t know if we can ever say a player doesn’t have anything left to prove -- the great ones continue to get better. But he’s done a lot of really, really good things for the second year in a row in Spring Training.”

The Royals aren’t ready to officially announce anything regarding Witt Jr.’s Opening Day status, preferring to wait until camp is over as the final roster decisions are made. He’s also not on the 40-man roster, so the Royals will need to move someone off to make room.

Witt Jr. is still competing for a spot, even after Triple-A players have left camp to start their season on Tuesday.

“He’s clearly been given opportunities,” Picollo said. “Playing third base with the regulars. There are some things we have to deal with with our roster that we’re trying to work out right now, just to make the right moves. … And then for the last three days -- knock on wood -- you don’t want somebody to get hurt. But that’s why you have to see this thing until the end. When you’re managing a roster like this, you just have to see it to the end.”

Witt Jr. entered last year’s camp with a chance to win a job, but the Royals decided that he needed more time in the Minors with only 37 games in Rookie ball at the time. So, in his first full season in the Minors, Witt Jr. slashed .290/.361/.575 with 33 home runs, 35 doubles, 29 stolen bases and 97 RBIs in 123 games (61 at Double-A, 62 at Triple-A).

In February, Witt Jr. arrived at Minor League Spring Training with more muscle and even more confidence. The Royals typically promote prospects when they’ve shown that they’re ready and when there’s an everyday playing opportunity. His talent obvious, Witt Jr. gravitated toward playing third base during Minor League camp, knowing that was his opportunity.

When Major League camp opened, the Royals made it clear they plan to play Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop and Nicky Lopez at second base, with Hunter Dozier aligned to play first base, right field or serve as the designated hitter.

That all adds up to Witt Jr.’s arrival in Kansas City. As the Royals deal with formalities and make final decisions in the coming days, the indication that Witt Jr. will break camp and make his debut on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium has not changed.

“He’s had a good spring,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s hit [and] looked good defensively. It’s a different position than last year, so we never really got to see him at third base, do the work, then the games. That’s different. But just more consistency with his at-bats. As far as how he does in [the clubhouse], he goes about his business really well.”