No. 1 prospect Witt makes KC's Opening Day roster

April 5th, 2022

PHOENIX -- It’s ’s time in Kansas City.

The No. 1 prospect in baseball is breaking camp with the Royals, and he will make his debut on Opening Day as the Royals’ starting third baseman against the Guardians at Kauffman Stadium, ushering in a new era in Kansas City. Witt and the Royals announced the expected news Tuesday before their final Cactus League game.

All spring, the club has hinted this is the path that it would like to take with the 21-year-old infielder from Colleyville, Texas. Witt was a non-roster invite to big league camp, but he fit right in with the Major League team, playing third base with the regulars and taking batting practice with a group that included Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana and Adalberto Mondesi.

On Tuesday, Witt was called into manager Mike Matheny’s office. There, he found Whit Merrifield, Perez and Andrew Benintendi waiting for him, along with general manager J.J. Picollo.

Merrifield was videoing the scene.

“That’s when I knew something was up,” Witt said. “They told me the news. It was awesome and awesome to be able to share it with those guys. Came in [the clubhouse] after and all the guys were congratulating me. I can’t really put words to the feeling how it was. My stomach sank. Tears came to my eyes. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Having those veterans waiting for him in the office, including two of the most iconic faces in franchise history in Merrifield and Perez, signals the next wave of Royals talent now coming to Kansas City. The moment was not lost on Witt.

“It was unbelievable,” Witt said. “Feels like that shows me that they have respect for me. I got respect for them. They want me to be a part of their team. Because it’s ultimately their team.”

The veteran core the Royals have will help Witt navigate being a Major League player for the first time, along with the distractions that will come with being a No. 1 prospect.

“It’s going to be good to have some voices in there, some guys who have been there, done that and can understand some of the things he’s going through and help him navigate that,” Matheny said. “But they’ll stay on him. And they’ll really take care of him.

“It’s just knowing that he is part of a family right now, and the main message was keep being you. Don’t let anything moving forward change that. Because it’s special.”

Now, Witt’s challenge will be to take the Major Leagues by storm -- and, along with the veteran core and young pitching staff, help bring winning baseball back to Kansas City.

“It ultimately boils down to doing what they did in 2015,” Witt said, referencing the Royals’ World Series title. “That’s the next chapter.”

The organization’s George Brett Hitter of the Year, Witt hit .290/.361/.575 for a .936 OPS and nearly had a 30-30 season, with 33 home runs and 29 steals across Double-A and Triple-A last year, playing in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Denver and being named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year.

Witt’s talent along with last year’s performance put the wheels in motion this offseason to open a spot on the Major League team, giving Witt every opportunity to earn that job.

“Coming off of what he did in Double-A and Triple-A, it’s going to be hard to not have him on the team,” Picollo said back in November.

The Royals decided Mondesi was their best option at shortstop -- while acknowledging they still view Witt as their future shortstop -- and Nicky Lopez their best second baseman.

Third base was Witt’s job to win. He grabbed it and never let go.

Once the lockout lifted and Witt joined his teammates in the Royals’ clubhouse, he posted a 1.222 OPS in 12 Cactus League games with three towering home runs. He beat out infield hits and stole two bases. He also flashed the leather at third base.

“He’s done everything we would have expected him to do,” Picollo said.

The No. 2 overall Draft pick in 2019, Witt is from a baseball family, with his dad, Bobby Witt Sr., pitching for 16 years in the Major Leagues. Witt seemed destined to follow in his dad’s footsteps by the time he picked up a bat and started swinging. He became the best prep bat in the 2019 Draft, and the Royals had their sights set on him with the second pick that year.

After the Royals drafted Witt one spot higher than the Rangers drafted his dad in 1985, Witt led Colleyville Heritage High School to the Texas Class 5A state title and then signed with the Royals for the full slot value of $7,789,000 -- the second-highest Draft bonus at the time since Gerrit Cole got $8 million from the Pirates in 2011.

That summer, Witt played 37 games in Rookie ball, clobbering his first professional homer while hitting .262 with 27 RBIs. His talent has been obvious since: The sweet-swinging hitter drives the ball to all fields with a bat speed that rivals most Major Leaguers. He has power that he isn’t done tapping into as he adds strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. He’s a plus runner, aggressive on the basepaths and an elite defender with plenty of range to stay at shortstop.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 and the Minor League season was cancelled, the Royals added Witt to their alternate training site, where he continued to impress coaches and officials in simulated games against the organization’s top pitching prospects. Stories emerged from the camp on Witt’s progression and jawdropping skills.

Senior hitting coordinator Alec Zumwalt likes to tell the story of the time a pitcher buzzed Witt with an elevated fastball before dropping a well-executed curveball. Witt adjusted, and he launched the pitch to the very top of the left-field foul pole.

“I’ve never seen someone do it the way he did,” Zumwalt said. “It was not a mistake pitch. I’m sitting there going, I can’t believe I just saw that. He does that all the time. He’s just gifted.”

Royals fans and the general baseball world got their first real look at Witt in big league Spring Training last year. He did so well, the Royals considered having him start with the club on the 2021 Opening Day roster.

Although Witt is only 21 years old, it feels like his Major League debut has been brewing for a while. That, of course, is because of his talent and makeup. He has hit everywhere he’s gone, he never finds himself too rattled at the plate or in the field and can make adjustments accordingly when he finds himself struggling -- which isn’t often, and isn’t for very long.

Now, he’ll be able to do that in Kansas City.

Minutes before 3:10 p.m. CT on Thursday, Witt will run out to third base at Kauffman Stadium wearing “Royals” across his chest. His mom and dad will be in the stands. And his Major League career will begin.

“That brought me chills,” Witt said. “I don’t even know [what the feeling will be]. I don’t have words for that right now. I’m super excited. I can’t wait.”