Witt Jr. sent down, to open '21 in Minors

March 22nd, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals officially reassigned top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. to Minor League camp on Monday morning, signaling that the young infielder will not make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. The club also reassigned three others ranked among the Royals' Top 30 Prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline: left-hander Daniel Lynch (K.C.'s No. 2 prospect), righty Jackson Kowar (No. 4) and outfielder Kyle Isbel (No. 5)

“To hear that what they did, how they used their time, how they handled themselves, how they competed, how they blended in with the rest of the crew, went about their business -- every one of those guys just checked boxes,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “And [they] have given us confidence that they’re getting close.”

The Royals were being “open-minded” about Witt -- the Royals’ No. 1 prospect and No. 7 prospect in baseball -- making the club out of Spring Training because of the improvement and production he has shown in Cactus League games. The 20-year-old shortstop hit .289/.325/.526 across 40 plate appearances, even launching a 484-foot home run. He impressed the Royals' staff and his Major League teammates with not only his play on the field, but also the way he carried himself off the field.

But Witt, drafted No. 2 overall in the 2019 Draft, has yet to play a full Minor League season, appearing in 37 games in ’19 for the Royals’ Rookie-level affiliate. He made significant strides at the alternate training site last season and showed he hadn’t missed a step in Spring Training this year, making the decision to send him down a tough call, according to one Royals official. However, the Royals don’t want to push Witt to the big leagues without more games in the Minors.

Witt is a natural shortstop and figures to stay there long-term, but the Royals gave him opportunities at second base this spring, as that’s the most likely position he will debut at when the time comes. Witt still needs more repetition there, and he will start to get more work in center field to increase his versatility for when he’s ready for the Majors.

"The more opportunities there are, the better likelihood of a player getting to join us,” Matheny said. “Not ruling anything out. We’ve watched players like Bobby and [first baseman prospect] Nick Pratto really take shagging seriously to where they’re working like an outfielder during batting practice and just making sure you’ve learned as much as you can. You never know when that opportunity might present itself in a position that you haven’t played as much in the past. But if you can learn it, get some experience with it, it makes you a well-rounded player and a more versatile player.”

Lynch and Kowar will the next two pitching prospects in line when needed this year. Both made strides at the alternate site last year and showed flashes of it during their Cactus League appearances. Lynch allowed nine runs in 9 2/3 innings across four games, but the 24-year-old showed improvement in his changeup and repeatable delivery. Kowar had his best outing on Sunday, when he pitched three scoreless innings. He didn’t throw his signature changeup much, but the pitch continues to be his best weapon. Kowar’s curveball is much improved over the last year and can take his stuff to the next level.

Isbel earned the trust of the Royals' coaching staff with his outfield defense over the spring, which means even more when considering the expansive outfield at Kauffman Stadium. Isbel can play all three spots but profiles best in left field. The 24-year-old also impressed with his bat, hitting .333/.424/.630 across 33 plate appearances (17 games).

All four prospects are likely to make their big league debuts in 2021, whether it’s in the middle of the season or later, although it depends on what the Royals' roster depth and needs look like.

“Now, the task is to get ready,” Matheny said. “We don’t know how this plays out, but [they’ve] shown us some things that allow us to keep [them] to this point in camp for a reason. And we’ve enjoyed watching all four of them. It’s been a fun spring to see some of these [guys] take that next really big step. Now it’s just going to be continuing improvement, plus the opportunity to present itself for them to come up.”