Top prospect Witt shows hustle on 1st HR

Minor flashes high velocity in 1st start; Cox impresses in spring debut

March 7th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bobby Witt Jr. exploded out of the batter's box as the ball he hit off Giants reliever Tyler Rogers continued to carry over center fielder Mike Yastrzemski’s head. Witt kept sprinting as the ball landed just to the right of the center-field wall -- the deepest part of Scottsdale Stadium -- only slightly letting up when he knew it was a home run.

“I knew I hit it pretty good, but I’m not used to being stronger now and really just let the ball fly,” Witt said after the Royals’ 8-6 win over the Giants on Saturday. “I did [start running hard] at first, because the wind was kind of blowing in and right-center’s kind of deeper here, too.

“Just always trying to hustle out of the box, because you never know. It could have hit the top of the wall and I could have tried to get another inside-the-park home run -- or a true one.”

It was Witt’s first home run of the spring, coming two days after he touched all four bases while capitalizing on a Reds error. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft has shown exactly why he’s the top prospect in the Royals' system and the No. 7 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline.

Whether it’s working the count and lining a single to left field to drive in a run, like he did Wednesday against the White Sox, or scoring from first on an Andrew Benintendi double, like he did Saturday after his homer, Witt is showcasing all of his tools.

And he’s having fun doing it.

“Biggest thing for me is to try to go out there and have fun through it all, but also try to learn as much as possible,” Witt said. “I felt a lot more comfortable with all the positions I’m playing now, and at the plate and being around the coaches. I’ve just really felt like I’m back playing the game I’ve always played. Nothing sped up too much really, and I just feel really comfortable and this is where I’m supposed to be right now.”

Witt used to watch his father, Bobby Sr., in Spring Training with the Rangers and would dream about one day being a big leaguer himself. He’s on the path to reaching that goal. And quickly, too. Witt looks like he hasn’t missed a step in his development, even after last year's Minor League season was canceled, taking advantage of being at Summer Camp and the Royals' alternate training site.

“I don’t really have words to describe it,” Witt said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed about. My dreams are kind of starting to come to reality. … I look back and say, 'Wow, I’m actually here.’ But it’s set in now, so it’s go time from here. I've just got to keep working.”

Minor flashes velo in debut
Left-hander Mike Minor made his spring debut Saturday, pitching two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. He got into some deeper counts, but he didn’t walk a batter. With a 3-0 count against left-handed hitter Brandon Crawford in the second, Minor came back and struck him out with a solid slider. He was also consistently hitting 94 mph on his fastball after averaging 90.6 mph on the pitch in 2020, and around 92 mph in '18 and ’19.

“I think last year, at the end of the season, I started feeling better, more in tune with my body, knowing what I needed,” Minor said. “And then this one was the first outing, trying to get it out there, establish a strike zone. I felt like I threw too many balls, behind the count a lot. But overall, I’ll take it. Got in situations where I need to battle back.”

Minor wanted to work on his curveball, but he didn’t get the chance to use it as much as he would have liked due to the deeper counts. But expect the veteran to try to add the pitch into his repertoire this season.

“More recently, I’ve had a lot of scouting reports from the pitching coaches in Texas, Oakland, here, and they’ve all said the curveball is a pretty good pitch for me when I do throw it,” Minor said. “It’s just a matter of controlling it in the strike zone and giving the fourth pitch to the hitters to see and to look at.”

Cox dials in and impresses in debut
In his first big league camp, left-hander Austin Cox, the Royals’ No. 10 prospect, has been eased into game action because of his smaller workload in 2020. He pitched in his first Cactus League game on Saturday and was only supposed to throw one inning. But he was so strong and efficient, he returned to the mound for a second inning.

And then he struck out the side.

“Cox was the story of the day, really,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “… Ten pitches in, throw him back out, and he strikes out the side in the eighth. It was really impressive to see the angle that he had. The changeup was good with the breaking ball, [which] had different depths to it. It was an impressive day.”

Cox’s stuff was filthy. He has one of the better curveballs in the Royals' system, and he showed that Saturday, along with an improved changeup, which he has commanded better of late, and a fastball sitting at 94-95 mph. The 23-year-old allowed one hit in two innings, striking out four without a walk.

Upcoming pitching
• Right-hander Carlos Hernández will join righty Jakob Junis as the scheduled pitchers in Sunday’s game against the Padres.

• Right-hander Brady Singer and lefty Daniel Lynch are scheduled to face the A’s on Monday.