Witt Jr. 'unique' with age-defying exploits

June 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- is doing things no other 22-year-old player has ever done this early in a season.

With his 10th homer on Monday night and 16th and 17th stolen bases this week against the Cardinals, the Royals shortstop became the 13th player in AL/NL history to record 10-plus homers and 15-plus stolen bases before June. He is the only player ever to do that before his 23rd birthday.

“He’s very unique,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Especially with his experience level and his age. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and it’s easy to take for granted when you look up and he’s not hitting .340 and leading the league in homers.”

With a unique blend of power and speed, Witt has an incredibly high ceiling. He’s still putting it all together in his second year with Kansas City and has seen plenty of adversity; he’s slashing .228/.266/.430 with an 84 wRC+ while striking out at a 22.8% clip, whiffing 26.3% of the time.

But those around him see the tools, the athleticism and the talent already on display and believe it’s only a matter of time, along with the proper adjustments, before Witt’s game improves.

“He’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever played with or against,” veteran infielder  said. “He’s electric. I think it’s common to see guys at his age, just aggression all the time. When in doubt, be aggressive. When you start to see him evolve and understand when to be aggressive and when to let the game come to him a little bit, that’s when he’s going to take off. 

“To me, it’s like he’s grinding a little bit right now. And he’s still spectacular.”

Witt possesses the power to hit 25 or more homers a season, but it’s his blazing speed that really stands out. Witt and Rangers outfielder Bubba Thompson are tied for the fastest players in the Majors with a 30.4 ft/sec sprint speed. Witt’s 17 stolen bases rank fourth in baseball.

In the ninth inning on Tuesday, for example, Witt hit a 101 mph grounder to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, a strong defender who flipped it to second to try to start a double play.

Witt was crossing first by the time the ball got to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt's glove, keeping the inning alive for the Royals, who lost by a run. A couple of pitches later, Witt swiped second base against Cardinals closer Giovanny Gallegos. Everyone in the stadium and watching at home knew Witt would try to steal, yet he slid in safely.

“I can still get a lot better,” Witt said. “I think the jumps I have, I can make up for those with the speed I’ve been blessed with. There’s always room for improvement. We work on it before the game, finding tendencies and cues.”

Witt’s speed completely changes the mindset of an opposing team when he’s on base.

“There’s one tool that never slumps, and that’s speed,” Duffy said. “When he’s on first, he stresses out a catcher, stresses out an infield. Some other guys I’ve played against who had that combo, like [Jose] Altuve a couple years ago, it’s really stressful. I have to play up because he’s fast but he’s also trying to smack everything down my throat at 108.”

Time will tell if and when Witt can put it all together. But even as he encounters struggles, it’s hard not to appreciate all that he still does well.

“Baseball players dream of having that power-speed combo,” infielder  said. “I wish I could run as fast as he can, hit the ball as far as he can. What makes it even better is the kind of person he is. He’s humble. He goes about it the right way. He’s the same person whether he goes 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. 

“He’s a good one. And he’s going to be great.”