KC 'open-minded' on Witt Jr. making roster

March 17th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals are being “open-minded” when it comes to whether No. 7 overall prospect should break camp with the big league team, general manager Dayton Moore said Tuesday.

In an interview on Fantasy Alarm before the Royals’ 13-0 loss to the Mariners at Surprise Stadium on Tuesday night, Moore told show host Jim Bowden that Witt could make the Opening Day roster as the 20-year-old infielder has impressed in every facet of the game this Spring Training -- including earning the respect of his older and veteran teammates in the clubhouse.

“He can,” Moore told Bowden when he put forth the idea. “I think we’re going to be very open-minded. When we came to Spring Training, we wanted to make sure we send a pretty clear message where we didn’t put unrealistic expectations on the player and just kind of let him go out and play. Try not to create just kind of an aura around him in that clubhouse with a team that -- we have some young players, but we’ve got some veterans as well. You do not want to create an uncomfortable situation for him. So we were careful with our messaging, but he’s come in here and just done a tremendous job. He’s earned the respect of all his teammates, and now that he’s been able to do that, I’m very much open-minded of him being on this team as we break this camp.”

Moore emphasized that there are still two weeks of Cactus League games to go, but where Witt has appeared in games and on the backfields is an indication of where he stands among club officials and the coaching staff. Witt has hit leadoff or second when he starts, maximizing his at-bats against Major League pitchers at the beginning of games. He’s played second base with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi as his middle-infield partner, and Witt does drill work on the backfields with the other big league infielders.

“There’s still two weeks to go,” Moore said. “[Royals manager Mike Matheny] is going to continue to challenge him, keep him in the lineup and look for matchups where he’s facing the best pitching possible, and we’ll make a decision when the time comes. I’m not going to make an advanced decision now, but we’re just going to let the player tell us.

“Right now, we don’t have to pick our roster. But the fact that Bobby Witt is still in camp and Mike continues to play him, and the most important thing is we all know he’s earned the respect -- a young talented player with a lot of hype around him who’s earned the respect of his teammates. And now that that is happening, I’m certainly going to be very open-minded about him being on this team once we break camp.”

Witt, selected No. 2 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, has not played above rookie ball in the Minors, but he stood out at the alternate training site last summer, when he looked as though he hadn’t lost a step despite not having a Minor League season in 2020. The Royals knew when they drafted the son of Bobby Witt, who pitched in the Majors for 16 seasons, that they had a special talent. As Witt Jr. has developed, the question that surrounds him is more about when the right time to promote him is and where he’ll play when he gets to Kansas City.

Moore said that Witt can play all over the diamond, including shortstop, second base and center field. With Mondesi entrenched as the Royals' everyday shortstop, Witt could find the most time at second base if he does debut this year.

“I think that he could be an elite defender really anywhere on the diamond,” Moore said. “We could put him in center field and he could cover Kauffman Stadium. Of course, we’ve got a terrific young shortstop in Adalberto Mondesi. But [Witt] definitely would be able to perform very well there. He’s just a special talent, and it’s been a joy watching him compete this spring.”

Around the horn
• The Royals optioned reliever Tyler Zuber and catcher Sebastian Rivero to Triple-A Omaha on Tuesday, cutting the number of players in Major League camp to 40, including 13 non-roster invites.

• Left fielder Andrew Benintendi is making progress after back soreness pushed him out of the lineup on Monday. Benintendi took batting practice Tuesday before the Royals’ game, and neither he nor the club is concerned about the soreness. He’ll take advantage of a few days off before getting back in the lineup.

• Royals starter Brad Keller allowed five earned runs in three innings Tuesday, with the Mariners knocking him for six hits and picking up three walks. Keller struggled with his fastball command and didn’t have a feel for his slider until the end of the outing, which was around 80 pitches.

“It was just frustrating because I need to make an adjustment quicker, and I was out there searching for it way too long and falling behind guys,” Keller said. “I need to be better at getting back on top of the ball and drowning the ball down in the zone for strikes. Just get back into the zone.”

• The Royals couldn’t bounce back after Keller exited and were knocked around, with three errors and three home runs allowed in Kansas City’s fourth loss of the exhibition season. Right-hander Brad Brach allowed five runs in 1/3 innings, while the Royals' offense recorded just three hits -- only one coming after the second inning.

“Sometimes you just use one of these as one of those reminders of how we do not like this feeling,” Matheny said. “It’s Spring Training, and we talk about not making too big of a deal about rolling off a bunch of wins -- you know what, I’ll make a big deal out of them, and I’m also going to make a big deal of how bad it feels to get embarrassed out there, and that’s what happened.”