Witt joins exclusive club in 'glimpse of what's to come'

September 4th, 2022

DETROIT -- With the way Royals rookie Bobby Witt Jr.’s season has gone, his next milestone was inevitable. And much like everything else he’s accomplished this year, he didn’t make fans wait very long for it.

After sitting on the cusp of a 20-20 season for just three days, Witt clubbed home run No. 20 in the third inning of Saturday’s 12-2 win against the Tigers at Comerica Park.

Witt, of course, will tell you that he was most excited about the three runs his 418-foot shot drove in to break a 1-1 tie. It did, after all, give the Royals the boost they needed to take control early and even the series. But the fact that Kansas City’s starting shortstop is now just the fifth first-year player in MLB history to collect 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in a season is something his teammates aren’t going to let him overlook.

“I saw him do some crazy stuff in the Minors -- he almost got to 30-30 there -- so to see him do this is not a surprise to me,” said starter Jonathan Heasley, who used the cushion to settle in and keep the Tigers to a pair of runs over seven strong innings. “And I think it's just a glimpse of what's to come. He's a special talent, and I think he's only going to get better, so he's just fun to watch.”

Watching Witt play, it’s sometimes hard to believe that he turned 22 just a couple of months ago. He carries himself with poise -- he speaks quietly, seriously and respectfully and would prefer to duck the spotlight if at all possible, deflecting praise with phrases that ring of “just doing what I can to help the team.”

He means it, too, and although Witt’s sense of humility and lack of panache will undoubtedly benefit him in the long run, they’re also likely working against him as far as immediate postseason hardware goes.

That’s where Witt’s teammates come in.

“It's incredible; I'm so proud of him,” said fellow rookie Kyle Isbel, who hit a grand slam in the fifth inning to push Kansas City’s lead to 9-1. “And it's just the beginning for him really. He's a really good player and even better person.”

There’s no doubt that Witt is having one of the better rookie campaigns in recent memory, particularly given his age, but he’s also up against some stiff competition. Not only is that Julio Rodríguez guy out in Seattle just a touch younger and a tad flashier, but he also plays for the Mariners, who’ve surprised everyone but themselves this season and have the chance to capture their first playoff berth in 21 years.

The individual storyline within the big picture has combined to help J-Rod steal enough headlines to give him the latest edge for American League Rookie of the Year Award voting, a spot he’s held for the past four polls.

The 21-year-old solidified his 20-20 season on Aug. 24, then three days later inked a complicated mega-contract extension with the Mariners that’s reported to be guaranteed for at least $210 million. It will also keep him in Seattle through the 2034 season at the earliest, casting a further shadow over all Witt is accomplishing with Kansas City, which sits just ahead of Detroit in the bottom of the AL Central.

Predictably, Witt’s not concerned about any of that.

“I’ve just got to take it and keep focusing on the team,” he said when asked what he thought about the voting, “and not really worry about other people, just worry about myself and try to help as much as I can.”

That teamwork-before-individual mentality only makes those nearby want to stump harder for him.

“I don't think he should be [overshadowed], and I don't know what we're doing or not doing. We’re working on it, right? We’ll figure it out,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Everybody sees how special [he is]. We watch him day in and day out. Our fan base sees it; we’re just trying to get him a little more recognition on the national level because what he's doing is extremely impressive.

“He still needs to be in the [Rookie of the Year] conversation with what he’s doing and how he’s playing the game.”