What to expect from Bobby Witt Jr. in MLB

The Majors’ next big talent has arrived in Kansas City.

No. 1 overall prospect Bobby Witt Jr. will be the Royals’ Opening Day third baseman, the club officially confirmed. His debut will come Thursday against the Guardians at Kauffman Stadium.

Selected second overall by Kansas City in the 2019 Draft, Witt — the son of the 16-year Major League pitcher of the same name — has lived up to the considerable hype since signing for $7,789,900, the fifth-largest bonus in Draft history and the biggest given to a prep position player. All five of his tools grade out as plus, including his 70-grade power and bordering on plus-plus speed. In that way, he arguably possessed the greatest power-speed combination in the Minors during his brief stay there and may do the same for the Major Leagues immediately upon his arrival.

Witt showed off both skills last season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, where he finished with 33 homers and 29 stolen bases over 123 games in his age-21 season. He actually notched that 30th theft on Sept. 30 in Iowa but had it officially taken away due to a weather-related cancellation, robbing him of his chance to become the fifth player with a 30-30 season in the Minors since 2010.

Beyond that, the right-handed slugger managed to finish among the top five on the Minor League full-season leaderboards in hits (144, fifth), home runs (33, fourth) and total bases (286, second). His 72 extra-base hits were tops in all of the Minors, just beating out fellow Royals prospect Nick Pratto (71) in second.

There have been some questions about how Witt’s overall hit tool will project against top-level pitching, and with a 23.2 percent K rate across the upper Minors, there is some swing and miss in his game. His 14.3 percent swinging-strike rate was third-highest among the 29 Royals farmhands with at least 300 plate appearances in 2021. However, the fact that Witt’s overall strikeout rate dropped from 24.0 percent in Double-A to 22.5 percent at Triple-A – – the opposite of what is expected of a young player moving up the chain — highlights his ability to make adjustments as he sees new and more experienced pitchers. He still batted .290 last season, even with the strikeout concerns, and could end up being a .270-.280 hitter in the Majors when he settles in.

Thanks to his agility and quick hands, Witt was already considered a gifted defensive shortstop since his amateur days and only moves over to third base in deference to Adalberto Mondesi. Even Nicky Lopez, who posted 25 Outs Above Average (best among all defenders in 2021), is headed away from the six and over to second base. Witt’s plus arm will be an asset at the hot corner, and those hands should be helpful on some of the tighter reaction plays there.

The 21-year-old’s strong Cactus League performance this spring solidified his status, at a time when the Royals appeared to be keeping third base open for him to take. That he has. And with his numerous tools and electric talent, Witt should be one of the game’s bright young stars and an easy American League Rookie of the Year candidate the moment he takes the field Thursday afternoon.

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