We don’t know when Opening Day will be for Major League clubs, but Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore told reporters this week that when it does, top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. will have the opportunity to break camp with the team (link via Pete Grahoff of the Kansas City Star).
“He’s very talented and we’re going to give him that opportunity,” Moore said of his organization’s top prospect. Because Witt has not yet been required to be added to the 40-man roster, Moore is able to freely discuss him and Witt is able to interact with club personnel and make use of club facilities.
By now, most fans are quite familiar with Witt Jr. — the son of 16-year MLB veteran pitcher Bobby Witt. Selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, the now-21-year-old Witt Jr. is regarded as one of the game’s top three overall prospects. He’s played primarily shortstop in the minors and figures to, before long, be given the chance to settle in as the Royals’ long-term option either at short or at the hot corner.
The 2021 season was Witt’s first full year of professional games, thanks to the canceled minor league season in 2020, but you’d hardly know it based on the numbers. Splitting the season between Double-A (61 games, 279 plate appearances) and Triple-A (62 games, 285 plate appearances), Witt batted a combined .290/.361/.576 with 33 home runs, 35 doubles, four triples and 29 stolen bases (in 40 attempts). That production came not only in spite of extremely limited pro experience but also in spite of the fact that Witt was three years younger than his average opponent in Double-A and five years younger than the average Triple-A player.
Even in 2021, there was some talk that Witt could be considered for an Opening Day roster spot, although that always felt like an extreme long shot, given that he’d yet to play above Rookie ball. Now, with a dominant season in the upper minors under his belt, Witt would seem to have a legitimate chance at making the roster, so long as he performs well in whatever iteration of Spring Training is put together.
Just where Witt will line up on the diamond remains to be seen, as the Kansas City infield is rather crowded. Nicky Lopez solidified himself as an elite defender at shortstop this past season, and while he’s no lock to repeat his .300/.365/.378 batting line, the glove should continue to play no matter what. Two-time All-Star and 2021 stolen base champion Whit Merrifield can handle either second base or any of the three outfield spots. The ultra-talented but oft-injured Adalberto Mondesi remains in the mix for playing time, be it at shortstop, third base or in right field. Corner infielder/outfielder Hunter Dozier is entering the second season of a four-year, $28MM contract and will be looking to rebound from a dismal 2021 effort.
If the Royals prefer to leave Lopez, a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, at the position where he broke out this past season, the natural move might be to slide Witt over to third base. The organization prepared for this to some extent last year, giving Witt 17 starts (and 18 total appearances) at the hot corner throughout the season.
The frequency (or lack thereof) of prospects of Witt’s caliber making their respective teams’ Opening Day rosters has been a key talking point in ongoing labor negotiations. The Royals, however, generally haven’t shied away from promoting top prospects out of the gate, rather than keeping them in the minors for a few weeks early in the season to secure a seventh year of club control. As recently as the 2020 season, the Royals gave Brady Singer a full year of service time, when keeping him at their alternate site for even a week would’ve delayed his path to free agency.
None of that is presented to spur debate on the merits of service-time practices that have become increasingly commonplace throughout the league. However, it’s notable context that Kansas City has generally taken up the stance that when the front office feels a player is ready, he’ll be added to the big league roster. Whether that means a full year of service in 2022 remains to be seen, as MLB and the Players Association will need to haggle over just how the canceled games will impact service time and pay.
Setting that aside, though, Moore’s confirmation of what was already widely assumed now gives Royals fans an additional reason to be excited for big league camp … whenever that may be. If Witt does indeed crack the Royals’ Opening Day roster and accrue a full year of service time in 2022, he’d be controllable via arbitration through the 2027 season before reaching free agency in advance of his age-28 season.
Of course, why wouldn’t he, he’ll be 28 by then.
Actually he’ll be 25 as opening date for 2022 will ONLY be delayed for three years.
Lol if there will be an opening day
Opening Day 2023, I assume
Rob Manfred eats puppies and kittens.
Obviously 60 games was not legitimate but I don’t think it necessarily has to be exactly 162 games to be legitimate. What’s your cutoff point for legitimacy? I think mine is probably somewhere in the 120-130 game range.
A 60-game season is just as legitimate as 48 teams in MLB.
StPete, please don’t get him started…
If I suggest 48 then maybe they’ll compromise with 36 or 40.
48, I like the cut of your jib!
If opening day happens around labor day service time shouldn’t be an issue…
It will be prorated
I’m sure I’m just being unfairly cynical about an owner’s intentions, but I’m sensing that Witt might just need a tad more seasoning. Not an entire marinating job, but a little salt and paper, maybe a sprig of garlic, and everyone knows that it’s best to do that before you actually pre-heat.
He still needs to work on the fake throw to third/pivot to first move.
salt and paper.
What’s never discussed with service time manipulation is roster crunch. If you already have a roster crunch and don’t want to lose anyone bring yet another guy to the 40 man even if he’s a young phenom doesn’t make much sense unless the royals are a contender which they’re not. Baseball is won in 2022 with depth. Designating guys off your roster just Willy nilly is a good way to ruin your depth that you’ll inevitably need. Fans don’t understand this because they’re just fans and don’t have a clue how to manage a roster. Most would sign freeman even if their favourite team has a 1b and also sign Nelson Cruz because both players are good and hit a lot of HRs.
Well, for right now he’ll be able to hopefully go to Omaha and play for AAA Omaha. then if they decide to do big league spring training he can always go back to Arizona? Or maybe he be able to make the opening day If it’s after Omaha’s opening day which looks like it’s still on schedule to happen because Manfred has no control over minor leagues luckily. Other than the fact that anyone on the 40 man cannot participate in minor-league teams. luckily Bobby is not on the 40 man…..yet
If there is one
Not surprising considering April games are probably off the table for the big leagues. Those extra few weeks he would have spent in AAA to start the year will now happen alongside the lockout
Opening day of which year?
Nicky Lopez played well last year, but he’s not someone you have your top prospect change positions for. Can’t believe they’re even considering that unless they don’t believe in Witt as a SS long term.
Lopez will play 2B. Merrifield probably plays RF. Mondesi will go to 3B. And Dozier will probably play 1B/DH til Pratto is ready.
Yeah I think I’d rather have Hunter at first base than Carlos Santana. Unfortunately Pratto cannot play in AAA Omaha because he is on the 40 man because he was protected back in November. And any minor league players there on the 40 man cannot participate on a minor league team so Pratto can’t even play any games in Omaha! Which means fans of Vinnie P will likely get to see him play first base in Omaha.
Last year, he was my dark horse pick for AL RoY. I thought with a strong showing in camp and doing well in AA, he could be up by late May, early June. The team wasn’t expected to contend, so it’d give him a chance to learn the big league game with no pressure. Even as a White Sox fan, I’m excited to see whether he lives up to the hype.
I guess they will have to negotiate how service time will be counted in a lockout-shortened season. If they prorate like they did for 2020 Witt could get a full year, but I’m sure the owners would like to count only games actually played.
The Royals really do have talent on the offensive side. If all can stay healthy they will be set for years to come.
Potentially one of Atlanta’s World Series victims
How about Pasquantino? He doesn’t have Pratto’s glove but he just might have a better stick. So odd that a guy could have identical great 12% K and 12% BB rates. KC might be loaded.
Well because Nick won’t be able to play in Omaha and he won’t be able to play in Kansas City as of right now because there’s no big league spring training And he can’t work out at the facility because of the lockout, Vinnie Likely gets a chance to play for Space in Omaha. I think Vinny could be a good DH/1st baseman depending on what happens with other things. A good defensive glove at first base is just as important as the same glove at third base. A good glove at first base can prevent a run scored at home.
The players want major concessions for 14 playoff teams. They are still miles apart. No baseball for a while.