The Royals will be placing Bobby Witt Jr. on their Opening Day roster, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). The superstar prospect and second overall pick of the 2019 draft is set to officially begin his big league career when the Royals host the Guardians on Thursday.
There was no doubt that Witt would be making his big league debut at some point this season, as his .285/.352/.581 slash line over 285 Triple-A plate appearances in 2021 indicated that he was very ready for the next step. Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said last month that Witt would get the “opportunity” to earn his way onto the Opening Day roster, and Witt has only cemented his case after crushing Spring Training pitching.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement may have also removed an obstacle to Witt’s chances of breaking camp with the Royals. Under the old CBA, the team would have been tempted to leave Witt in the minors long enough to ensure that he wouldn’t gain a full year of service time in 2022, thus giving the Royals an extra year of control over Witt’s services through the 2028 season.
However, the “Prospect Promotion Incentive” in the new labor deal creates the possibility that Kansas City could earn a bonus pick in the 2023 amateur draft if Witt is on the roster for a full year of service time, and if he finishes in the top tier of awards consideration (a top-two finish in AL Rookie Of The Year balloting, a top-five MVP finish, or placement on the first or second-team All-MLB lineup).
Naturally, Witt’s status as one of the game’s top prospects qualifies him as one of the minor leaguers eligible for this PPI plan. Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline each listed Witt atop their most recent rankings of the game’s best minor leaguers, while Fangraphs and Keith Law both ranked Witt second, and Baseball America third. This kind of praise has followed Witt for years, as he is regarded as a five-tool talent by most evaluators.
Originally drafted as a shortstop, Witt is set to begin his career as a third baseman, owing to the presence of Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez in the middle infield. There is some fluidity in that alignment, as Mondesi is an injury risk, and Whit Merrifield would likely move back to second base in the event that Lopez has to step in at shortstop. Keeping Witt at third base might be the smoothest choice for his development, however, as Witt could stay at the hot corner in more or less uninterrupted fashion, rather than juggling between different positions on a regular basis. If Witt was moved to shortstop or even second base, K.C. could use Hunter Dozier back at third base.