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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Joe Sheehan - Bobby Witt, Jr.

The biggest player story this spring comes out of Surprise, Ariz., where Bobby Witt Jr.—yes, this guy’s kid—is making a run at the Royals’ roster despite almost no professional experience. Witt, the second pick in the 2019 draft, is hitting .333/.379/.667 in 29 Cactus League PAs, playing his expected good defense, and making jaws drop with his power.

The performance is a bit out of the blue. In his pro debut two years ago, in the complex-level Arizona League, Witt hit just .262/.317/.354 with one homer in 180 PA. Like all minor leaguers, Witt was sidelined by the pandemic in 2020, costing him a year of development, though he was at the Royals’ alternate site and garnered good reviews. (Keep in mind that 112.3% of prospects at alternate sites garnered good reviews. Alternate-site baseball was the greatest baseball ever played.) Coming into this spring, Witt was a mostly consensus top-20 prospect, with Keith Law the low ranker at #27.

I have a general principle that if it was silly to think a player should make the team on February 15, it’s just as silly on March 15. Witt falls comfortably into that rubric; he has never played outside the controlled environments of complex league and alternate sites, and while his spring performance has been impressive, it’s 29 plate appearances against miserable pitching. Baseball Reference calculates the quality of pitching and hitting faced by players in the spring. On average, Witt has faced below-Double-A quality pitching.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 16, 2021 at 04:22 PM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bobby witt, jr., royals

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   1. RoyalFlush Posted: March 16, 2021 at 04:59 PM (#6008849)
Local conversation about Witt is getting a bit out of hand in KC. Sheehan makes the blatantly obvious point that Witt didn't do this last year against Low A pitching. But, it's gotten to the point that actually asking him to do this for a few months in the minors is now seen as "service time manipulation". It's ridiculous.

FWIW, I don't think the Royals have ever been accused of holding down a prospect longer than they should. In fact, I'd say they consistently err on the side of bringing the player up.
   2. rr: cosmopolitan elite Posted: March 16, 2021 at 05:03 PM (#6008851)
I am more surprised that Joe Sheehan is around than that Bobby Witt Jr. is.
   3. Zach Posted: March 16, 2021 at 05:12 PM (#6008854)
I have a general principle that if it was silly to think a player should make the team on February 15, it’s just as silly on March 15.

Fair enough, but I was disappointed on August 15, too. He was pretty hard to ignore during summer camp last year.
   4. Zach Posted: March 16, 2021 at 05:22 PM (#6008857)
The service time issue is a red herring, I think. The case for sending him to the minors is that he hasn't had much experience playing every day at his natural position, and shouldn't be in the majors until he's going to play every day. But at some point he's going to force the Royals' hand.
   5. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 16, 2021 at 06:58 PM (#6008868)
A high school draftee making the big leagues with this few pro at-bats would be unpredecented in post-70s era, right? Who was the last guy to go from high school to the show this quickly, David Clyde?
   6. gef the talking mongoose, peppery hostile Posted: March 16, 2021 at 07:13 PM (#6008872)
I thought Eddie Bane did, but that was straight out of college (no minors).
   7. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: March 16, 2021 at 07:45 PM (#6008876)
Who was the last guy to go from high school to the show this quickly, David Clyde?


I was going to say Todd van Poppel, but he actually spent the equivalent of a season in the minors before his first cup of coffee.
   8. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 16, 2021 at 07:57 PM (#6008878)

In 1973, David Clyde was the #1 pick in the draft at age 18 and went straight to the majors. Robin Yount was the third overall pick that year -- he played 64 games in low-A ball at age 17, and then was in the majors for good the next year at age 18. (Dave Winfield was taken 4th and went straight to the majors, but that was out of college.)
   9. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 16, 2021 at 08:04 PM (#6008879)
In 1978, both Mike Morgan (#4 pick) and Tim Conroy (#20) made their major league debuts for Oakland at age 18, without having pitched in the minors, although both would be sent down to Vancouver later that season. And they were both starting pitchers! Pretty much unthinkable that any team would do such a thing today.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: March 16, 2021 at 08:19 PM (#6008880)
But of course special circumstances due to covid and us not having publicly available "stats" from the offsite camps, etc. Forcing him to play a full season in the minors just cuz he would normally have had a full season in the minors in 2020 isn't sensible. (To be clear, keeping him in the minors because you think he'd benefit from further time in the minors is perfectly sensible ... I'm just saying "this would be unprecedented" is not a good excause especially when every prospect missed 2020, Witt missing less of it than most since he was at the offsite.)

Further, minors playing time is one thing but he's (an old) 21. We have seen many players coming into the majors at 19-20 and holding their own (or much better) over the last few years -- Trout, Soto, Tatis, Acuna, Correa, Harper, Vlad jr. I have no idea if Witt is remotely as talented/skilled right now as those guys but he's a year older (give or take).

Among that crew: Soto had 207 PA at 17, just 123 at 18, and just 182 (none above AA) at 19 before coming to the majors. Harper had 39 at 17, 452 (A/AA) at 18 and 84 poor PA at AAA before hitting the majors for good at 19. The other guys mentioned did generally get at least one full season under their belts. The main playing time advantage all of those guys have over Witt is that he wasn't drafted (out of HS) until 19 so he didn't get to play in the minors at 17/18. But Soto's 330 [edit] PA across 17/18 probably weren't that important to his development and, given he put up a 142 OPS+ at 19, it seems unlikely that it was those 182 PA in AA at 19 that made all the difference. Not that anybody necessarily should have known it, but it seems pretty likely in hindsight that Soto could have at least held his own in the majors at 18 (and maybe would have gotten a chance if he hadn't gotten hurt).

side note: I had no idea Acuna played in the Australian league in 2016.
   11. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 16, 2021 at 10:08 PM (#6008894)

Further, minors playing time is one thing but he's (an old) 21.


FWIW, he turns 21 in June. That's in line with other promotions, but he just has pretty much no pro career - the pandemic was why, but as Joe points out, there's just no reason to bring him up now, and lots of reasons not to.
   12. The Yankee Clapper Posted: March 16, 2021 at 10:59 PM (#6008899)
Quiz: MLB Players To Debut As Teenagers Since 1975. Not all household names, but there’s 51.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: March 17, 2021 at 12:44 AM (#6008901)
I often get it confused ... he's a young 21; born 3 weeks later and this would be his age 20 season.
   14. Rally Posted: March 17, 2021 at 09:54 AM (#6008917)
Yeah, don’t give Bobby that beer just yet.

Juan Soto played just 122 pro games before getting called up.

   15. JRVJ Posted: March 17, 2021 at 12:00 PM (#6008936)
Coming out of the pandemic, pretty much all franchises would be advised to give their prospects some time in the Minors before bringing them up (I mean prospects who weren't up for 2020 or 2019 or whatever - true rooks).

But since the minors are going to start a little late this year, the options available aren't ideal: bring a kid up to the majors, where he could get exposed and/or have little playing time vs. sending that prospects to camp/alternate sites.

Witt is an absolute slam dunk case of not burning a kid by promoting him too soon, but even a franchise acting responsibly (i.e., not playing service time games) does not have an easy time on this.
   16. Ron J Posted: March 17, 2021 at 12:16 PM (#6008940)
#15 I think it's clear. Minor league pitchers simply couldn't get him out in 2020.
   17. JRVJ Posted: March 17, 2021 at 01:27 PM (#6008952)
16, there were minor league games in 2020?
   18. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 17, 2021 at 01:41 PM (#6008955)
If Witt proves to be ready some time early this year, I have to wonder if this further buries minor league baseball as a way to develop prospects. Already teams like the Astros want to move away from having guys develop in rural towns in North Carolina and instead take thousands of cuts at their spring training complex in front of the latest technology to analyze swings. I think the Royals are one of the teams that still believes a lot in game action - Dayton Moore has been pretty vocally opposed to cutting teams - but having Witt (and former 1st round pick Nick Pratto, who was terrible in 2019, but looks great in camp so far) succeed could persaude even them.
   19. Walt Davis Posted: March 17, 2021 at 04:08 PM (#6008982)
#17: I believe #16 was what the kids these days call a "joke."

Anyway, #15 (via #18) kinda answers itself. Witt is only potentially ready now if, at least for some top prospects, training camps are as/more effective than minor-league games. By extension then, giving him a month in a camp while waiting for the minors to start won't hurt him. If training sites aren't particularly effective then it would be a minor miracle if Witt is ready and he and all the other prospects will be a further month behind waiting for the minors to start.

Anyway, if a guy like Justin Turner can turn into a stuf over one offseason of changing his swing, I'm not sure why a 21-yo top prospect couldn't do the same.

To be clear, if I was Moore, I'd absolutely want to see this translate into game performance in the minors and would almost certainly hold him back to mid-season at the earliest even if service time wasn't involved. I'm sure there's some level of spring performance and coaches assuring me he's ready that would change my mind. I also believe players shouldn't be held back any longer than necessary -- once they're ready they play (minus 10 days of service time obvsiously!! :-)
   20. JRVJ Posted: March 17, 2021 at 05:13 PM (#6008998)
19, I believe 17 is what kids these days call a "joke", too.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: March 17, 2021 at 05:52 PM (#6009004)
#20: I have more respect for kids' sense(s) of humor than that.
   22. Zach Posted: March 17, 2021 at 05:57 PM (#6009006)
I'm more open to this idea than I thought. The countdown timer on this iteration of the Royals started last year, when Brady Singer and Kris Bubic made the team. It's pretty clear that the team won't reach its peak until Witt hits his, so if he's ready to compete, getting him used to the major leagues extends the competitive window.

I just don't know if Opening Day is the day to pull that trigger.
   23. JRVJ Posted: March 17, 2021 at 09:53 PM (#6009037)
21, ROTFL.

That was the best example of what kids call a "joke" these days.
   24. Howie Menckel Posted: March 18, 2021 at 12:21 AM (#6009051)
I think post 25 really put a fine point on the discussion of kids and their sense of humor these days.
   25. Smitty* Posted: March 18, 2021 at 09:28 AM (#6009065)
Don’t you hate pants?
   26. Harmon "Thread Killer" Microbrew Posted: March 18, 2021 at 03:13 PM (#6009116)
I thought Eddie Bane did, but that was straight out of college (no minors).


John Olerud's 12 minor league innings came at the end of his career, if I recall correctly.

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