Bobby Witt Jr. taking advantage of unique opportunity

Bobby Witt Jr. made baseball history before he even turned pro when he joined his father, Bobby Witt Sr. as the first father-son tandem drafted in the first five picks of the MLB draft. The Kansas City Royals took Witt Jr. with the second overall selection in 2019, while Witt Sr. went third overall to the Texas Rangers 34 years earlier. 

“My dad has always been there for me, throughout my life and with the draft,” Witt said. “He’s gotten me to where I am today. It’s an honor to have him as an amazing role model and father figure. He’s a good friend to have. I am super blessed to be a part of this amazing organization like the Royals. They treat everyone like a first-round pick. I’m really proud to be a part of a one of a kind organization”

Witt Sr. won 142 games and a World Series championship during a 16-year major league career. His influence at home and on the diamond helped shape the career of his son, who forged a similar path on the diamond. Most importantly, he instilled a work ethic in Witt Jr. that breeds positive results.

“He introduced me to the game obviously, but he also instilled a work ethic into me where I should work hard and stay humble in everything that I do in life. He wanted to me stay focused on the task at hand,” Witt recalls. “I was taught to love baseball, and since then it’s been a true love to me. We watched games together and learned from each other, which is not what many people get to experience.”

Colleyville High School in Texas was where Witt found initial success on the mound and at shortstop. He assured his professional future at shortstop as a senior when he hit a robust .482/.565/1.043 with 15 home runs, nine triples and 14 doubles. Witt emerged as the top high school player in the nation, winning the 2019 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year Award.

“Winning the National Gatorade Player of the Year helped me prepare to put my name at a high level,” Witt said. “There was always a target on me that made me want to work harder because I knew that people wanted to get me out, and that continued into Colleyville. We won a state championship when I was a senior which was the ultimate goal. It was truly an honor because it was going to be my last time playing with my teammates after I got drafted.”

Those who did not see Witt play in high school noted his raw power when he took part in the 2018 Under Armour All-American Game and hit a home run that cleared the bleachers at Wrigley Field. Witt also left an impression in the High School Home Run Derby that same year when he won the competition at Nationals Park during the week of the All-Star Game.

“It was an incredible experience. I wish every kid in America had the opportunity to do what I did,” Witt said of playing in big league ballparks. “It really shows you that there’s a chance that you can play there one day when you go out there. If you want to perform at an elite level, you have to practice, and it gave a taste of what it was like to play in the big leagues.”

The Royals, in need of bolstering their farm system, made Witt the first high school player picked in the 2019 draft. He began his pro career in the Arizona League, where he hit .262 with one home run and 27 runs batted in 37 games. By season’s end, Witt became the organization’s top prospect on most rankings.

“The biggest thing for me was getting into a good routine,” Witt said. “It was pretty much the same game I played my entire life. It’s a little bit quicker I might say. I had a blast out there meeting a bunch of the guys for the first time from all over the world. It was about finding what works out best for me and help the team win. I saw a lot more off-speed pitches than normal, but I was just happy to go out and play.”

Scouts classify Witt as a five-tool player. He hits for better-than-average power from his pull side and makes consistent contact but needs to work on driving the ball the opposite way as pitchers make adjustments. At shortstop, he possesses soft hands and the instincts to make every routine play. A strong and accurate throwing arm also affords him the chance to play third base.

“I’m looking to strengthen my body and get myself faster, quicker, and stronger, also mentally tougher. There are times like this where you go through a pandemic and there are others where you play 100-plus games, so it’s important for me to get my mind as mentally tough as possible,” Witt said.

“I want to be able to strengthen my lower half on the physical side and also work on my hand strength and forearm strength. I feel like I’m still playing shortstop, even when I’m at third base. You just have to know where to cover on certain plays. I feel like I can play anywhere on the diamond. It was an eye-opener to get a chance to play, but it felt right to just be on the field.”

Because of the truncated 2020 major league season, Witt got his first invite to big league camp and earned a spot on the Royals’ expanded 60-man roster, where he impressed the club with maturity and natural talents. Witt spent the first week of camp playing some third base alongside accomplished veterans. He became one of the most consistent players in camp, earning glowing praise from many, including manager Mike Matheny.

“This kid loves baseball,” Matheny said to reporters. “He loves being out here every day. He is a sponge. There’s more of a spotlight on Bobby Witt Jr. because of his draft status and this limited exposure thus far. He’s just doing things to wow us.”

Earning an invite to big league camp also has allowed Witt to compete against and learn from established major-leaguers.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the 60-man roster and learning from the guys like Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Brett Phillips, all of them actually,” Witt said. “They all take them under my wing and it’s a great opportunity to learn from them and getting to meet all the coaches and the staff. The mentality around the club is to always go out there, compete and build from the ground up.”

High expectations came with Witt out of the draft from experts and analysts who believed he could contribute to the franchise in the future. 

Jim Callis of considered Witt the best high school shortstop prospect out of the draft since Alex Rodriguez in 1993. Witt isn’t focused on those lofty projections, though.

“I just look at the expectations as something on paper, so I just have to keep working so it ends up becoming a reality,” Witt said. “I’m not going to believe any of it until that day happens. I want to be known as a winner first and do my part to help this team win as much as possible.”

With his invite to big league camp, Witt has a rare opportunity to show the big league team his potential. Witt has the talent and makeup to be a special player in the future, which could be as soon as this summer if the Royals opt to call-up the youngster in the shortened season. 

Despite the attention he’s received throughout camp, Witt has approached the game with the proper mindset that should help him achieve his immediate goals and help him attain eventual promise.

“I’m trying to just keep everything on an even level and keep staying ready and positive,” Witt explains. “This game is all about adjustments. You look at life itself and realize that you have to make the most of every situation and make every moment count. Whatever happens this year, I know I have to keep ready and stay focused.”

Read a MLB draft feature on Bobby Witt Jr. by draft writer Dan Zielinski III here.

Video of Bobby Witt Jr.
Gershon Rabinowitz
Gershon Rabinowitz
Gershon Rabinowitz is a reporter based in the New York market who has covered a variety of sporting events including the MLB draft, the 2016 World Baseball Classic, and Big Ten Hockey at Madison Square Garden. In 2013, he co-founded the website Baseball Essential and currently specializes in coverage of professional baseball and hockey.

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