Let the Bobby Witt, Jr. hype train begin in Kansas City.
After selling the farm for a World Series in 2015 and possible playoff runs in 2016 and 2017, the Royals minor league system bounced back in a big way with back to back drafts in 2018 and 2019 that produced some nice high-end, highly-ranked talent. In 2018, first-round pick Brady Singer, a polished college pitcher out of Florida helped bump the Royals system from the basement, along with other college arms such as Jackson Kowar (a teammate of Singer’s), Daniel Lynch (out of Virginia), and Kris Bubic (a Stanford product).
However, it was not until 2019 that the Royals rebounded as a system with the drafting of Witt, Jr., a highly-touted prep prospect out of Texas who went No. 2 overall in the draft. The son of former Texas Ranger Bobby Witt, Sr., the 19-year-old shortstop held his own in an abbreviated rookie league stint in Surprise. The young Texan posted a triple slash of .262/.317/.354 with a home run, 27 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 35 games in the Arizona Rookie League. Considering the Royals moved him along slowly, the numbers were promising for a kid fresh out of high school. More importantly, his tools and athleticism showed in Arizona, even if the numbers didn’t exactly back it up.
Hence, it is no surprise that Witt Jr. was a consensus Top 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Baseball America and other top publications, making him one of the highest rankings for a Royals position prospect since the days of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
The future of the Royals will certainly hinge on Witt and how he fills the shortstop position in the minors over the next couple of seasons. However, while Royals fans are certainly counting the days until Witt makes his debut, there is still a lot of time before Witt’s name will be called over the PA at Kauffman Stadium.
Which is why I ranked Witt Jr. number 2 in my “20 in 20” prospects to watch ranking for the 2020 season.
Witt will be fun to watch, but Singer will be the most important Royals prospect to follow this season, even if his upside probably is less than Witt’s.
To say Witt has “Moustakas and Hosmer” star power as a prospect is putting it lightly. Witt seems to have the full package at a premium position (shortstop), and could do so long term. Even though Moustakas was drafted as a shortstop, the consensus was that he would eventually move off the position at some point. According to most prospect experts, he truly is seen as the Royals shortstop of the future, a bold statement considering the Royals have a good shortstop already at the Major League level in Adalberto Mondesi.
While his defense has gotten solid reports (MLB.com graded his fielding a 60 on the scouting scale), it’s his bat that entices scouts and Royals fans alike. Witt holds tantalizing potential at the plate, and could truly be a five-tool player for the Royals in the future, with ability to hit for average as well as power. If you look at some of his swings from instructs this fall in the video below, it’s easy to fall in love with Witt’s bat:
While Witt certainly made noise with his hitting above in the fall in Arizona, the 19-year-old is far from a finished product. There are some questions about his ability to hit for high average, as he had some strikeout issues in high school, and his 0.37 BB/K ratio in the Arizona Rookie League last summer didn’t exactly impress. However, it is reported that Witt grew as a hitter this fall, and hopefully, with new and improved minor league hitting instruction acquired this off-season, Witt will be able to take care of some the “swing and whiff” issues that have dogged him as a hitter from time to time, as seen below in this clip from high school:
At 6’1, 190 pounds, there is a lot of Troy Tulowitzki in his game. He is super toolsy, super athletic for his age, and more importantly, he carries himself with incredible poise and confidence for his age. Hell, take a look at his introductory press conference below and everything just screams that Witt could be a superstar for the Royals, not just in the Hosmer and Moose mold, but perhaps even George Brett and Bo Jackson one as well.
Witt may be ranked No. 10 by MLB Pipeline and No. 24 by Baseball America, but it would not be hard to see him surpass even those rankings by season’s end with a full Minor League campaign under his belt. That’s how excited Royals fans should be about Witt going into 2020
It is obvious that Royals fans, including myself, cannot wait for Witt’s full season professional debut in 2020 (the guess is Lexington, but it is possible that they may start him in short-season ball in Burlington in order to keep developing him in extended Spring Training). So if Witt is generating such hype, why did I rank Witt no. 2 in my “20 in 20” Royals prospects to watch list?
First, Brady Singer has the potential to be a No. 1-2 starter for this Royals club for years to come. Considering how rough it may be for Royals starting pitching in 2020, Singer’s potential should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, when I watch tape on Singer, I am tantalized by the idea of him transitioning his stuff to the Major League level
Furthermore, it seems legitimately possible that Brady Singer could be the Royals’ No. 5 starter in 2020, as suggested by Royals MLB.com writer Jeff Flanagan:
I have written about Singer before on this blog, so I am not going to go into more detail in terms of why Singer is one of the Royals’ best prospects. After all, MLB Pipeline ranked him No. 59 overall in their Top 100, so Singer is a legitimate prospect who could become one of the best pitchers from the 2018 draft. However, one of the reasons I rank Singer higher in this “watch” rankings is not because he is a better prospect than Witt, but rather because Singer will have an opportunity to make the most immediate impact on the Royals. Singer will be up at the Major League level in 2020. We probably won’t see Witt until 2022, and that’s a best case scenario.
But back to Singer’s impact, it seems like there is a contingency out there that believe that Singer could break from Surprise as the Royals’ No. 5 starter. Here is the direct quote from Flanagan’s piece:
While Flanagan mentions Kowar and Lynch as outside shots for the fifth rotation spot, Flany seems confident that Singer will be the best candidate of the three top pitching prospects. Lynch put up great numbers this past Spring in Wilmington and he electrified the Arizona Fall League this Autumn, but he most likely will see Double-A first before making it to the show.
As for Kowar, he put up comparable numbers up to Singer’s in Northwest Arkansas, and if anyone beats Singer out, it will probably be Kowar. While Kowar’s record paled in comparison to Singer’s (2-7 to Singer’s 7-3 mark), their ERA was close (3.51 to Singer’s 3.47), and Kowar actually posted a better K/BB ratio (3.71) to Singer (3.27). But, Singer finished the year strong with a 9.5 K/9 and 1.96 ERA in his final starts, which is a key reason why Singer holds the early lead over Kowar at this moment.
The Kowar-Singer battle will be interesting, but at the end of the day, Royals fans need to keep an eye on Singer as the Royals’ top prospect to watch. Whether he breaks from Spring Training as part of the rotation, or if he begins the season in Omaha for some seasoning in the PCL, Singer will be the first of this highly touted prospect list to make his debut at the Major League level. And in many ways, he will give a glimpse into the future of Dayton Moore as general manager.
If Singer comes up and does well in the Royals rotation, then the future looks bright not only for the cadre of Royals pitching prospects waiting in the wings, but Moore and his future in Kansas City as GM.
But if Singer gets batted around and struggles at the Major League level or worse…the PCL? Well, Moore may feel the heat sooner rather than later.
At the very least, that above is why Singer, not Witt, will be the most interesting Royals prospect to watch in 2020.