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The Case for No. 1: Bobby Witt Jr.



In putting together the Baseball America 2022 Top 100 Prospects, a clear top three prospects emerged in Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez. As part of the process of gathering feedback for the Top 100, Baseball America surveyed nearly two dozen front office executives and scouting officials across the game on who the No. 1 prospect should be. Rutschman, Witt Jr. and Rodriguez each received multiple votes, and most officials said all three were worthy candidates with very little separation between them. 

As part of the lead up to Wednesday's release of the 2022 Top 100 Prospects, Baseball America is presenting the case for all three players to be No. 1. Below is the case for Witt. 

When the Royals drafted Bobby Witt Jr. with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, it was clear they were getting a talented player with elite tools who was used to the spotlight.

What even the Royals couldn’t have predicted is how quickly Witt would push himself to the brink of the major leagues.

After making his pro debut in the complex league in 2019 and spending 2020 at the alternate training site, Witt made his full-season debut in 2021 and delivered one of the finest seasons in the minors.

After a star turn in spring training, he jumped straight to Double-A Northwest Arkansas and quickly mashed his way to Triple-A Omaha as a 21-year-old. He hit .290/.361/.575 with 33 home runs, 97 RBIs and 29 stolen bases—finishing one stolen base shy of being the minors’ only 30-30 player—and earned rave reviews for his defense and composure at such a young age. He won BA’s Minor League Player of the Year award and placed himself firmly in the Royals’ plans for 2022.

“He’s the full package,” one National League executive said. “It’s makeup,  it’s tools. I saw him play a series against our Double-A team last year and it was really impressive.”

Since he was drafted, Witt has earned plaudits for his premium athleticism, plus speed, plus arm strength and plus power that he showed off when he won the High School Home Run Derby at Nationals Park during 2018 All-Star Weekend.

But beyond his pure tools, there has long been confidence Witt would get the most from them because of his background. His father, Bobby Witt, was the third overall pick in the 1985 draft and pitched 16 years in the majors, mostly with the Rangers. From dealing with the pressure of being a high draft pick to knowing what to expect in pro ball, Witt Jr. has long had a role model to help him navigate, and overcome, whatever challenges arise.

“He grew up around the game. To me that’s really appealing,” one longtime AL scouting coordinator said. “He’s a fast mover, excelled in Double-A, excelled in Triple-A and the bloodlines and the makeup are outstanding. He knows what to expect. People don’t fully appreciate how important that is, and how much that’s going to help him be successful.”

There is little doubt Witt will hit for power, steal bases and be a plus defensive shortstop in the major leagues. The question is how much contact he will make.

Even as an amateur, Witt swung and missed more than most other top high school draft prospects. His 23.2% strikeout rate during the 2021 season wasn’t bad, especially given his age relative to the levels he played at, but it was still significantly higher than Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (16.6%) and Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez (19.4%), the other players who join Witt in baseball’s unquestioned top prospect trio.

Witt’s 30.5% whiff rate placed him in the bottom half of all prospects in 2021. His 32.6% chase rate ranked in the bottom quartile of all prospects.

“Witt has holes major league pitchers will exploit,” one NL pro scouting director said. “You can game plan against Witt.  He has holes. Once the velo climbs and secondary location improves in the big leagues, the book will get on him pretty fast. He’s going to have to refine his approach and contact skills. He’s still super young, still super talented. Every team would line up for him. I just think you’re going to have to see over a 30% K rate and he’s going to have to adjust.”

Given Witt’s history of rapidly adapting and advancing, there is a lot of optimism he will eventually make the necessary adjustments and become the force envisioned at the plate. If he does, he’ll be one of the rare major league players who is a true five-tool talent.

“Witt is a monster,” an AL assistant GM said. “Phenomenal athlete, 70 runner, top-of-the-scale power, can stay at shortstop. To be 20, 21 and do what he did at Double-A and Triple-A, that just shows you how good he can be.”

Bobby Witt Jr. (Photo By Kyle Rivas Getty Images)

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