When Bobby Witt Jr. walked onto the stage with the Colleyville Heritage High baseball team at his graduation practice Wednesday, he thought his principal just wanted to wish the team luck in state playoffs. Suddenly, Witt saw former MLB All-Star Michael Young walk through the door and into the gym. At that point, Witt, who already knew he was the Texas State Player of the Year, connected the dots.
He was about to be named the Gatorade National High School Baseball Player of the Year.
“Chills,” Witt said of his reaction when the award was announced. “It was something I’ll never forget in my life.”
Witt joins a list of previous winners that includes Alex Rodriguez, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, among many other major leaguers. The award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence, high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character.
Witt is the son of longtime Texas Rangers pitcher Bobby Witt Sr., and he’s arguably the best shortstop prospect baseball has seen since A-Rod in 1993. Witt is committed to play baseball at Oklahoma, but he’s also considered a favorite to go No. 2 overall to the Royals in next week’s MLB draft, which all but assures he’ll go straight to the minors and forgo college. This season, Witt has played shortstop and pitched for his high school team, excelling at both. He’s batting .500 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 38 games, and he has a 1.62 ERA and 18 strikeouts in nine relief appearances on the mound.
Young got to know Bobby Sr. from his time playing with the Rangers, though they were never teammates. He said Witt, who serves in his school’s Peer Assistant Leadership Group and mentors grade school students with disabilities weekly, has not only the physical skills to make it as a professional, but the mental makeup too.
“The things that are gonna really carry him at the next level are the things buried within this kid as a result of having Bobby Witt as his father and all the baseball he’s learned along the way playing in one of the big hotbeds in the country,” Young said. “He’s very humble.”
Junior has grown up around the game, even though his father retired in 2001. He has two brother-in-laws who played in the majors—pitchers James Russell and Zach Neal—which has allowed him to spend some time in pro clubhouses and meet players such as Bryce Harper at various events. And, despite his father being retired for most of his life, Junior still has his father’s 16 years of MLB experience to guide and inform his journey.
“He’s been a role model for me because he’s done what I want to do,” Witt said. “He’s a great resource to have whenever I have questions. He’s my dad, my friend and almost like a teammate to me.”
“When you have Bobby Witt as your father,” Young says, “he’s able to walk you through these things before they happen. Anything coming, [Junior] can see it a mile away.”
Witt, now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year Award, feels some of the hype that comes with being dubbed a phenom, usually in the form of an occasional passer-by asking for an autograph or photo. He knows those moments will happen more frequently as his career unfolds, especially with a likely top draft selection looming. Right now, he says he’s focused on what’s in front of him, whether that’s playoffs with his high school team or graduating at the end of the year.
“I try to just be a normal high school student,” Witt says. “I go out there and walk through the halls and be myself and be a kid who’s in high school. Not really the baseball Bobby, just kind of the school Bobby.”