The Kansas City Royals have fallen short of expectations in 2022, but the same can't be said in good faith in regards to rookie infielder Bobby Witt Jr. While the phenom has undoubtedly experienced his fair share of struggles and has some deficiencies in his game early on, he's been more than good enough to make the club — and others — confident that he's a future star in the sport.
In year one on the job, Witt broke camp with the big-league team and never looked back. Despite struggling a bit of out of the gate and taking a while to get going, Witt has been one of baseball's very best rookies throughout the 2022 season. His combination of raw power, blazing speed and a knack for making highlight plays has made him a must-watch player, even as a member of a franchise that doesn't exactly carry that same designation.
Witt, the fifth player in Royals history and the fifth first-year player in MLB history to become a member of the 20-20 club, has dazzled this year and is drawing the eyes of local and national fans, coaches and media alike. In his latest ranking of the top 10 rookies in each of MLB's leagues, Jim Bowden of The Athletic had Witt trailing only Seattle Mariners star Julio Rodriguez on the American League's side of the list. Here's what he had to say about Witt:
Witt became the fifth rookie in MLB history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in his first season. He follows in the footsteps of the late Mitchell Page, who did it in 1977, Ellis Burks (1987), Marty Cordova (1995) and Rodríguez, who hit the 20/20 milestone a couple of weeks before Witt. Like Rodríguez, Witt has the potential to join not only the 30/30 club in future seasons, but also the 40/40 club if he reaches his ceiling.
He has slashed .246/.288/.439 with 23 doubles, six triples, 20 homers, 70 RBIs and 26 steals. Witt is the fastest player in the AL, according to Statcast, and he’s made significant defensive improvements at third base. I still think his best position is shortstop; regardless, he’s willing to play all over the diamond and profiles as an above-average defender wherever he plays.
This ranking seems to be fair, as Rodriguez has been worth nearly five WAR (per Baseball-Reference) and is slashing .270/.328/.475 in his rookie campaign while driving in 67 runs, signing a contract extension for a mind-boggling amount of money and also serving as a key cog in the Mariners' competitive machine. Rodriguez also plays quality defense and is a dynamic force in just about every facet, making him the clear pick for the AL's Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today. That's no slight to Witt, as he's been great as well, but all of the aforementioned factors working in Rodriguez's favor make him rightfully take the top spot.
Moving forward, both Rodriguez and Witt project to be two of the faces of baseball. Trailing both of them in Bowden's rankings are catcher Adley Rutschman of the Baltimore Orioles, outfielder Steven Kwan of the Cleveland Guardians, Houston Astros standout shortstop Jeremy Peña and five others. In the National League, the trio of Atlanta Braves pitcher Spencer Strider, Braves outfielder Michael Harris II and St. Louis Cardinals infielder/outfielder Brendan Donovan takes the cake for Bowden's rankings.