The Kansas City Royals are in the midst of another unspectacular season, but there are several reasons for fans to remain hopeful. The biggest reason is Rookie of the Year contender Bobby Witt Jr., who made his MLB debut in 2022. Formerly baseball's top prospect, Witt has kept some fans interested and hopeful ever since Kansas City selected him 2nd overall in the 2019 MLB Draft.
Witt is one of the American League's best rookies at the plate, especially after rebounding from a rough season start. With that said, Witt has been a defensive liability at points despite being a plus defender as a prospect.
Witt can undoubtedly make incredible defensive plays. He already has career-defining defensive highlights in his young career, and his athleticism coupled with his arm strength makes for a dangerous combination in the infield.
Witt's defensive shortcomings are impossible to ignore in his young career, however. He leads the Royals in errors this season with 14 so far. That is more than double Nicky Lopez's 2022 total, and he currently has the second-most on the team. If that isn't enough, advanced metrics are not any kinder to Witt. He has negative totals in outs above average (OAA) and defensive runs saved (DRS). In several more defensive metrics, Witt is near the worst or is the worst. This is hardly a strong start to the prodigy's career.
Now, nothing concrete can be attributed to Witt's struggles. The MLB learning curve, an unknown injury — nothing is certain. The constant is that his struggles come primarily when playing shortstop.
For example, Witt has a negative DRS in 64 games at shortstop but a positive DRS in 30 games at third base. He is a marginally average fielder at third base, but is abysmal at shortstop. With only two errors in 30 games at 3B, Witt is three times more likely to commit an error when playing shortstop. He is a natural ballplayer and seems like a natural fielding at the hot corner.
Even before the Royals traded away Emmanuel Rivera, the Royals lacked many long-term options at third base. Lopez has been solid there, and veteran Hunter Dozier can flex when needed. Kansas City's farm system doesn't have a third baseman prospect knocking on the door, though. Sure, the Royals selected slugging third baseman Cayden Wallace in the 2022 draft, but he isn't coming to Kansas City for the foreseeable future.
While the Royals lack high-tier third base prospects, they have several options at shortstop to replace Witt. Lopez was the primary shortstop in 2021, and prospects like Maikel Garcia and Nick Loftin have solid cases for MLB playing time. While all are similar players, the Royals' best teams featured contact-hitting, defensive-minded shortstops. Sticking to that mold would not be a bad thing if Kansas City wishes to return to relevancy.
Evaluating the personnel situation and Witt's struggles, the Royals should be serious about moving Witt to third base permanently. Sure, he could start at other positions simply because he is so versatile. If another viable option emerges at third base, then Witt could slide right back over to shortstop. Until proven otherwise, however, if Witt's defensive shortcomings at shortstop cancel out his bat, he has more overall value at third base for the 2022 Royals and beyond.