Inside the Clubhouse: Bobby Witt Jr. and Spring Training surprises

Kansas City Royals, MLB

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This week Inside the Clubhouse looks at Bobby Witt Jr., Garrett Mitchell, Alex Reyes, Mauricio Dubon and other Spring Training surprises.

The Kansas City Royals are wise to have Bobby Witt Jr. start the regular season at the team’s alternate site, but it won’t be long until he is on the major-league roster.

Witt Jr. was demoted just days after Royals general manager Dayton Moore said that the team was “very open-minded” about Witt Jr. making the Opening Day roster. Witt Sr., his father and agent, told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that he was “comfortable” with the idea.

Witt Sr. recently provided FanSided with two examples as to why he believes his son was ready. First, he drew a 12-pitch walk off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Julio Urias and then hit a home run off him in his next at-bat. Second, he hit a home run off the San Francisco Giants’ Tyler Rogers, who throws with a ”really tough sidearm angle.”

“He does it consistently, Witt Sr. said, “and it’s kind of like, ‘Wow, he’s just getting started.”

Teams typically do not promote prospects so early in their careers, looking to manipulate service time to gain an extra year of control over players before they become free agents. Witt Jr., who turns 21 on June 14, was clearly someone the Royals felt might be an exception.

But Witt Jr.‘s professional career consists of only 180 plate appearances in the Royals’ Rookie League in 2019. Even then, he has consistently shined since being the No. 2 overall pick. He feasted against older pitchers at the alternate training site last season. He translated that success to this spring, hitting .289/.329/.526 in 38 at-bats, with one National League scout saying that Witt Jr. “could be in the conversation as the best player in the American League before too long.”

The Royals, however, have proven that they are not afraid to promote prospects before other teams typically would. They included Brady Singer on the Opening Day roster last season and he finished the year by allowing only four runs in his last 24 innings pitched. Left-handed pitcher Kris Bubic was promoted in time to become a Super Two player, or possibly reach free agency one year earlier, but was optioned on Friday. Moore recently echoed his long-standing philosophy of promoting a player when he is ready, essentially saying, “How would you feel if it was your son?”

The Royals believe that Witt Jr. could use more seasoning before joining the major-league club. But the fact that Moore admitted he was very much in the conversation to make the Opening Day roster indicates that his time is not far away.

Garrett Mitchell impressing at Brewers camp

Ask anyone with the Milwaukee Brewers who has made the best impression this spring and most will say it’s Garrett Mitchell.

“There can’t be a better position player prospect in the game based on what we’ve seen,” one Brewers executive said. “That’s how impressive he has been.”

Mitchell has showcased the talent that made the Brewers confident selecting him with the No. 20 pick in the 2020 draft. He has shown an ability to hit the ball to all fields. He has raw power that has caught his fellow teammates’ attention. He also is “so explosive and does it with such ease,” the executive said, “and that is what really stands out.”

Mitchell, 22, will not be in the same conversation as Witt Jr. about making the Brewers major-league roster this season even if he dazzles in the minors and injuries decimate the outfield. But when he eventually does reach the majors, rival evaluators believe he will be best suited for a corner outfield spot rather than in center field.

“He’s sort of a Nick Markakis comp,” one evaluator said. “He also had a crazy motor for such a highly ranked NCAA player. He would drop down bunts regularly with the infield back and leg out ground balls more than his average speed would have you think.”

Alex Reyes destined for big role with Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals’ decision to not make any outside additions to their bullpen stemmed not just from the return of Jordan Hicks, but because of their internal belief in right-hander Alex Reyes.

Reyes, 26, has dominated in spring training after undergoing another procedure following Tommy John surgery. He has featured a fastball that has consistently hit the upper 90s along with crisp secondary pitches, allowing him to start strong with a 1.59 ERA while striking out nine in 5.2 innings pitched.

Reyes dedicated his offseason to bettering himself in the weight room after dealing with injuries for the first four seasons of his career. A player close to him said he has “worked his ass off to get here after people wrote him off” and has “finally found himself.”

Perhaps the greatest stride Reyes has made has been behind the scenes, where he has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse. He has worked with Johan Oviedo and Génesis Cabrera and other pitchers who figure to be important pieces as the Cardinals look to find the depth needed to get through the 162-game season.

The Cardinals have not ruled out Reyes as a starting pitcher in the future, but president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said he could see over 100 innings in a multi-inning relief role. There has been recent buzz, however, that he could see some time in the ninth inning, further indicating just how much the organization believes in their once top pitching prospect.

Could Mauricio Dubon be Giants’ long-term center fielder?

Mauricio Dubon’s move to center field last season coincided with the team’s ascent from an 8-16 team to one that fought for a playoff position until the end of the season.

There were growing pains, of course, but some people inside the Giants organization are convinced that he will be the long-term answer in center field. It was part of the reason why the organization acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers in July 2019, believing his athleticism would translate all over the field defensively, including in the outfield.

But Giants officials have loved what they have seen from Dubon at the plate this spring. He has drawn nine walks in 33 plate appearances after walking only 15 times in 177 plate appearances last season. He has also added 15 pounds to a once lanky frame and is making hard contact more consistently, hitting .292 with a.486 OPS in 22 at-bats, with the organization hopeful it will soon translate to extra-base hits in games.

“Dubon really stands out as a player that’s made significant adjustments to his approach,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Last year, he improved his walk rate relative to his career norms. And I think that you want to see it again, you want to see that continue. And he’s demonstrated that he can stay more balanced now than he was able to stay last year, stay in his legs more, have a more calm approach to play.”

Around the Horn:

  • Salvador Perez’s four-year, $82 million contract extension is the biggest deal in Royals history, surpassing Alex Gordon’s $72 million deal in 2016.
  • Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the New York Mets are willing to go to $300 million to sign Francisco Lindor to a contract extension. The team, however, may need to get closer to the $340 million extension that Fernando Tatis Jr. signed in order to get a deal done.
  • Carlos Carrasco has a hamstring strain and will miss the start of the regular season, putting the team in a precarious position just months after acquiring Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians to round out their rotation.

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