Royals top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. won’t open the season in big leagues

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Bobby Witt Jr. made it a legit conversation with an outstanding spring, but the Royals will not have their top prospect on their Opening Day roster.

Spring training stats have to taken in the proper context, but there’s no denying what Kansas City Royals top prospect Bobby Witt, Jr. has done in Cactus League play (11-for-38, three home runs in 40 plate appearances). He has cooled a bit over the last week or so though, and on Sunday Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Royals have demoted the second-overall pick in the 2019 draft to the minor leagues.

Witt is ranked as a top-10 prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus this year. Strictly on merit, he has a case to be on the Royals’ Opening Day roster.

Are the Royals manipulating Bobby Witt, Jr’.s service time?

Witt is just 20 years old, and he lost a full season of minor-league experience to the pandemic in 2020. More specifically, he has just 37 professional games under his belt — all in rookie league the year he was drafted out of high school. Side work at the Royals’ alternate site last year can’t quite replicate what he missed.

As cited by R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports, the Royals don’t have a history of service time manipulation. Eric Hosmer was promoted in May of 2011, when waiting would have saved future money. More recently, rookie pitchers Brady Singer and Kris Bubic were with the team most of last season.

Witt’s primary position is shortstop. The Royals are in a solid position there with Adalberto Mondesi as the starter, and according to FanSided’s Robert Murray they’re working on a long-term contract extension with him. So Witt may wind up at second base when he does arrive in the big leagues. In any case, the Royals don’t have to rush Witt strictly to fill a void.

Witt will likely start the season in Single-A or Double-A, and his major-league debut may very well come this year. But waiting until May or later to promote him is not the Royals manipulating his service time, as we’ve seen elsewhere in some cases (Kris Bryant, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.).

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