The Kansas City Royals reassigned four of their top prospects to their minor league camp Monday, including touted shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., whose brilliant spring training nearly caused the club to put him on the Opening Day roster.
The Royals also sent outfielder Kyle Isbel and pitchers Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch to the minor league camp.
The 20-year-old Witt is universally considered the Royals’ top prospect, but he’s blocked at his natural position by young shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. Witt has spent time at second base during spring training, where light-hitting defensive standout Nicky Lopez is the incumbent, but the Royals prefer he get more experience at that position by playing every day.
That should happen once the minor league season begins. Witt has only played 37 professional games, all at the rookie level, and missed out on crucial experience when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of last year’s minor league season.
“We all know he’s earned the respect,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said recently. “A young, talented player with a lot of hype around him who’s earned the respect of his teammates.”
All four players reassigned to minor league camp Monday are among the top 10 in the Royals system, and keeping them off the big league roster also keeps their service time from starting, potentially giving the club an extra year of control.
The second overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft, Witt hit .289 with three homers during exhibition play, one homer estimated at 484 feet. He also made a few dazzling plays in the field, even at a relatively new position.
“He could be an elite defender really anywhere on the diamond,” Moore said. “We could put him in center field and he could cover Kauffman Stadium. Of course, we’ve got a terrific young shortstop in Adalberto Mondesi. But he definitely would be able to perform very well there. He’s just a special talent, and it’s been a joy watching him compete this spring.”
The 24-year-old Isbel hit .333 with two homers and three RBIs in 17 games this spring, but his reassignment amounted to a numbers game — the Royals are content with Andrew Benintendi in left field, Michael Taylor in center and Whit Merrifield in right. And while he could have been the fourth outfielder, much like Witt, the Royals want him to get regular work.
Kowar and Lynch were both longshots to make the Opening Day roster, but they figure to be linchpins of the pitching staff for years to come. Kowar was 2-1 with a 6.97 ERA while Lynch was 1-2 with an 8.38 ERA.
Both were first-round picks in 2018, when the Royals also drafted right-hander Brady Singer and left-hander Kris Bubic — who made their big league debuts last season — within the first 40 selections overall.