The talk of camp so far has been Bobby Witt, Jr., who has shown why he was the second overall pick of the 2019 draft, with three home runs in camp, including an awe-inspiring 484-foot blast. Just two years ago, Witt was still in high school, now he is hitting the reigning Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber. As teammate Brady Singer has attested, the kid seemingly has 15 tools.
It is not the first time a top Royals prospect has been invited to big league camp to show what he can do. Let’s look at how Witt’s spring training performance compares to some other top prospects in recent Royals history.
Alex Gordon, 2007
In 2005, Alex Gordon was named Baseball America College Player of the Year. in 2006, he was named Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year. Going into the 2007 season, he was ranked the #2 prospect in all of baseball and widely expected to become the team’s third baseman that year. Still, he wasn’t a lock, especially with incumbent third baseman Mark Teahen still on the roster. But Gordo had a terrific camp, hitting .317/.419/.556 with two home runs in 63 at-bats, despite a shoulder injury mid-way through camp.
“He’s been great,” manager Buddy Bell said. “I’ll say this: I don’t think he has to play any better to make the team.”
The Royals gave Gordo the Opening Day assignment at third base and he faced Boston All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling with the bases loaded in his very first at-bat. He struck out, and would struggle most of the first half, hovering under the Mendoza Line in mid-June. He would turn things around and finish at .247/.314/.411, but it would take a few years before Alex Gordon became the All-Star we would grow to love.
Billy Butler, 2007
Despite all the accolades, Gordon was not the prospect that was the talk of camp in 2007. it was a young 20-year old from Florida named Billy Ray Butler. He had hit .331/.388/.499 with 15 home runs in Double-A the previous season and was ranked the #25 prospect in the game by Baseball America. Everyone with the club said he had virtually no shot to make the roster – Mike Sweeney was occupying the DH spot and the consensus was that Butler still had to work on his defense. But it was hard to ignore his long home runs and a line of .419/.514/.774 in 31 at-bats.
“I really haven’t seen a lot of weaknesses at the plate,” manager Buddy Bell said. “Even though it’s spring training, and you’re not seeing the same pitchers that you’ll see in the regular season, he still has a really good clue of what he’s doing up there.”
Butler would be assigned to Triple-A Omaha, where he would dominate. By May 1, just past his 21st birthday, he would make his Major League debut, in left field no less. He struggled with the bat initially, earning a demotion, but was back in by the end of June, and finished with a solid line of .292/.347/.447.
Eric Hosmer, 2011
The Royals knew they had something special in camp even before Baseball America anointed their farm system as the best in baseball. Eric Hosmer brought a swagger to spring training that signaled that he would be in “The Show” before long. And he backed up his confidence with an amazing performance. He only had 20 at-bats Cheap Kansas City Royals Jerseys with the big league squad that spring, but he hit .450/.520/.950 with two home runs, impressing his veteran teammates.
“But how about Hosmer? Holy cow! That was amazing. I thought he hit it through the bullpen wall.”
-Outfielder Mitch Maier
The club still assigned him to minor league camp midway through camp, but Hosmer would only spend 26 games with Triple-A Omaha. After a torrid start, he was called up to replace Kila Ka’aihue at first base on May 6. He hit .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs in 128 games and would become a fixture at first base for the Royals for years.
Mike Moustakas, 2011
Moose had been drafted one year before Hosmer, and by 2010 he was putting up a monster season. He smacked 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .322/.369/.630 and earning Royals Minor League Player of the Year honors. With short-term options like Wilson Betimet and Mike Aviles competing for the third base job, it seemed as if Moustakas might have a shot to make the big league club. But Dayton Moore took a cautious approach.