KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Royals owner John Sherman was trying to relax in the warm spring training sun in Arizona, but fans kept coming up to him with the same question that had nothing to do with collective-bargaining agreements or lockouts.
“When’s he going to come up?” Sherman recalled with a smile.
That would be Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and the best to come through the organization in years.
“I always say, ‘That’s above my pay grade.’ Someone else makes that decision,” Sherman said. “But as a fan, I’m ready to see him. I think there’s some anticipation that that day may be fairly soon, but we’ll see.”
Witt has been raking throughout spring training, seemingly making it impossible for the Royals to keep him in the minors. And should Witt join the club, it will represent a unique convergence of past, present and future taking the field inside Kauffman Stadium.
Witt represents the future, along with young pitchers such as Brady Singer and Kris Bubic who started to take their lumps the past couple seasons. The present has been represented by catcher Salvador Perez and outfielder Whit Merrifield, a pair of veterans in a clubhouse that has continued to trend younger and younger in recent years.
And the past? That would be Zack Greinke, the former Cy Young winner, whose trade to Milwaukee more than a decade ago allowed the Royals to piece together back-to-back World Series teams even as he chased riches elsewhere.
In one of the surprising moves of the offseason, Greinke agreed to a deal to return to Kansas City, hoping to keep his career going where it all began while simultaneously lending his experience to an otherwise youthful starting rotation.
“I’m hoping to have a lot of fun this year,” said the 38-year-old Greinke, who made his big league debut for Kansas City in 2004, when Witt was 3 years old. “This is a team I singled out that I wanted to play for. It was my No. 1 choice.”
The Royals were happy to hear it, and even happier to hear his willingness to help Singer and Co.
“It was one of the things he talked about right away when we had conversations,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He believes he has something to bring to these guys. He knows it. People are going to be watching everything he does.”
Just like people are going to be watching everything Witt does on the opposite end of the age spectrum.
“The X-factor for him might be his passion for the game,” Matheny said of Witt, who hit .290 with 33 homers and 97 RBIs at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. ”This kid loves walking in here and throwing on that jersey.”
Especially when it says “Royals” across the chest. Kansas City opens the season at home April 7 against the Cleveland Guardians.
ENJOY THE K
The biggest offseason news in Kansas City might have been Sherman’s admission that the club was considering the future of Kauffman Stadium, and whether a downtown ballpark might be in the cards. The club has toyed with the idea in the past but has always opted to remain at the K.
DON’T DOZE ON DOZIER
Hunter Dozier’s first season after signing a lucrative four-year deal was a downer in just about every respect. He hit just .216 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs, becoming a liability in the middle of a lineup that needed some production. But after he simplified his swing during the offseason, Dozier believes he’s ready for a bounce-back year.
“I worked really hard this offseason trying to get back to what I know I can do,” Dozier said.
Adalberto Mondesi has proven to be one of the game’s dynamic players when he’s healthy, leading the league with 24 stolen bases during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. But Mondesi has only played more than 100 games once in six seasons, and he hit just .230 with six homers and 15 steals while limited to 35 games by injuries last season.
“I changed a lot of things,” Mondesi said of his offseason, which included working with a different trainer in an attempt to stay healthy. “Just focused on the things I need to focus on and I feel good right now and see what’s going to happen.”
Greinke is the biggest addition this season, but the Royals also brought in left-hander Amir Garrett from Cincinnati in a trade for Mike Minor. They hope he can return to his 2020 form after a down season and provide help in the bullpen.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
MJ Melendez is perhaps the second-most tantalizing prospect in the Royals system behind Witt, especially after leading the minors last season with 41 homers. But with Perez firmly entrenched behind the plate, Melendez has been tinkering with playing other positions in the hopes of finding his way onto the field at some point this season.
“He’s absolutely come a long way with his swing,” Matheny said. “He’s dangerous.”
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