Can Bobby Witt Jr. Bag an Extra Draft Pick for the Royals?

The Kansas City Royals are pinning their hopes for the future on Bobby Witt Jr., in more ways than one.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 29: Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals waves to the crowd after a 12-5 win over the against the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium on September 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Bobby Witt Jr. is one of the most promising young stars in the game.

After a disappointing rookie year by top prospect standards (he was still worth 2.3 fWAR), the 23-year-old burst onto the scene in his sophomore season. With 30 home runs, 49 stolen bases, and 14 OAA, Witt showed off all the tools that once made prospect evaluators (including our own Aram Leighton) salivate.

His performance was enough to earn him a massive extension this winter. The deal guarantees the young shortstop $288.77 million over 11 seasons, while also giving him the chance to opt out at any point over the final four years of the deal, ahead of his age-31 to 34 campaigns.

It’s no mystery why Kansas City signed the homegrown superstar to such a contract. The deal buys out his first three years of free agency, keeping Witt in town until 2030, at minimum. That gives the Royals plenty of time to build around him and open their window of contention.

Ad – content continues below

The Royals are hoping Witt will be the leader of their next great team, both on the field and off.

Yet before that next great Royals team takes shape, there is something else Witt can offer the club. With a strong enough season in 2024, the second-overall selection in the 2019 draft can potentially bag his team another top pick.

Bobby Witt Jr. and the Prospect Promotion Incentive

The Prospect Promotion Incentive (PPI) is a clause in the latest collective bargaining agreement that encourages teams to promote their top prospects at the beginning of the season, rather than holding those players in the minors to set back their service clocks.

If a PPI-eligible player (a) accrues a full year of service time and (b) goes on to win Rookie of the Year or finish top-three in MVP or Cy Young voting before he would have qualified for arbitration, his team will get an extra draft pick the following summer. The additional pick comes in a new round immediately following the first round.

To be eligible for the PPI, a player must “appear on at least two of the three Top 100 Prospect rankings released by MLB Pipeline, Baseball America and ESPN” (per A player can only earn the PPI for the team with which he made his MLB debut, and a player can only earn the PPI for his team once. Finally, foreign professionals, namely players from the KBO and NPB, are not eligible.

Since the PPI was introduced two years ago, three young stars have earned their team an additional draft pick: 2022 AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez, 2023 AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson, and 2023 NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll.

Ad – content continues below

In other words, the new initiative has already been successful, but it has yet to be used to its full extent. No player has earned his team a draft pick by finishing top-three in the MVP or Cy Young race.

Could Witt be the first?

Is Bobby Witt Jr. an MVP Candidate?

Earlier this month, published a complete list of second and third-year players eligible for the incentive. The list features plenty of talent, including Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña, Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez, and Red Sox slugger Triston Casas.

However, it would be a huge surprise if any of the pitchers on the list won a Cy Young Award, and only one inclusion is a legitimate MVP contender: Bobby Witt Jr.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – SEPTEMBER 30: Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals in action against the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium on September 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Witt placed seventh in AL MVP voting last season, appearing on 25 of 30 ballots. He finished fifth among all AL players (pitchers and hitters) in FanGraphs WAR, coming within 0.6 fWAR of everyone ahead of him except for Shohei Ohtani.

Meanwhile, the FanGraphs Depth Charts projections see Witt as the ninth-most productive position player in the AL next season. He comes within 0.9 fWAR of all his adversaries except for two: the Yankees’ new Murderers’ Row of Juan Soto and Aaron Judge.

Ad – content continues below

Witt may not be the favorite for AL MVP, but with another big season, it’s easy to picture him in the running. It’s even easier to see him placing top-three. The Royals’ shortstop has a high floor thanks to his youth, durability, and five-tool game. Even better, we have no idea how high his ceiling goes.

I’m not going to say it’s likely that Witt will finish as a finalist for the AL MVP this coming season. At the same time, I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

The Royals Need All the Help They Can Get

For their part, the Royals could certainly benefit from another high draft pick. You could say that of any team – no POBO is turning down a free prospect – but J.J. Picollo and the Kansas City Royals are more desperate than most.

After the recent graduations of Witt, MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Maikel Garcia, and Alec Marsh, the Royals’ farm system is looking thin. It doesn’t help that 2022 first-round pick Gavin Cross struggled in his second pro season, tumbling down prospect lists across the industry.

Baseball America says the Royals have the worst farm system in the league. Kiley McDaniel of ESPN has them 26th, while Keith Law of The Athletic ranks them only one spot higher.

None of this bodes well for the Royals in the immediate future. However, Witt’s massive contract extension is evidence that Picollo isn’t just thinking about the immediate future – he’s in this for the long haul.

Ad – content continues below

An extra pick in the 2025 draft won’t do anything for the team in 2024. He probably won’t have much to offer in 2025, ’26, or even ’27, either. Yet someday, hopefully, when that prospect reaches the majors, Bobby Witt Jr. will still be around. And as long as he is, the Royals’ competitive window will still be open.