Meet Bobby Witt Jr. the top high school baseball prospect
The moment Bobby Witt Jr. has been awaiting arrives this week.
“This is what we’ve worked for since August, even the last three years,” he said Saturday.
No, it’s not the MLB First-Year Player Draft on Monday night.
Oh, he has anticipated that, too, but it won’t take precedence over what will happen this week as he leads Colleyville Heritage to the first Class 5A state tournament in school history.
Oh, come on. Witt could be the top overall selection — the coveted 1/1 — of the entire draft. No high school game could outweigh having his name called first, or even second or third, in the draft.
The kid, the son of former Rangers right-hander Bobby Witt, loves baseball and loves his Colleyville Heritage teammates, many of whom he played with before they became Panthers.
“His No. 1 priority right now and his focus is trying to win a state championship for Colleyville Heritage High School,” Witt Sr. said. “There’s no doubt about that. He loves his teammates. A lot of these kids he’s been with and been playing against since he was 10 years old. Ultimately, that’s the goal.”
But the draft is happening, and the Witts are a team. Dad, now a player-agent with the Octagon Sports and Entertainment Agency, advises Junior and has told him everything he knows is happening.
Surprisingly, that hasn’t been much and won’t be much until the final 24 hours before the draft begins.
Many in the industry have predicted that Witt, the power-hitting and slick-fielding shortstop, will be selected second overall by the Kansas City Royals after the Baltimore Orioles select Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. The last player from Tarrant County to go as high as No. 2 in the draft was Ben Grieve, son of Texas Rangers Hall of Famer Tom Grieve, in 1994 from Arlington Martin.
There is little chance that Witt makes his way to the Rangers, who select eighth overall.
The Rangers aren’t fooling themselves. They, like the rest of the baseball world, know how special Witt is as a player and have come to learn that he’s also special as a person and teammate.
“A great kid from a great family,” Rangers Hall of Famer Michael Young said. “He’s been playing ultra competitive baseball for the last four years. He’s ready.”
Playing baseball has kept Witt’s mind occupied, and so has being an high school senior. The past two weeks, dating to practices for the Panthers’ playoff series against Mansfield Legacy, also included his final days as a high school student and a graduation ceremony Thursday night.
There were plans for the senior prom, but Mother Nature had others plans.
The draft? Those plans are developing.
May 13: Another not-so-ordinary practice
All that happened on this Monday, three days before a Class 5A Region I quarterfinal series against Mansfield Legacy, was USA Today ranking Colleyville Heritage as the country’s No. 3 team.
Even then, practice was the same as always. Well, maybe not always.
Baseball officials and scouts from across MLB have been regulars at practices and games this season. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was one of five GMs to watch Witt in person, joining GMs from the Orioles, Royals, Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers — the clubs with the first five picks in the draft.
Two Hall of Famers working in front offices also came to a Panthers practice, Jim Thome with the White Sox and Alan Trammell with the Tigers.
At this point in the process, and in his life, Witt isn’t awed when a baseball bigwig shows up. His dad played 16 season in the majors, was the Rangers’ first-round pick in 1985, and was a member of the 2001 World Series-winning Arizona Diamondbacks.
One of Junior’s best friends and teammates is Mason Greer, whose father is Rangers Hall of Famer Rusty Greer. Two of Junior’s brothers-in-law, James Russell and Zach Neal, played professionally.
Bobby Witt Jr. was a toddler when his dad retired from baseball, but he’s been around baseball players his whole life. And as a top talent who has traveled to baseball showcases around the country, Witt knows what’s going on beyond the backstop behind him.
“I’ve been playing in front of those evaluators pretty much my whole life, honestly,” he said. “I appreciate what they do. They’re grinding out there just like I am. It’s pretty awesome to see a Hall of Famer coming here. To see those guys and what they’ve done, it’s amazing.”
If he feels any pressure or is distracted, it doesn’t show.
“He’s very humble, very appreciative of the process he’s going through, and kind of recognizes how neat it is,” Colleyville Heritage coach Alan McDougal said.
“You look at it, and what’s going to happen [with the draft], while it’s a little bit of an unknown, he knows something’s going to happen. Whereas with us, there’s some unknown and some unfinished business in his mind. He’s really focused, and that really helps everyone else follow suit with that.”
Scouts see a five-tool player, meaning Witt can hit for power, can hit for average, is a fast runner, excels defensively and has a strong arm. Those skills are easy for a layman to see.
His 2019 stats bear that out. As of May 30, Witt was batting .500 (63 for 126) with 15 homers, 15 doubles, eight triples, 54 RBIs, 62 runs, a 1.103 slugging percentage and a 1.675 OPS. He had more stolen bases (17) than strikeouts (11) in 154 plate appearances.
Witt is a relief pitcher, too, and had a 1.62 ERA in only 8 2/3 innings, but had struck out 18 and walked only one.
He is the Gatorade National Player of the Year and the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year. Witt was also a two-time Under Armour All-American Game selection, was the 2018 Under Armour Game MVP, played for the 2018 USA Baseball 18U National Team and was the MVP of the 2018 Pan-American Championship in Panama, and won the High School Home Run Derby last year at the MLB All-Star Game in Washington.
On top of that, he graduated with a weighted 4.0 grade-point average and volunteered in several programs at Colleyville Heritage and in the community.
“I feel like I’ve put myself in a good spot,” Witt said. “It’s just you always want to do well no matter what it is. Whenever you do bad you get kind of down on yourself, but you learn from it and build off of it.”
An American League scout said Witt compares favorably to former All-Star Troy Tulowitzki and his replacement with the Colorado Rockies, Trevor Story, from Irving. Another comp is Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who was the first overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Everyone who has been around Witt remarks about what is referred to as the sixth tool, intangibles. Those who have seen Witt say he has tremendous instincts on the field and works tirelessly on the field, in the gym and doing extra hitting away from the team. He’s a leader. He competes.
“I love the competition,” he said.
And that gets back to why the Colleyville Heritage run through the playoffs means more to Witt than where he goes in the MLB draft. The next stop is Round Rock, where Colleyville Heritage (37-3) takes on Corsicana (29-10) at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Class 5A semifinals.
“I’ve got the state championship on my mind and also the draft,” he said. “It’s going to happen. It’s not like it’s just going to go away or anything. But it’s just really on the team, going out here and trying to do something we’ve never done before.”
May 16-18: ‘Baseball definitely over prom, for sure’
Tournament scheduling is not perfect, and never was that more evident than for the Colleyville Heritage-Mansfield Legacy best-of-3 series at Dallas Baptist. That wasn’t just the case for the May 16 opener. None of the three games started on time.
Witt went 3 for 4 with a triple and two singles, including the one that brought the 10-run mercy rule into affect. Colleyville Heritage won Game 1, 13-3, after a delay of more than two hours as the early game took more than three hours to complete.
The Panthers aren’t just Witt and bunch of guys riding his coat tails. The power-hitting, strong-armed Greer is committed to Auburn, and catcher Nic Balsano, who is going to Baylor, is one of five others committed to play next season in college.
The late start for Game 1 didn’t scare away a couple of Texas Rangers officials who stopped to watch Witt play — farm director Matt Blood and director of pro scouting Ross Fenstermaker.
Blood was the director of the 18-under national team for USA Baseball before the Rangers hired him during the off-season, so he knows Witt better than anyone with the Rangers.
Fenstermaker said that he had stopped by Colleyville Heritage multiple times on his way home from Globe Life Park. Daniels said he tries to see top draft-eligible players from the area each year.
Daniels, amateur scouting director Kip Fagg and Young, a special assistant to the GM, visited Witt and his family at their home.
Witt falling to the Rangers at No. 8 would be a shock, but they thoroughly scout all top players in the draft. It was only a year ago when arguably the top prep pitcher in the draft fell to them.
“We didn’t expect Cole Winn was going to be there at 15,” Daniels said. “You always have to be prepared.”
McDougal, in his 14th season as Colleyville Heritage’s coach, didn’t want to have to prepare for a Game 3. Rain was in the forecast for the 1 p.m. scheduled first pitch and a delay would put the players up against prom that night.
A lengthy delay might take the Panthers players out of prom all together.
“There might be some unhappy mamas,” McDougal said.
McDougal was three outs away from not having to worry about a win-or-go-home Game 3. Colleyville Heritage took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning of Game 2 on May 17 and had their closer, Witt, on the mound.
But he recorded only one out as Mansfield Legacy avoided elimination with a 3-2 walk-off win.
And the rain did come, though later than initially feared. First pitch was pushed back to avoid a delay, but the game was still delayed thanks to an hours-long deluge and frequent lightning strikes.
Prom? It went on without the Panthers.
Game 3 started so late, in fact, that some students were able to attend the game after attending prom. First pitch arrived after 10 p.m., and the Panthers didn’t earn a 7-3 victory until nearly 1 a.m.
Witt closed this one out on mound. He finished the game with two strikeouts, and the Panthers advanced to the regional semifinals against Amarillo High. Even better news is that Witt’s girlfriend didn’t hold missing prom over him.
“Baseball definitely over prom, for sure,” Witt said. “She was 100 percent all-in for the baseball thing. She knew as soon as we lost that game that it probably wasn’t happening. She supported me and knew baseball was coming first. The thing we ordered was a win, and we got the win.”
May 23-24: ‘Ever since I was little I’ve bled crimson’
Next up in the Texas UIL playoffs was a best-of-3 series against Amarillo High, which was played at the University of Oklahoma. That’s not a misprint. It wasn’t unprecedented for two Texas teams to settle a playoff series in Oklahoma, as the Panthers faced Canyon Randall in Norman in 2017.
Amarillo was the team that ended Colleyville Heritage’s postseason run in 2018. Witt said the Panthers were determined to not let it happen again, but it didn’t look good May 24 in Game 1.
Colleyville Heritage trailed 6-2 in the third, and it was 6-4 in fifth before the Panthers scored eight times. Witt had the big blast, a grand slam as part of a 2-for-5 game, and Greer went 4 for 4 with a homer, two doubles and three RBIs on his birthday.
They eliminated the Sandies the next day, scoring five in the first and cruising to a 6-0 victory as ace Austin Glaze tossed a one-hitter. On the bus ride home, Witt talked about everyone’s performance but his own.
He relished the bus ride that would take more than three hours.
“It’ll be fun just to be with the boys out here for a little bit,” he said.
Coincidentally, Witt has committed to play baseball at Oklahoma, where his dad, mom and two sisters attended. Most believe there is no chance Witt fulfills his commitment, not with a pile of money headed his way and little chance he will improve his draft stock with two years of college.
Witt said he’s in a win-win situation, either he becomes a professional or plays at the school he grew up loving.
“Ever since I was little I’ve bled crimson,” he said.
May 30: Graduation, Monterey, then the draft
Practices resumed with a quick Memorial Day hitting session in preparation for the regional final against Lubbock Monterey, a best-of-3 series Friday and Saturday at Abilene Christian.
The bus trip west, though, came only after Witt graduated Thursday night at UT-Arlington. He finished off the Panthers’ win over Monterey on Saturday with game-ending strikeout.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Witt said. “We’re kind of speechless, just the feelings that we had.”
In the span of less than three weeks, Witt had to miss his prom to survive a playoff scare, took his final high school class, played a Texas playoff series in Oklahoma, took home the award for the country’s top prep player, graduated from high school, took another step toward the state finals, and would be selected in the MLB draft.
“You sit there and look at these seven to 10 days, and holy moly,” McDougal said. “Get a Gatorade award, graduate, get to play in the regional final, possibly the state tournament and go in the MLB draft. It’s nuts.”
MLB Network will have a camera crew at the Witts’ home Monday for his draft party, and local stations have requested to be there when Junior’s name is called. The goal is to keep the distractions to a minimum so that he can enjoy what he will one day look back upon as the moment where his pro career started.
But all Witt knows is that he’s going to be drafted. He doesn’t know which team will grab him.
Multiple mock drafts have him going to the Royals, who share their spring home with the Rangers in Surprise, Arizona., but he hasn’t raced out to Lids for a Royals cap.
“I’ve seen them quite a bit, just throughout social media,” he said. “It’s hard not to see them. I don’t really look at the teams. I can’t decide anything about the teams. It’s their decision whether they like me or not. I’ve just got to go out there each day and try to do the best I can.”
Since 2012, MLB has established bonus pools for teams to cover their first 10 picks, and each of those picks comes with an assigned slot value. The teams at the top of the draft order — those with the worst records from the previous season -- have the biggest pools.
If only it were that simple.
Teams can try to sign picks below slot and use the savings for later on in the draft. That’s often the case for teams that have multiple picks on the first day of the draft.
The speculation late last week was that multiple teams were angling to do that. Among them was the Orioles, whose GM, Mike Elias, helped orchestrate the 2012 draft for the Astros.
They went with Correa even though he wasn’t considered the top player available. But he signed below slot, and the Astros used much of the $2 million they saved on Correa to sign right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. to a contract worth twice his slot at No. 41 overall.
The Orioles have the top overall pick, as well as selections at 42, 71 and 79 overall. One website speculated Baltimore could select Witt or advanced college hitter Andrew Vaughn from California with the top pick, which has a slot value of $8,415,300.
The slot for the second pick is $7,789,900. Bobby Witt Sr. made $179,000 as the No. 3 overall pick in 1985.
Vaughn going 1/1 could send Witt to the White Sox at No. 3, the Miami Marlins at No. 4 or the Tigers at No. 5. The Royals, according to one publication, are so enamored with Witt that they might still take him at No. 2 in that scenario even if Oregon State’s Rutschman is available.
College hitters often surge in the scouts’ eyes as the draft nears, and the best hitters are still playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend. As long as there is time to evaluate, teams will use it.
That has put any negotiations on hold.
“I haven’t really heard too much,” Witt Sr. said Thursday. “I would think Sunday evening, maybe Monday we start hearing something.”
A baseball executive said that a potential mark against Witt is that he turns 19 on June 14. That’s old for a high school senior in some teams’ eyes, the executive said. Scouts have told other publications that there is concern about Witt’s hit tool because he was aggressive at the plate during the summer circuit a year ago.
The good news is that the person Witt trusts most, his namesake, has advised clients for nearly two decades and knows that drafts usually don’t go as expected.
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years, the agent thing and being involved in the draft,” said Witt Sr., who will turn contract negotiations to veteran agent Scott Puchino. “I’ve seen these things sometimes go in mysterious ways. You can read and look into all the social media outlets and what’s going on and the projections. Until it actually happens, we don’t know.”
The dream for Junior, though, has always been to play professional baseball, and that won’t change no matter where he goes in the draft. Witt admits that he has allowed himself to dream a little about his future.
But only a little.
“Ever since I started watching the game, I was like, ‘I want to do that when I grow up,’” he said. “I have a Derek Jeter jersey autographed on my wall, and I’ll look at that and say, ‘Maybe one day.’”
He takes the first step toward one day Monday.