The Kansas City Royals have had four winners of the American League Rookie of the Year Award, last shortstop Angel Berroa in 2003 and he ended up being a bust overall. With the 2022 MLB season opening on Thursday, the betting favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year is Royals third baseman Bobby Witt Jr. at +350 on the MLB odds.
Witt is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport and many times teams will keep top rookies in the minors for a few weeks for service time reasons, but Witt has broken camp with the big club and should be the team’s every-day third baseman. Kansas City opens at home Thursday vs. Cleveland.
The son of 16-year MLB pitcher Bobby Witt was the 2019 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year was selected second overall by the Royals and signed for a franchise-record $7,789,900. Last year he slashed .290/.361/.575 with 33 homers and 29 steals at Double-A and Triple-A. He fell one theft shy of being the minors’ ninth 30-30 player since 2000. He was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year.
Even Royals Hall of Famer George Brett said recently of Witt on MLB Network: “He’s a talent I’ve never seen before at this age.”
The spring, the Royals decided Adalberto Mondesi was their best option at shortstop — while acknowledging they still view Witt as their future shortstop — and Nicky Lopez their best second baseman. Third base was Witt’s job to win. He grabbed it and never let go. Witt posted a 1.222 OPS in 12 Cactus League games with three towering home runs. He beat out infield hits and stole two bases.
All of this isn’t to say Witt won’t struggle at the big-league level, at least early on. If there’s one concern, it lies in his 22.5 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A Omaha.
Detroit Tigers slugger Spencer Torkelson is next on the AL odds at +540 and he also will open with the big club – the Tigers start their season Friday vs. the White Sox. Torkelson, who probably will play first base most days, is ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect. In 2020, the Tigers made him the first corner infielder to go No. 1 overall since Adrian Gonzalez in 2000. Torkelson signed for $8,416,300, which still stands as a Draft record. He backed up that investment with a stellar first season in 2020, climbing from High-A to Triple-A while hitting .267/.383/.552 with 30 homers over 121 games.
By cracking the Tigers’ Opening Day roster, Torkelson also will become the first Tigers position player to make his Major League debut in the Opening Day lineup since Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore did it in 2010. Torkelson can mash but is a patient hitter with a keen awareness of his strike zone, willing and able to take walks but also capable of fouling off pitches to extend at-bats until he recognizes a mistake. He can crush fastballs, but his pitch recognition is advanced.
The third favorite is Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez, who is +580 for AL Rookie of the Year and he also will star the season in the majors. Rodriguez is ranked the No. 3 prospect in MLB. Last season in the minors, he hit .347/.441/.560 between High-A and Double-A, while also going to the Futures Game and helping the Dominican Republic earn a bronze medal in the Olympics.
Over 12 Cactus League games this spring, Rodríguez was 13-for-31 overall for a .419/.471/.839 slash line and team-leading 1.310 OPS. He tacked on three stolen bases in four attempts, also flashing his wheels when he circled the bases on an inside-the-park home run, and drew three walks against nine strikeouts.
The 21-year-old is expected to be the regular center fielder and be a run-producing fixture in a lineup that was the club’s most notable weakness a year ago. Rodriguez figures to join an outfield rotation that also includes offseason acquisition Jesse Winker, veteran right fielder Mitch Haniger and another touted, hopeful building block in Jarred Kelenic.
Rodriguez likely will hit fifth or sixth in the batting order and see action at all three outfield spots. Despite his upside, Rodríguez has all of 46 games under his belt above High-A and just 158 Minors games total in the U.S. since signing as an international free agent in 2017.Expert Pick For ROYBobby Witt Jr.