Texas native Witt joins Home Run Derby field

Anne Rogers, MLB.com / Royals Reporter

Bobby Witt Jr. is no stranger to Texas-sized lights and attention.

The Colleyville, Texas, native grew up just north of Arlington, home of the Rangers and the franchise his dad, Bobby Witt, was with for 11 of his 16 seasons pitching in the Major Leagues. The younger Witt made a name for himself as a high school prospect in Texas by hitting home runs, stealing bases and playing elite defense.

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In 2024, he’s doing all those things and more as the Royals’ everyday shortstop and face of the franchise — and an MLB superstar. So it makes plenty of sense that the hometown kid will be stepping into that spotlight again on July 15, when he takes part in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Globe Life Field in Arlington on ESPN at 7 p.m. CT.

Witt announced his Derby participation on Monday, becoming the fourth player to announce his spot in the eight-player field behind Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson, Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm and Mets first baseman Pete Alonso.

The 24-year-old Witt is familiar with the 23-year-old Henderson, as both are shortstops and have been crossing paths as young prospects since high school. Witt and Bohm have hit together a few times in Texas this offseason.

“I’m just going to enjoy it, and whatever happens, happens,” Witt said. “Just have fun being back in Texas.”

Witt will become the fifth Royal to participate in the Home Run Derby and first since Salvador Perez in 2021, when the catcher blasted 28 home runs but lost to Alonso, the eventual champion, in the first round. The other Royals who have participated are Bo Jackson (1989), Danny Tartabull (’91) and Mike Moustakas (2017).

When Major League Baseball approached Witt about participating this year, he thought back to all the Home Run Derby events he watched as a kid. He remembers Josh Hamilton’s epic victory in 2008 at Yankee Stadium, as well as Prince Fielder winning it in ‘12 at Kauffman Stadium.

Before Witt could say yes, though, he had to get some advice from Perez.

“How did your body feel, what did you think?” Witt said. “He’s like, ‘You have to do it, you have to do it. Talking to Sal, the training staff, coaching staff, teammates too, they’re all for me doing it. I wanted their OK. And it’s an honor to be asked to do that and represent the Royals.”

Participating in the Home Run Derby is a well-deserved honor for Witt, who is slashing .324/.372/.564 with 15 home runs and 22 stolen bases. While his homer total isn’t among baseball’s best, Witt’s 25 doubles are tied for third in baseball and his nine triples are second most. His 92.7 mph average exit velocity ranks in the 94th percentile in baseball.

He’ll still have his work cut out for him in the Derby, needing to best what is sure to be a loaded field. The event will follow a different format from previous years: The top four hitters from an eight-man pool will advance to the semifinals, which will be a bracket-style round determined by their Round 1 home run totals. The top two will then face off in the finals.

The first round and semifinals will be three minutes, with a maximum of 40 pitches thrown. Then, sluggers will get a bonus period that will go until three outs, with every pitch being either a home run or an out. A 425-foot homer in the bonus period unlocks a fourth out.

The finals will be a two-minute round, with a maximum of 27 pitches thrown. The same bonus rules apply. Hitters will also get one timeout in each round.

Throwing to Witt during his rounds will be his brother-in-law James Russell, a former big league reliever who pitched for six seasons with the Cubs and parts of two others with the Braves and Phillies. Russell’s dad, Jeff, pitched for the Rangers in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, and James grew up a Rangers fan before his own career.

Witt said he “definitely” considered asking his dad to take the mound again, but …

“His arm is hanging after pitching 16 years in the big leagues,” Witt said with a grin.

Regardless, it’ll be a family affair for Witt when he takes the stage in Arlington, surrounded by his family and friends and other superstars of the sport.

“I’m just going to enjoy it, because you never know when you get these opportunities,” Witt said. “Make these things last a lifetime. Enjoy it with family and friends and have fun.”