I know the Royals are in a very interesting and emotionally fraying race for the final wild card spot … which is why I want to write about something not related to their major league team.
Instead, I’d like to look at Hunter Dozier, the Royals’ most recent first-round draft pick, and a guy many people wrote off as a likely bust and an overreach. I found that commentary confusing. I remember watching and reading draft analysis and being confused about how people were leveling so much criticism against Dozier. Their analysis would usually go like this:
He does everything well but nothing great. He’s got good pop. He hits for average. He’s got a pretty advanced approach. He hits to all fields. He won’t stick at short but could be a solid third baseman and/or a versatile third/second/right field guy. And, by the way, he’s gonna suck.
Huh? How did that make sense? Seriously, go read some of the scouting reports (here) or some of the draft analysis stuff (here). It all reads like less hyperbolic versions of the faux report I just gave. He’s good. He’s good. But he’s not going to be good.
Baseball America even goes so far as to say, “Scouts describe him as a Jeff Kent-style player in a Drew Stubbs body.” Uh, yes please! But they also note that they saw him as a big-time reach. I understand that comps for drafted players are always done on a best-case scenario, but I’ll take Jeff Kent’s production from a top-10 pick every day of the week.
And it’s not like Dozier was a slouch in college. Actually, he was dominant, albeit for a smaller school in Stephen F. Austin State. Also from Baseball America’s blurb on him, “with a month to go before the draft, he was hitting .404 and ranked fourth in NCAA Division I in doubles (22), homers (14) and slugging (.770).” I also remember seeing an adjusted homerun total for him (yes, someone did a park adjustment for the college parks players hit in, which is just crazy), and it showed that his home park wasn’t the easiest to hit homeruns in.
Still, at best, Dozier was seen as a smart, money-saving move so the Royals could draft Sean Manaea at pick 34, but to be honest, I was more excited about the Dozier pick. Big, strong, moves well, hits with power, and knows the strikezone. That’s something to get excited about. Manaea may be good, but a guy with an injured hip who won’t play for a while is tough to get excited about. A guy who may be a more athletic Jeff Kent is easy to get excited about.
With his professional career started, Dozier seems to be surpassing his very meager expectations. In 67 games at Idaho Falls and Lexington, he has hit .306/.398/.498 with 30 doubles, seven home runs, and 51 RBI. He’s walked 38 times and only struck out 36. Perhaps most impressive is how he didn’t let an early season hitting slump derail him. He didn’t tear the cover off the ball right away at Idaho Falls, but he kept taking walks and having a good approach which allowed him to quickly put it together. When hitters have a good, consistent approach, they don’t stay in slumps long.
The Royals front office is praising his advanced approach and power potential. In what I see as a sign that they think he’s both mature and capable of moving quickly through the organization, they’ve decided to send him to the Advanced Instructional League. I’m speculating, but I’m guessing they want him to work on playing positions other than shortstop, probably including third base, second base, and the outfield. Or maybe they just want him to keep getting at bats so they can feel comfortable assigning him to Wilmington to start next season (please, please, please, please, please!).
Of course, Dozier should be a little more mature than most. He’s 22 years old now, and needs to be someone who can move fairly quickly through the minor leagues. I would be pleasantly surprised if he opens next season at Wilmington, but he may open the season in Lexington for a couple weeks before moving up and could be in AA by the end of next year, ready to make a push for big league playing time in late 2015. If they choose to start him in Wilmington, which makes sense if he’s as mature as he seems to be, then he may be ready by early-to-mid 2015.
I’m excited to see him progress through the minors and hope he holds onto that good approach. I think his power may continue to develop so some of those doubles become homeruns, which will be important for a team that struggles to hit homeruns. But the thing I like most about Dozier, and this is going to make me sound like a traditionalist, is his makeup. When he was drafted, people in the local sports media immediately started comparing him to Alex Gordon in terms of his work ethic. He’s characterized as a worker, a grinder, a gym rat. His body certainly looks like the product of many hours spent in the gym. Those types of guys usually get the most out of their abilities, which makes it more likely that the Jeff Kent comparison isn’t just pie-in-the-sky hope but a real possibility.