Only Manager Mike Matheny, whose search for the best KC Royals lineup continues unabated, knows whether Hunter Dozier will play third base when his club winds up its three-game series with Oakland this afternoon.
Before Saturday’s 9-7 loss to the A’s, which evened the series 1-1, Dozier had played third only one time this season. Once considered Mike Moustakas’ successor at the hot corner—he put in 100 games at third in 2019, the club’s first full season without Moose since before he came up in 2011—he played just one game there in 2020, then 57 last year. The Royals have never seemed comfortable with how Dozier defended the position.
Nevertheless, Dozier was back at his old position Saturday. Nothing he did there had any impact on KC’s loss, but his sudden presence at third, and regular third sacker Emmanuel Rivera’s on the bench, raises an interesting question.
Is Rivera really Kansas City’s best third base choice?
KC Royals third baseman Emmanuel Rivera is struggling with the bat in 2022.
Perhaps Rivera simply deserved or needed a day off Saturday. But if playing Dozier at third means Matheny is considering a change, Rivera’s disappointing bat is the driving force.
For the season, Rivera is slashing .197/.252/.365 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 44 games; his June line—.161/.217/.232—is even worse. Such numbers won’t justify keeping him at third. Corner infielders have to produce.
Can Rivera survive?
Yes, or so history suggests. He has power potential (19 homers across Double-A and Triple-A last season and 12 in A-ball in 2017) and a proven ability to hit for average (.271 in seven minor league campaigns).
He also showed promise when his hot bat at Omaha—.282 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs in 44 games—compelled the Royals to call him up last June. Rivera rapped two hits in his first big league game.
But he fractured his left hamate the very next night and didn’t return until early August. He finished the season with a passable .256 average and .313 OBP.
It’s what Rivera has done lately, though, that controls his fate. And that isn’t much. The Royals need more from a third baseman than he’s providing.
If Emmanuel Rivera isn’t the KC Royals’ solution at third base, who is?
Rivera’s good glove—he’s fielding .976, 10 points better than league percentage, through Friday’s games—won’t be enough to preserve his starting spot at third unless his bat improves significantly.
Unfortunately, Kansas City has few options if it doesn’t. No one presently playing third at Omaha is hitting well enough to deserve promotion. Dozier can play the position, but the Royals may not be able to get past the clear concerns they have about his glove, and they seem to like how he handles DH.
Although Bobby Witt Jr. started the season at third, shortstop remains his natural, and probably best, position, and the fact he’s playing there regularly suggests that’s where the Royals want him. Nicky Lopez has seven games at the hot corner this year, but is hitting .217.
Hopefully, Rivera’s bat will come alive soon and he’ll truly be the third base solution Kansas City sorely needs. Otherwise, the Royals will be forced to play someone at third they’d rather play somewhere else.
Emmanuel Rivera must start hitting if he wants to stay in Kansas City’s lineup.