Hunter Dozier was the breakout star for the Royals in 2019, going from potential non-tender candidate to potential All-Star after an outstanding season that saw him hit .279/.348/.522 with 26 home runs. There is no question that Dozier will be in the Royals’ plans for 2020, the only question is where he will play. The Royals experimented by having him play some games in right field towards the end of the season, and at the Winter Meetings, Dayton Moore suggested they will look to move him around.
“We can move Hunter to right. Hunter can play some first base. We know he can play some third.”
So where should we see Hunter Dozier spend the most time on the field?
If you want to have Hunter Dozier play at a position in which there is a glaring need, it would be at third base. Dozier is most familiar with the position, having spent 137 of his 224 MLB games there. And there is no big prospect pushing him off the position. The most likely in-house candidate to replace him would be Kelvin Gutierrez. But Gutierrez has pretty limited upside and broke his foot near the end of last year, causing Moore to suggest he won’t be ready to take over the big league job on Opening Day.
Instead, the Royals would seek to replace Dozier at third through free agency. At first blush, it may seem odd to pursue a player at a position that your best hitter plays. But when you factor in defense, that decision makes more sense. Of the 32 players who spent at least 500 innings at third base, Dozier ranked 28th in Defensive Runs Above Average. His numbers weren’t any better in 2018, so it doesn’t appear to be an aberration. Dozier has pretty sure hands, but his range is pretty limited at third, and knowing how the Royals emphasize defense, that could be an issue.
If Dozier is too limited defensively to make it a third, could he give right field a try? The Royals do have a need in the outfield, especially if Alex Gordon decides to retire. Having Merrifield and Dozier in your outfield would give you one of the better offensive outfields in the league. Dozier seems to have a strong enough arm to make it a go in right field, the only question would be his range. The sample size is quite small - he played just 20 games in right field last season - but he performed adequately in his transition to right field.
But Kauffman has a pretty spacious outfield with a hard surface that causes balls to skip quickly into deep alleys. Dozier has some athleticism but he is not a particularly fast defender, and asking him to patrol right field in Kauffman may be too daunting. Luckily, outfield tutor Rusty Kuntz has returned to the coaching staff, so Dozier should be in good hands. But moving Dozier off third to right field could also block opportunities for some of the other younger outfielders the Royals may want to get a look at, players like Brett Phillips, Bubba Starling, Ryan McBroom, and Khalil Lee.
The most common transition for players that can’t cut it defensively at third base is across the diamond to first. The Royals were hoping Ryan O’Hearn would solidify that position for them, but he had a disastrous 2019 season, spending it under the Mendoza Line with a demotion to Omaha midway through the season. Ryan McBroom is a right-handed option at first, but with no other prospects coming up until Nick Pratto gets his career back on track, the Royals could decide that Hunter Dozier is the future at first base.
Dozier certainly has the bat to play at first. His 125 OPS+ last year was better than all but eight hitters in baseball with at least 400 plate appearances who spent at least half their time at first base. And while he may not have the range to play third, he would be asked to do less at first. He has the hands to play first base, considering his experience starting out as a shortstop in college, then moving to third base, On the other hand, moving Dozier to first would effectively block Ryan O’Hearn, and it would also inhibit the Royals from playing Salvador Perez at first base, which they want to do on occasion to ease him back into the lineup.
Where should Hunter Dozier play in 2020?
This poll is closed