For the first time in his professional baseball career, Hunter Dozier entered spring training as the Royals obvious starting third baseman this season. Over the last eight seasons, there was always Mike Moustakas. Hunter Dozier never really had a chance to be the Royals third baseman. In 2016, what may have been Dozier’s best professional season, Mike Moustakas tore his ACL, but Dozier was still in AA. Cheslor Cuthbert filled in admirably at the big league level and we didn’t get to see Dozier in Kansas City until September.
In 2017, Dozier played in just 33 games. He broke the hamate bone in his hand and never saw the big leagues. After the 2017 season, Dozier went to Mexico to play winter ball, got sick, and lost a bunch of weight. Because of his unlucky 2017, the Royals brought back Moose on a one-year deal and delayed Dozier’s job at third base even longer. Dozier played 102 big league games in 2018, but never really looked right, maybe in part because of his brutal 2017.
No more excuses. Dozier was by all accounts healthy toward the end of the 2018 season and had no reported issues this off-season. In theory, he’s now had at least half of a season and a full off-season to get himself right to be the Royals starting third baseman. I believe that Hunter Dozier, who is finally healthy, is being wildly overlooked by some Royals fans.
Dozier was pretty awful for most of the 2018 season in Kansas City. He got off to a nice start in May, posting a 102 wRC+ in 16 games, but then things turned south. He posted a 56 wRC+ in June with a 32.6% K%, and followed that up with an even worse July, posting a 40 wRC+ with a 37.7% K%. Part of that could be fatigue, given that Dozier didn’t get a full off-season of conditioning, but part of it may be even simpler. This was Dozier’s first ever extended look at the big leagues. Fatigued, over-exposed to big league pitching, Dozier had a really rough summer.
But something clicked in August for Dozier. His strikeout rate fell to 14%, his Hard% (hard hit rate) jumped 17%, and his wRC+ was 111 for the month. This all came just days after Mike Moustakas was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Coincidence?
Maybe, maybe not, but I’m here to tell you that I believe the confidence of knowing that Dozier will be the THE GUY at third base this season is going to do great things for his 2019 season. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if we got August Hunter Dozier for a full season in 2019, which would translate to a .280/.321/.467/.788 hitter with 22 HR and 22 doubles over a full season of 600 plate appearances. I think we’d all take that from Hunter Dozier in a heart beat, right? With offensive numbers like that, and just adequate defense, Dozier becomes a 2 to 3 WAR player.
Hypotheticals are great. Obviously if we could just magically get the best version of every player we’d all take it. But I believe there’s a really good chance that we’re going to get that version of Dozier for a while, and there’s a few of reasons why.
He’s actually, FINALLY healthy
The last time we saw a relatively healthy Hunter Dozier, he was a 24-year old that spent his (2016) season posting a 197 wRC+ in AA with 8 HR in 26 games, a 126 wRC+ with 15 HR in 103 games, and made his big league debut where he struggled a bit but debuted nonetheless. Over the past six seasons, here is a list of qualified hitters age-24-or-younger to post a 125+ wRC+ with 15+ HR in the Pacific Coast League:
- Kyle Tucker (2018)
- Willie Calhoun (2017)
- Dominic Smith (2017)
- Brett Phillips (2017)
- Franchy Cordero (2017)
- Derek Fisher (2017)
- Hunter Dozier (2016)
- Hunter Renfroe (2016)
- Joey Gallo (2016)
- Dan Vogelbach (2016)
- Jon Singleton (2015)
- Peter O’Brien (2015)
- Domingo Santana (2015, 2014)
- Joc Pederson (2014)
There are some misses on that list, but that list is also littered with former top prospects and legit big league power threats. This was the last time we saw a fully healthy, full strength Hunter Dozier in action, and he lit it up.
Dozier made good progress toward the end of 2018
From July 28th on (the day of the Mike Moustakas trade), Hunter Dozier made some major strides. Over his last 187 PA, he slashed .256/.294/.472/.766 with 7 HR, 21 XBH, and a 103 wRC+. His strikeout rate came back to earth, his hard-hit rate sky rocketed, his SwStr% improved, and Hunter Dozier just looked all around better once Moose was traded.
Who knows why this is. Did he get a boost of confidence knowing he’d be the every day third baseman? Was a weight lifted off of his shoulders? What ever it was, the improvements that Dozier made at the end of 2018 have me ecstatic for his 2019 season.
The “contract year” (so to speak) is undefeated
This is by no means a “contract year” for Hunter Dozier. The Royals control him through 2023. This may be however his last shot at having no competition for his job. Kelvin Gutierrez, the third baseman that the Royals acquired for Kelvin Herrera, is coming in hot. Gutierrez is a great defender at the hot corner and his bat is starting to come along. The Royals aren’t going to wait around for Dozier forever. This is his chance. 2019 is his chance to prove he can be a long-term solution for KC at third base. He knows it. I have a feeling he’s going to be giving everything he’s got to make sure he’s “The Guy” again heading into Spring Training in 2019.
I’m really excited to see what Dozier is capable of in 2019. I feel as though we’ve sort of been robbed of his potential over the last couple of seasons, and I’m ready to see what a fully operational Dozier looks like in this lineup.