Hunter Dozier is owed a minimum of $20,750,000 over the next three seasons by the Kansas City Royals. He also just finished the year with a slash line of .216/.285/.394. Without even diving into most of his disappointing stats from this season, it is clear to see that the Royals will need to figure out what they are going to do with him. He can play Third Base, but will likely not have a spot here within the crowded infield, he can play Right Field, but is 38th amongst 40 qualified fielders in Outs Above Average here, he can be our DH, but how many Designated Hitter’s only produce that slash line, and he can be a utility player, but is much too pricey to be just a utility.
COVID and The Thumb Injury
After a breakout 2019 season and an excellent spring training coming into 2020, Hunter contracted COVID and said that he was unable to get his lungs and stamina back throughout all of the shortened season. After that, on Opening Day in 2021, Hunter injured his thumb. He rushed back from this injury and was in the lineup six days later. He began to slump once he returned and started the season off with zero hits in his first sixteen at bats. In the 74 games from April 7th through July 17th, Hunter had a remarkable slash line of .183/.249/.350 with a .599 OPS in 257 at bats.
Following his four-hit game on July 18th, Hunter soon stated that the three-month slump was largely due to the improper management of his thumb injury. In early April, he quickly returned to the lineup without being 100%, and rather than heading to the IL, he adjusted his swing and tried to keep on playing. This unfortunately did not turn out too well for him and he struggled through the first few months of 2021. In the 69 games following his breakout game and statement about the injury, from July 18th through October 3rd, Dozier hit .257/.327/.451 with a .778 OPS in 226 at bats. This is much more of what we expected from him throughout the entire season. If the first three months can truly be pinned down to that thumb injury, then Dozier should be able to bounce back well next season (at a position that we are looking to determine).
With the soon to be addition of Bobby Witt Jr in the middle infield, and a Nicky Lopez that is here to stay, someone likely not named Hunter Dozier will be pushed to Third Base in 2022. This leaves Hunter with three realistic options, Right Field, Designated Hitter, and Utility.
Right Field – For Dozier to end up here, Whit Merrifield would need to stay put at Second Base, leading to a Domino effect of Nicky Lopez staying at Shortstop, and having either Adalberto Mondesi or Bobby Witt Jr at Third Base. Assuming Bobby Witt Jr is on the Opening Day roster, then this scenario leaves Mondesi as the DH. The problem here is, Mondesi is a much better defender than Dozier and having his defense and athleticism hidden full time at DH seems to be a waste. While Adalberto does have a history of being absent from the field and some time at DH would help him stay healthy, it would be very nice to have him out there defensively more often than Dozier in 2022.
Designated Hitter – To have Dozier at DH, Whit likely moves to Right Field, and then Lopez, Mondesi, and Witt Jr (in some order) are placed between Second Base, Shortstop, and Third Base. This gives the Royals a much better defensive team and allows Dozier to focus strictly on his hitting. If he can produce a similar stat-line to his last 69 games of the 2021, will that be enough to justify him being our Designated Hitter? I think so, and I believe that if fully healthy, he can make quite the comeback here.
Utility – I highly doubt that this organization would want to, hope to, or intend to have Hunter Dozier as a Utility player off the bench to start the season. After just extending him, they are going to continue to give him opportunities starting unless they are forced otherwise. However, deeper into the season, we do expect the Royals to call up MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and possibly Vinnie Pasquantino. If all of these prospects come up looking for places to play, then Hunter could be relegated to more of a Utility Bench role. He would likely make appearances all around the diamond at First Base, Third Base, Right Field, Left Field, and DH if he were to become a Utility.
I am really looking forward to seeing what the team will do with Hunter Dozier positionally in 2022 and to see how he performs following his strong second half. I am expecting much better results than this year and hope that at whatever position he ends up playing, he helps out the team in the win column.