Remember back in 2013 when the Kansas City Royals surprised a lot of people and selected Hunter Dozier eighth overall in the MLB Draft? While people didn’t question that he had first round talent, they did question if he went a tad bit too early. He definitely didn’t help clarify any questions after two poor seasons in Double-A.
Now, however, he is seemingly rewarding the Royals for staying loyal.
Dozier was a shortstop in college, but nearly everyone was able to tell he would need to be shifted to third base to make it professionally. That being said, he looked like he had the makings of a solid power hitter, coming off a big junior season that saw him bat .396 and blast 17 home runs for Stephen F. Austin. One of the particularly attractive qualities appeared to be a sound plate discipline as he struck out 34 times, but walked 35.
His initial results made the Royals look like geniuses. Dozier came into his first half season in 2013 and destroyed Rookie level pitching. He slashed .303/.403/.509 and hit seven home runs, driving in 43 over just 54 games before earning a promotion to the Sally. The patience at the plate seemed to translate as well, as his combined strikeout-to-walk ratio over both levels was 37-to-38.
2014 saw a successful start to the season with the Wilmington Blue Rocks in High-A, but Dozier made his promotion to Double-A in just his first full season seem a bit premature. He seemed lost at the plate, and with his minor flaws exposed it effected his 2015.
Most seem to think that Dozier’s down 2015 was because he was really pressing at the plate. After hitting just eight home runs the prior season over two levels, Dozier was seemingly forcing himself to re-find the power that got him drafted so highly. The end result was not pretty. He slashed .213/.281/.349 and that plate discipline that everyone fell in love with was gone. He struck out 151 times in 523 plate appearances (a career worst 29-percent) as well as setting a career low in walk rate, walking 45 times, just 9-percent of the time (the only time he had been under 10-percent in a season in which he had 100 at bats).
Enter 2016 and Dozier is a changed man. He finally figured out the Texas League, shredding a slash line of .305/.400/.642 to go along with eight home runs in just 95 at bats before finally earning his long-awaited promotion to Triple-A. Immediately it looked as if he was unprepared for the jump.
Dozier recorded one hit in his first three games in the hitter-friendly PCL. Since then, however, he hasn’t left any question marks as to whether he was ready. Currently, he is amid a nine-game hitting streak that has seen him drive in at least one run in five straight games. He’s batting .327 with four home runs with a 1.006 OPS through Friday in his Omaha debut.
It seems that Dozier did some work on improving his swing mechanics and focus this fall out in Arizona. He needed to remodel his approach, both mentally and in the box, and find the timing that made him the attractive power hitter that the Royals made a Top Ten pick just several years ago.
He has a simple approach in the box. One thing you can tell he has fixed is that his stance isn’t as wide. The top is from last season and the bottom video is from this season. Aside from that, their isn’t much to his swing but timing and approach. He stands pretty straight, with not much of a bend in his knees. His leg kick is slight, but consistent, which is also a change. In the past it seemed that he would have different approaches in his kick, some long, some short, and some inward. He twirls the bat over his shoulder, hands right around shoulder level.
(From our friends at Fangraphs)
This season's approach in a video from MiLB.com.
The Royals had Dozier play some left field while still in Double-A, he is back to his third base slot since jumping to Omaha. While Dozier didn’t commit an error in his six games in left, he doesn’t seem to have the range to transition to the wide open outfield (posting a 1.17 range factor). Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220, he has quick enough feet to stick in the infield. There is also little to worry about in his arm, as he was a part-time reliever while at SFA, often hitting the low-90s with his fastball.
Although he is succeeding thus far in Triple-A, there is no cause for alarm on the big league level just yet. His strikeout-to-walk rate is still slipping — 10:2 at Triple-A, although a modest 33:16 combined — which is alarming only because of how good it used to be. Dozier wouldn’t be the first player to come to the thin air of the PCL and look good hitting, so he will need to show this isn’t a hot streak but a trend. If the work he put in out in Arizona this fall does the trick, the always patient Royals may see that first round investment finally pay off.