SURPRISE, Ariz. — It is here in the Arizona desert, where the temperatures in mid-October still push regularly into the 90s, that infielder Hunter Dozier stamps out the final validation of his first pro season.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
This is the Instructional League, which seeks to hone and refine skills for minor-league players. For Dozier, a shortstop when selected by the Royals in the first round of last Junes draft, that means time and more time at third base.
Even he realizes third base is where his future likely points.
Im getting a lot of work there, he said. Im getting a lot of ground balls and extra work. Im getting more and more comfortable each and every day. Ive just got to keep trying to learn a new position.
Dozier, 22, never fought the switch from shortstop because, well...hes seen Raul Mondesi, the 18-year-old wonderkid who already looms as the heir apparent to Alcides Escobar on the big-league club.
Hes pretty good, Dozier allowed, with a smile, after playing alongside Mondesi again earlier this week in front of a crowd consisting of little more than scouts and front-office officials on a practice field at the Royals year-round complex.
Thats also the early read on Dozier, whom the Royals chose with the drafts eighth overall pick and, in doing so, upset the conventional wisdom that projected him, at best, as a late first-round selection.
As a complete player, assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said, he was clear-cut for us. I know a lot was made of that pick
But there was a group of hitters that we liked, and when you started to break them down, we felt he had the most upside out of all of them, and he was the most athletic out of all of them.
Dozier signed quickly for $2.2 million, which was roughly $1 million below the slotted price, and headed to short-season Idaho Falls, where he played well enough to gain a brief August promotion to Lo-A Lexington.
It was there, at Lexington, that Dozier got his first look at Mondesi.
We talked to Doze before we signed him, Picollo said, and he told us, `Whatever you guys want, Ill do it. He likes shortstop. Thats where he feels most natural, but he sees whats out there.
Dozier returned late in the season to Idaho Falls, not as a demotion but rather to extend his playing season. The Chukars qualified for postseason; Lexington didnt.
And Dozier helped Idaho Falls win its first Pioneer League crown since becoming a Royals affiliate in 2004. Overall, he produced a .303/.397/.495 slash (average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in 69 games.
He also had 30 doubles and seven homers in 273 at-bats with 52 RBIs.
It was a good season, Dozier said. We ended up winning the championship at Idaho Falls. That always makes it a great way to finish up a season.
Personally? There are things I need to improve on but, overall, I was pretty happy with the season.
Baseball America cited Dozier as the top prospect in the Pioneer League and touted him as a solid middle-of-the-order hitter while predicting many of his doubles will turn into home runs as he...learns to incorporate his lower half more consistently.
Dozier is now wrapping up his first pro season in an advanced Instructional League lineup in which he generally bats behind Mondesi and in front of two more top prospects, Bubba Starling and Elier Hernandez.
This is the Royals future on display with Dozier in the middle of it all.
The thing that has stood out to us so far, Picollo said, is his pitch recognition and his patience at the plate. We just think his walks are going to go up as he matures as a hitter.
He drives the ball. He had 30 doubles in a short season. Hes going to hit home runs. Theyre going to come as he matures as a hitter and gets ahead in the count.
Dozier is likely to open next season at Lexington, but hell be watched closely and, if warranted, move quickly even if it means another position switch.
Third base is where he profiles the best, Picollo said, but who knows where it will be? Once we see how our team is made up, he could go to left field or first base or something else. Hes that good of an athlete.
Whenever his bat is ready, were going to want him on the club.
The big-league club.