To hear the Royals tell it, their decision Thursday to take shortstop Hunter Dozier with the eighth overall pick in baseball’s annual First-Year Player Draft shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise.
“He is who we are,” scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “He fits who we are. He’s a ballplayer. He loves to play. You will not go to the ballpark and see him not working on something.
“It’s what we’re taught in scouting — go out and find the big bodies with the big tools and plus makeup. Then let them reach their ceiling, whatever that is.
“We think he’s on the rise. He might not have been known publicly or nationally as much as some of the other players, but in our draft room he very much was.”
Dozier, 21, is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound shortstop from Stephen F. Austin State in Nacogdoches, Texas. He offers the promise of power, with 17 homers in 55 games.
That power was important.
“Big-time power to all fields,” Goldberg said. “He’s not just a pull hitter. He’s got power the opposite way. And he’s athletic. He’s played the middle of the diamond. So we know he’s got flexibility to move around.”
But Dozier was also ranked by Baseball America as the No. 38 prospect in the draft, which fueled immediate speculation the Royals had an agreement in place for a signing bonus below the slotted amount of $3,137,800.
If so, the club would have additional money in their bonus pool to overspend on subsequent picks.
“Obviously, we have 41 selections,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “and we’re going to try to maximize the allotted dollar amount that we received based on our slot the best we can.”
The Royals will likely spend some of that money on Sean Manaea, an injured left-handed pitcher from Indiana State who was first pick (No. 34 overall) in the first competitive-balance round.
Manaea, 6-5 and 235 pounds, was ranked among the draft’s top pitching prospects before he rolled his ankle in March, which led to a subsequent injury to his right hip.
“This guy coming into this year was at the very top of our board,” assistant general manager J.J Picollo said. “He had an outstanding summer in the Cape (Cod League).
“He’s a big left-handed pitcher, a power pitcher. There’s a lot to like about him.”
Manaea is expected to undergo hip surgery in the near future and spend the rest of the year in rehab, but he should be ready by the start of next year’s spring training.
“The potential issue with Sean Manaea is a hip issue,” said Vincent Key, the Royals’ head physician. “It’s something I would consider minor in the sense that it’s a common injury.”
The Royals used their second-round pick, No. 46 overall, to select another left-hander — Cody Reed out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, ranked No. 104 by Baseball America.
Reed, 6-5 and 220 pounds, set a single-season school record with 96 strikeouts this year while finishing 8-3 with a 2.39 ERA. He held opponents to a .201 average.
“Cody jumped on the scene,” Goldberg said. “He started throwing harder. He’s another big kid, another big left-hander. He’s athletic and throws up to 95 (mph). I think we’re catching him on the rise.”
While Moore and Dozier said no agreement was yet in place, Moore noted: “We have a pretty good feel for what the dollars are going to be.”
Dozier’s size makes him a logical candidate to switch positions, most likely to third base, and he expressed a willingness to embrace any change.
“Wherever they need me to play,” he said, “I will give 100 percent. If they want me to play third, if they want me to play outfield or stay at short. I am down for whatever.”
Picollo said Dozier and Reed are likely to start their pro careers in a short-season league — either Idaho Falls or Burlington (N.C.).
“Our goal this first summer is to get (Dozier’s) feet on the ground and get acclimated with playing every day. And get to know our system,” Picollo said.
“We all know we’ve got depth at our shortstop position, but we believe in his ability to play (shortstop). I would anticipate he’ll get time at shortstop.”
Baseball America characterized Dozier as a “Jeff Kent-style player in a Drew Stubbs body,” but he likened himself to Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria.
“I’m a big guy who can move a little bit,” he said. “I have some power when I hit, and I feel like my fielding is getting better each and every year. Hopefully, I can grow into a complete five-tool player.”
The 40-round draft runs through Saturday. The first two rounds, along with the two new competitive-balance rounds, took place Thursday.