It might be time to address Hunter Dozier’s future

Hunter Dozier has been absolutely destroying baseballs for the last couple years. I don’t want to spend too much time on a complete breakdown of his professional career, so we’ll make it quick:

  • 2013 – Drafted, made it to Lexington, raked
  • 2014 – Crushed Wilmington, got to AA
  • 2015 – Struggled a bit at AA
  • 2016 – Destroyed AA, crushed at AAA, made big league debut
  • 2017 – Strained oblique, fractured wrist, lost season
  • 2018 – Gets sick in Mexico, loses ~20 lbs. over offseason, struggles through July
  • 2019 – Hello Hunter Dozier
  • 2020 – Gets COVID, doesn’t miss a beat

There seems to be a growing sentiment among Royals fans that Hunter Dozier was a late bloomer, a “slow burn” developing prospect, etc. This is…only sort of true. It definitely took Dozier longer to blossom into the All-Star caliber player he’s been over the last couple seasons, but he had a run of freak injuries that derailed the beginning of his big league career that no one could account for.

Typically when we talk about late bloomers, we’re talking about Whit Merrifield. Whit Merrifield was generally healthy for most of his Minor League career and just kind of trudged along in his development. He never really dominated any level until his 5th MiLB season at AA when he was 25 years old. After the 2015 season, Merrifield underwent a pretty serious change in his work/diet and became the All-Star we know now.

Hunter Dozier was a great hitter in the lower levels of MiLB and reached AA in his 2nd professional season. He did hit a road bump there, and he had to make a couple adjustments after the 2015 season, but once he made those adjustments he was in the big leagues within the year. The freak injuries and other health issues that Dozier suffered after that are not what we usually refer to as a “late blooming” prospect. He was hurt. There is a little bit of a difference in how we should discuss the two things, in my opinion.

I say all of that for this reason: Hunter Dozier is exactly who the Royals thought he would be when they drafted him back in 2013. He had his struggles in the minors, worked through ’em, and reached the big leagues at the age of 24. What happened to him next is not something that any organization in MLB can prevent. That type of stuff just happens sometimes. Since being recovered from the injuries and illnesses, Dozier has done nothing but hit anything thrown at him.

Since July 25th of 2018, in 199 games (826 PA), Hunter Dozier is slashing .273/.339/.510/.849 with a 0.36 BB/K, .236 ISO, 121 wRC+, 36 HR, 42 doubles, and 13 triples.

This is what the Royals thought they were getting in 2013. This is the Dozer that emerged in AA back in 2016. This is the Dozier they thought could help anchor the middle of the lineup in 2017 for one final playoff push. If Dozier hadn’t broken his wrist or drank too much water in Mexico, conversations surrounding him would be so drastically different.

It did, though, so here we are, in 2020, with the Royals still possessing three more years of control of a 29-year old Hunter Dozier. Any conversations about the future of Hunter Dozier in Kansas City are going to look and sound a whole lot like Whit Merrifield before he signed his extension a couple offseasons ago. Dozier won’t reach free agency until he is 32 years old. He can choose to play out his arbitration years in KC and then test out the free agent market, or he can sign an extension that buys out a couple years of free agency, but lock in a guaranteed sum of money for his family for the next five years.

Whit Merrifield signed a 4-year deal worth $16.25M, buying out his arbitration years and one year of free agency (with a club option in 2023). Dozier has actually been the better hitter over the last couple seasons, but he’s never going to steal double digit bases, lead the league in hits, or provide the same value of defensive versatility as Whit does. If both Dozier and the Royals are looking to talk about an extension, Whit’s deal is probably where they’ll start.

If the Royals want to keep their offensive core together while the young arms make their way to the big leagues, they’ve got a few contracts they need to start taking a look at. Salvy and Soler will be free agents after the 2021 season. Dozier still has three more years left, but if he keeps hitting like this, he’s going to want some money. Whit is locked up for a while and Kyle Isbel isn’t far from making his debut. Locking up Dozier puts the team in good shape in the middle of the lineup for the next 4-5 years and sets a great example of loyalty and hard work paying off for some of the younger guys.

 

Photo Credits: Ron Schwane – Getty Images

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