Are the Royals getting an up-close look at their first baseman of the future here during the season’s home stretch?
Versatile Hunter Dozier, drafted as a shortstop who has played first base, third base, left field and right field in the big leagues, is in the lineup Friday night for the 11th straight time as the team’s first baseman.
The Royals certainly like what they see defensively out of Dozier, who at 6-feet-4 has the same height, similar wingspan and likely even more athleticism than former Royals Gold Glove Award winner Eric Hosmer.
“I’d say potential Gold Glove there,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said, of Dozier at first base. “I’d say the way he moves --- he’s got some shortstop instincts, and he’s got that one-step quickness of a third baseman. We’ve seen him dive, we’ve seen him use his hands ... sure looks good there.”
That Dozier, who came out of Spring Training as the club's starting right fielder, has ended up at first base came about because of two issues: Kansas City was not satisfied with its defense at first base when it was manned by Ryan O'Hearn and Ryan McBroom, and because the Royals needed to take a look a longer look at outfielders Edward Olivares, Nick Heath and Bubba Starling.
"We’re trying to maximize defense on the infield. That’s No. 1,” Matheny said. “That pick he made on that play that [shortstop Adalberto] Mondesi made in Detroit [on Wednesday], that was really a hard pick. A really nice play. And he had another pick late. His hands really work well there.
“Obviously, his bat needs to be in the lineup. And we have some young outfielders we need to figure out, which then forces [Dozier] to the infield. I would imagine we’ll continue to see this.”
But how the Royals view Dozier’s position for 2021 is the question. By no means has Kansas City given up on O’Hearn or McBroom, the latter of whom was recently optioned to the team’s alternate training site.
But a full offseason of focusing on first-base defense could do wonders for Dozier, who obviously has a long way to go in learning the intricacies of playing first base the way Hosmer had. But Matheny believes the talent is there with Dozier.
“I’ve had this conversation with Hunter,” Matheny said. “He’s kind of asking the same thing. ‘Hey, where do you think this is going down the road?’ Well, that’s a great question.
“The great thing is that Hunter loves to play all the positions. You ask him his favorite and he says, ‘All of them.’ He’s enjoying first base, but he absolutely loved playing the outfield and third. A good position for us to be in.”
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the future of first base for the team will be a topic for the offseason.
“Nothing has changed,” Moore told MLB.com. “We will continue to utilize [Dozier’s athleticism]. We covet his versatility. He’s done a great job.”
But is Dozier the best defensive option at first base?
“Could be,” Moore said. “He’s done a terrific job. But that doesn’t eliminate anyone else from contending for that position.”
Matheny, though, acknowledges that in the big picture, the competition for the outfield spots among Olivares, Heath, Starling, Franchy Cordero, and prospects Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee could alter the decision of where to play Dozier. Whit Merrifield already is a lock at either center field or right field. And the team isn’t sure whether veteran Gold Glove Award winner Alex Gordon will play another season.
“If there’s a spot where the competition is close [with the young players], it is the outfield,” Matheny said. “We have some young guys who have played at some of the higher levels [in the Minor Leagues] who stand out and have been with us in Spring Training. They’re knocking on the door.
“But that’s a question we’ll have to wait and see on how some of the guys internally progress. We’ve got time for that. But for the here and now, Hunter sure looks good at first.”