SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The ball Hunter Dozier hit on Friday afternoon might have never landed if Hohokam Stadium’s batter’s eye wasn’t in the way.
Dozier crushed a pitch to dead center, and the ball had solid backspin without any slice through the air. When he felt the barrel of his bat meet the slider, his barrel swung through the zone, with the ball exploding upon contact.
That’s a feeling Dozier has been trying to find over the last several months -- and it’s a result he’s been chasing for the last several years.
“Honestly, from the beginning of 2021 to the end of last season, every day, I felt like I was searching,” Dozier said Saturday. “Trying to find something, trying something new. Always searching for answers. Whereas now, I know what it’s supposed to be, what it’s supposed to look like. Now I’m not looking for answers anymore. I know what it needs to be, I know what it should be. Now, can I translate it over to the game?”
It’s no secret that Dozier has something to prove in 2023. From 2021-22, the 31-year-old played far below his and the Royals’ expectations while moving from the outfield to first base to third base and back again. He slashed .226/.289/.391 with a 26.7% strikeout rate and posted a below-average 85 wRC+ (100 is league average).
For the Royals to take a step forward this season, Dozier needs to be more like his 2019 self, when he hit 26 homers with a 123 wRC+ in a performance that led to a four-year contract extension.
The search for answers began in the middle of last season, when Dozier teamed up with hitting coaches Alec Zumwalt, Keoni DeRenne and Mike Tosar (now with the White Sox). It was time to make a swing change. That’s not easy in the middle of a season, when hitters work on mechanics during pregame work before focusing on competing during the game.
“It was tough,” Dozier said. “It hurt me stats-wise. But I knew I needed to do it. So I spent the second half grinding out my swing. Trying to focus more on the rotating instead of the hands.”
Dozier and the Royals' hitting coaches started from the beginning, emphasizing his body rotation in his swing rather than letting his hands do all the work. In the Dallas area this winter, Dozier worked with former Braves hitting coordinator Mike Brumley, who is still in contact with Austin Riley and has worked with Dansby Swanson.
“We broke it down big time,” Dozier said. “My bat was in the zone for a small amount of time, so my timing had to be perfect, which isn’t going to happen very often. So we worked hard on trying to get in the zone deeper and have my bat stay through the zone. Trying to create more of an angle out front instead of coming down on the ball.”
Dozier’s goal is to have his bat path finish through the zone, keeping the barrel going in the direction of where the contact is made and the plane of the ball.
“Too many times, we go right into the finish, and we cut the ball off or we slice it, versus, ‘I want to make really hard contact and have almost that feeling that the ball’s stuck on the bat,’” Zumwalt said. “When your timing’s not perfect, your path is going to allow you to be a little off and still have a great shot of making hard contact. The contact window that I’m looking at in the strike zone is my barrel staying on the plane of the pitch as long as it can. And now my timing is just a little bit off, but I’m still going in the right direction. I got a chance.”
Dozier scoured film of the best hitters in the league and saw examples of what he was trying to accomplish. When Dozier compared it to his own swing the past two years, it wasn’t the same.
“Then just doing the drills, feeling it, starting to hit balls, I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve never done that before,’” Dozier said. “It feels good. We’ll see.”
Dozier, who was 4-for-12 in Cactus League play entering Sunday, is not declaring his swing "fixed" yet. He knows he must translate all that hard work onto the field, with a bigger sample size in regular-season games.
There is some catching up to do after the last two years. This spring, though, is different from the last few. He’s no longer searching, and the confidence in his mechanics helps free his mind to focus on his approach.
“It’s Spring Training, and I have a long way to go,” Dozier said. “But this is the first step. I totally believe it’s the right way to swing. Now it’s about having it translate to the field.”