SURPRISE, Ariz. -- All eyes will be on Hunter Dozier this spring.With Eric Hosmer having signed with the Padres, the battle to be the starting first baseman is on, and Dozier, 26, is perhaps the most intriguing candidate.Dozier, who is trying to convert to first after having played third base
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- All eyes will be on Hunter Dozier this spring.
With Eric Hosmer having signed with the Padres, the battle to be the starting first baseman is on, and Dozier, 26, is perhaps the most intriguing candidate.
Dozier, who is trying to convert to first after having played third base and the outfield corners, got his first Cactus League start in Saturday's 8-4 win over the Dodgers.
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Dozier made one excellent play. First, he cut off a throw from right fielder Jorge Bonifacio that was headed toward the plate, froze a runner who was trying to advance to second, then turned a threw a perfect strike home to nail a runner trying to score.
"Boni made a heckuva throw," Dozier said. "I saw the runner rounding first in no-man's land. Figured early in the game, thought I'd get an easy out there. Then I saw the runner going home behind me and I was able to get him."
Dozier, the Royals' first-round pick in the 2013 Draft, is ready for the challenge of winning the job at first base, though he has played only four games at the position in the Minor Leagues.
"I am getting comfortable," said Dozier, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Royals' No. 7 prospect. "Getting a lot of reps, every day gets better."
Dozier's biggest hurdle so far?
"Just getting used to the glove," he said. "And I'm trying to get used to the bad throws, trying to make picks. Fielding grounders is pretty much the same as it is over at third. I do have a lot more time at first to recover if I just knock a grounder down and make a good throw.
"But one thing I really need to work on is making good picks."
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That, of course, was Hosmer's specialty. Hosmer's one-armed sweeping motion to scoop low throws was an art form.
Dozier said he will have his own style of scooping.
"I just try to be simple and go through the ball," he said. "I don't think I'll be able to do what Hos did right now. Not yet."
And Dozier knows he has some pretty big shoes to fill.
"He made everything look so easy over there," Dozier said. "Last year, I watched him a little bit, but I was more worried about watching what [Mike Moustakas] did at third, or even the outfielders.
"But just watching [Hosmer], it's so smooth. Like he's not even trying."
The Royals are giving Dozier a crash course in first-base defense. He's getting instruction and tips from bench coach Dale Sveum, infielders coach Mike Jirschele, and even Royals Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney, a special assistant in baseball operations for the Royals.
"I'm listening a lot to Ryan O'Hearn and Frank Schwindel, too," Dozier said. "They are two of my best friends. When I have a question, I go to them. I work out with O'Hearn in the offseason, and we take a lot of grounders. We have a good relationship."
The best part so far this spring for Dozier simply has been playing. His 2017 virtually was a wasted season, derailed by an oblique injury, a broken wrist and a broken nose. He was limited to 33 games.
"Rough year. Never went through anything like that," he said.
But Dozier is back this season, completely healthy and eager to prove he can make the conversion to first base.
"Pretty good so far," he said. "The games will be the true test."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.