KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals fell in love with Hunter Dozier early in the scouting process, and their opinion of the shortstop never wavered over the course of the college season.
On Thursday night, the Royals made sure to lock him up.
They selected the power-hitting prospect out of Stephen F. Austin with the eighth overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, passing over several players more highly rated by draft pundits and at least a couple of polished pitchers in the first major surprise of the night.
“It’s always unpredictable,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said of the draft.
Many mock drafts had the Royals interested in high school left-hander Trey Ball, who went one spot earlier to the Boston Red Sox. There were also reports that the Royals were close to a deal with Phil Bickford, a high school right-hander who went two spots later to Toronto.
Instead, the Royals selected the 21-year-old Dozier, who hit .396 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs as a junior while leading the Southland Conference in batting average and slugging percentage.
He’s the first shortstop in Stephen F. Austin history to be a two-time All-Southland Conference pick.
“We followed him all throughout the year, as we got in the room and put things together, he became our favorite player,” Royals scouting director Lonnie Golberg said.
“We think he’s on the rise. He may not have been known publicly or nationally as much as other players who have been talked about, but in our draft room, he very much was.”
The Royals appear to be stocked at shortstop, though.
Alcides Escobar is considered one of the bright young talents in the majors, and he’s signed through 2015 with club options for two more years. The Royals also drafted Christian Colon fourth overall in 2010, and he’s moved up to Triple-A Omaha, where he’s also getting work at second base.
That means a position change could be in the future for Dozier, too.
While he prefers to play shortstop and likened himself to the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, the Royals believe Dozier has the ability to play third base or even in the outfield.
“Wherever they need me to play, I’ll be 100 percent,” Dozier said. “I’m a big guy that can move a little bit. I have power when I hit. I feel like my fielding is getting better each and every year, and hopefully I can grow into a complete five-tool player.”
Moore said the Royals haven’t reached an agreement with Dozier, who is represented by Will McGuffey of Frontline Athlete Management. There is some belief they chose Dozier in part because he will sign under the slot value of $3,137,800, which would free up money to use later in the draft.
“We have a pretty good feel for what the dollars are going to be,” Moore said. “Obviously we have 41 selections and we’re going to try to maximize the allotted dollar amount that we receive based on our slot, based on the new rules and new agreements.”
J.J. Picollo, who oversees the Royals’ scouting and player development, said that Dozier will likely start at short-season Idaho Falls or Burlington when he signs a contract.
“Our goal this first summer is to get him on the ground, get him acclimated, get him playing every day,” Picollo said. “He already has played a lot of games this year, he’s in great shape, he’s ready to play, and by the end of the summer it’ll be a good, full season for him.”