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Royals pull surprise with first-round draft choice

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, June 6, 2013, at 9:30 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, June 6, 2013, at 10:55 p.m.

— To hear the Royals tell it, their decision Thursday to take shortstop Hunter Dozier with the eighth overall pick in baseball’s annual first-year player draft shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise.

“He is who we are,” scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. "He fits who we are. He’s a ballplayer. He loves to play. You will not go to the ballpark and see him not working on something.

"It’s what we’re taught in scouting — go out and find the big bodies with the big tools and plus makeup. Then let them reach their ceiling, whatever that is.

"We think he’s on the rise. He might not have been known publicly or nationally as much as some of the other players, but in our draft room he very much was."

Dozier, 21, is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound shortstop from Stephen F. Austin State in Nacogdoches, Texas. He offers the promise of power, with 17 homers in 55 games.

That power was important.

"Big-time power to all fields," Goldberg said. "He’s not just a pull hitter. He’s got power the opposite way. And he’s athletic. He’s played the middle of the diamond. So we know he’s got flexibility to move around."

But Dozier was also ranked by Baseball America as the No. 38 prospect in the draft, which fueled immediate speculation the Royals had an agreement in place for a signing bonus below the slotted amount of $3,137,800.

If so, the club would have additional money in their bonus pool to overspend on subsequent picks over the three-day draft — specifically to lure high school seniors away from college scholarships.

"Obviously, we have 41 selections," general manager Dayton Moore said, "and we’re going to try to maximize the allotted dollar amount that we received based on our slot … the best we can."

While Moore and Dozier said no agreement is in place, Moore noted: "We have a pretty good feel for what the dollars are going to be."

Dozier’s size makes him a logical candidate to switch positions, most likely to third base, and he expressed a willingness to embrace any change.

"Wherever they need me to play," he said, "I will give 100 percent. If they want me to play third, if they want me to play outfield or stay at short … I am down for whatever."

Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, who oversees the scouting and player-development departments, said Dozier is likely to start his pro career in a short-season league — either Idaho Falls or Burlington (N.C.).

"Our goal this first summer," Picollo said, "is to get his feet on the ground and get acclimated with playing every day. And get to know our system.

"We all know we’ve got depth at our shortstop position, but we believe in his ability to play (shortstop) … I would anticipate he’ll get time at shortstop."

Baseball America characterized Dozier as a "Jeff Kent-style player in a Drew Stubbs body," but he likened himself to Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria.

"I’m a big guy who can move a little bit," he said. "I have some power when I hit, and I feel like my fielding is getting better each and every year. Hopefully, I can grow into a complete five-tool player."

The 40-round draft runs through Saturday. The first two rounds, along with the two new competitive-balance rounds, took place Thursday. Rounds three through 10 are Friday with the remainder on Saturday.

The Royals had two other picks on Thursday: the 34th overall selection, the first pick in the first competitive-balance round, and their regular pick in the second round (No. 46 overall).

Clubs are permitted to spend more or less than the slotted bonus on any specific pick, but penalties occur if their exceed their total assigned draft pool.

The draft went, roughly, according to expectations before the Royals chose Dozier. Houston opened the night by selecting Stanford right-hander Mark Appel.

The Chicago Cubs followed by taking San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, and Colorado, picking third, selected Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray.

Minnesota chose right-hander Kohl Stewart, a high school senior from Houston, with the fourth pick, followed by Cleveland selecting outfielder Clint Frazier, a high school outfielder from Georgia, at No. 5.

Miami, picking sixth, chose North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran; Boston then picked high school lefty Trey Ball of Indiana. That put the Royals on the clock.

"At that point in the draft," Goldberg said, "to get his kind of talent and his kind of makeup, we were more than excited to have him."

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