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Quick ascent

Profile image for By Ben Baby / Staff Writer
By Ben Baby / Staff Writer

Dozier making presence known following call-up to Double-A

FRISCO — After Hunter Dozier doubled to deep center field in the top of the fifth inning, it wasn’t hard to spot his 100 or so supporters behind the first-base dugout.

That’s because they were the only voices heard in an otherwise silent Dr Pepper Ballpark, a crowd unabashedly proud of what their favorite Kansas City Royals prospect did on Saturday night as a member of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in a Texas League game against the Frisco RoughRiders.

Dozier’s trip to Frisco comes shortly after the third baseman was promoted to the Royals’ Double-A affiliate. The former Denton High and Stephen F. Austin standout leaves town with the Naturals following tonight’s 7:05 game against the RoughRiders.

“I was excited to be able to get moved up here, and just trying to take it slow up here,” Dozier said. “It’s a big transition and the competition is a lot better. I’m just trying to stay relaxed, stay with my approach and the way I play the game and keep everything slow.”

A year after Dozier surprised many and was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, he has quickly made his ascent up the minor-league ranks as he continues his journey to the major leagues.

The Royals promoted Dozier from their High-A affiliate in Wilmington, Delaware, to their Double-A squad in the Texas League. In 66 games with the Wilmington Blue Rocks this season, Dozier batted .295 with four home runs and 39 RBIs.

Dozier went 1-for-4 on Saturday with a double and a strikeout in the Naturals’ 5-3 loss to Frisco. Coming into Sunday night’s game, Dozier was batting .324 in eight games with Northwest Arkansas and was carrying a five-game hitting streak.

“The game’s a little faster,” Dozier said. “The pitching’s a lot better. Double-A’s really close to where we all want to end up, and you have a lot of guys leaving Double-A to go to the big leagues. It just explains the kind of talent that you have down here.”

Whenever his mother and father — who both share the first name Kelly — found out their son was headed to Frisco, they started snatching up tickets behind the Naturals’ dugout because Dozier was allotted only two free tickets for Saturday’s game.

Dozier talked to his father on his way to the park, where Dozier played a game when he was 15. Kelly Dozier asked his son if he remembered talking about how cool it would be to play there when he got older. Almost seven years later, Hunter Dozier finally got his chance.

“It’s a dream, a dream come true,” Dozier’s father said. “Everyone who knows Hunter knows the hard work he’s put in — the dedication he’s had since he was 5 years old. It wasn’t driven from me. He’s just been self-driven. He’s had this desire to play at this level on his own forever.”

Frisco pitcher Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez has memories of facing Dozier at various levels, from when the two were in college and then in High-A earlier this year. Gonzalez remembers one at-bat where Dozier smoked a ball over his head, a ball that ended up being a lengthy line drive to center field.

Gonzalez said the 6-foot-4, 220-pound infielder does a good job of punishing pitchers for leaving pitches up in the strike zone.

“He’s got good plate awareness,” said Gonzalez before he went over to say hello to Dozier during batting practice. “He knows the zone well — what’s a strike, what’s a ball — and he knows his strength.”

Dozier’s head coach at Stephen F. Austin, Johnny Cardenas, was one of the many Dozier supporters at the game Saturday night. The night before Dozier was drafted, Cardenas said he wouldn’t call Dozier the next day.

When the Royals took Dozier much higher than anyone anticipated, Cardenas called Dozier, and the first thing Cardenas heard was the sound of Dozier laughing on the other end of the phone.

Cardenas said he’s been able to use Dozier’s story to help recruit kids to his program in Nacogdoches.

“Every recruiting trip, we definitely throw that out there,” Cardenas said. “People say that you can’t get drafted out of SFA — we point to him [Dozier] and say that’s not true. You can get drafted as high as the first round.”

Northwest Arkansas first baseman Mark Threlkeld began working out with Dozier when the two were in Low-A Lexington, Kentucky. Threlkeld lauded Dozier’s work ethic and the patience that’s enabled the Denton native’s success in the minors.

“He doesn’t really panic,” Threlkeld said. “He doesn’t try to do too much. He tries to stay in control, just play his game and has his approach. He doesn’t try to do more than he’s capable of, and I think that’s been really effective for him making the jump.”

The first thing Northwest Arkansas manager Vance Wilson noticed when he worked with Dozier in the instructional league was the sound of the bat when Dozier makes solid contact, the sound that evoked cheers on Saturday night.

Wilson said that sound Dozier makes is a sound reserved for major leaguers. Dozier’s promotion to Double-A reunited the two, and if Dozier can continue making progress in the minors, the fans who came to see him on Saturday might have a chance to bring the Dozier cheering section to a major league ballpark.

“What you’re going to see with him is, I think, he’ll get better as he moves up,” Wilson said. “Pitchers are more around the plate. He can hit, and his ability to his adjust on the fly — which is what major league guys do — he has it.”

BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.