Hunter Dozier (3B, KC): 2-5, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
It’s been a brutal start to the season for Hunter Dozier. Through 23 games, he’s slashing .163/.221/.388 with four homers and a steal, a far cry from his breakout 2019 campaign where he slashed a much more palatable .279/.348/.522 while smashing 26 home runs. I was high on Dozier coming into the season after his stock dipped after a rough 2020, but as of yet he hasn’t really rewarded that confidence, mired in the back half of the surprisingly successful Royals’ lineup. An early-season hand injury has kept him out of rhythm, and I mean really out of rhythm—up through April 24, Dozier had a paltry slashline of .120/.185/.200, good for a wRC+ of 9. Yes, nine.
It could all be starting to click for the Royals third baseman as he went 2-5, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI last night against Cleveland, raising his season OPS nearly 80 points in the process. He tripled off of Cleveland starter Aaron Civale in the fourth and came around to score, then tacked on a two-run homer in the seventh off reliever James Karinchak. Dozier has homered in back-to-back games and also collected multiple extra-base hits in both, bumping up his ISO to a level close to his acclaimed 2019 season. Over the last eight games—ever since that brutal stretch through April 24—he’s put up a much more respectable 164 wRC+, smashing three home runs and driving in eight runs while slugging .700.
There are warning signs, though—in that eight-game stretch, he has several hitless games and while he put up a .700 SLG in that stretch, it goes along with a .233 AVG. What’s more, his plate discipline remains concerning. His strikeout rate is higher than ever (sitting at a brutal 29.1%) and his walk rate is as low as it’s been since 2018: 7.0%. Of course, it’s a small sample size—Dozier has 86 plate appearances in the season, and these should hopefully normalize a bit. But even when he had a down year in 2020, there were positive signs: Even though he regressed offensively, he improved his walk rate and was able to keep his OBP almost the same as it was in 2019 (despite the drops in AVG and SLG). This season, he seems to be overcompensating for that power regression from last season and swinging wildly at everything he sees, posting career highs in most related plate discipline metrics like Swing % and, unfortunately, Whiff %.
It actually creates a relatively straightforward situation when looking towards Dozier’s rest-of-season outlook. There’s no doubt he’s got some real pop in his bat (88th percentile in max exit velocity, 81st in Hard Hit %, and 78th in Barrel %) as well as speed that he frustratingly doesn’t use much on the basepaths (83rd percentile in sprint speed, in line with his career averages), but it’ll all come down to his plate discipline. Even in his successful stretch over the last eight games, he’s posted 11 strikeouts compared to only two walks, all in just 32 plate appearances. You don’t need me to tell you that a K rate over 34% is not a track record for success. If he’s able to lay off at the plate, it should result in more opportunities to get on base as well as prompt pitchers to start throwing him some pitches he can hit—if he gets those, we know how hard he can connect. I’m largely in a wait-and-see mode with Dozier, but he might be worth a flier in deeper leagues to see if his hot streak continues. If he isn’t able to get his plate discipline under control, however, it’s hard to see him having sufficient fantasy relevance, even in a revamped Royals’ lineup.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B, TOR): 3-4, 1 2B, 1 R.
The Summer of Vlad continues, as the 22-year-old (22!) showed off his hit tool in a losing effort to Oakland. I could spend a lot of time gushing over Vlad but you already know it all: It’s the season everything is finally coming together. The Blue Jays offense hasn’t been quite matched up with the preseason expectations (in large part due to George Springer’s long absence), but Vlad has been making his own counting stats, posting an impressive 218 wRC+ (third in the league, behind only Mike Trout and Byron Buxton) along with an absurd 19.1% walk rate, also good for third in the league. Let’s be real, I wouldn’t throw him anything over the plate, either. While Vlad will undoubtedly cool off slightly, his counting stats could actually improve once the Blue Jays get Springer back into the lineup.
Cedric Mullins (OF, BAL): 3-5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI.
It’s been a month now and the Orioles outfielder just keeps on raking. The star of my piece from last Tuesday, Mullins has solidified his role as the everyday center fielder and leadoff man for Baltimore, at least as long as he keeps playing like this. He’s slashing .333/.389/.553 on the season, still ranks top-10 in the league in fWAR, and his hitter’s eye has remained impeccable, posting a respectable K% while ranking in the 88th percentile in Whiff %. He’s not this good, but he’s good. Sadly, the steals may not ever quite materialize—he’s only attempted two in the last three weeks, getting caught both times.
Willy Adames (SS, TB): 2-4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI.
It’s been an abysmal start to 2021 for Willy Adames, but after last night’s power performance… no, it’s still pretty terrible. Due to his 58 wRC+ on the season, he’s been shunted to the eighth spot in the order for the struggling Rays offense, and it’s hard to blame them. Even in last season’s 124 wRC+ campaign, Adames posted a brutal 36.1% strikeout rate. He’s actually improved that this season, but it’s still hovering over 30% and everything else has declined. I don’t think he’s this bad, but he’s not fantasy-relevant beyond a short-term injury replacement if and when he hits a hot streak.
Manuel Margot (OF, TB): 2-5, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI.
If you want a speedy Ray, however, you could do worse than Manuel Margot. He’s off to a nice start to the season, slashing .276/.326/.448 en route to a respectable 123 wRC+, and even with Gold Glove Kevin Kiermaier back in the lineup, Margot should continue to get a lot of playing time. He’s got a little bit of pop, some speed, and won’t hurt you in average—what’s more, he’s been shuffling all around the lineup order, mostly settling in the top half, which could be rewarding for fantasy managers if the Rays offense gets back on track.
Nate Lowe (1B, TEX): 2-5, 1 2B, 1 R, 1 SB.
Apparently, the move to Texas was all Nate Lowe needed. Well, that and an everyday role. The first baseman has been raking since he was traded from Tampa Bay, putting up a 140 wRC+ to go with his six home runs and four stolen bases. He’s batting in the heart of what has been a surprisingly effective Texas lineup and while I’m not convinced the stolen bases are real, the Rangers do seem to have a green light on the basepaths. Even if he doesn’t keep running, he’s got plenty of pop in his bat and is drawing walks at a nice pace. If he can just get his strikeouts down…
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (SS, TEX): 1-4, 1 2B, 1 SB.
The bad news? The catcher-turned-shortstop isn’t walking—he has just five BBs through 131 plate appearances. The good news? Everything else. While he, unfortunately, seems to have lost his role as leadoff man for the Rangers (getting dropped to seventh?!), Kiner-Falefa has been quietly productive, notching five homers and six bags. If he has catcher eligibility in your league, he’s already taken, but the way he’s currently playing he’s making an argument for fantasy relevance in deep leagues even where he doesn’t have catcher eligibility.
Alex Kirilloff (1B, MIN): 2-4, 2 2B, 3 R, 1 RBI.
He’s selling out for power a bit, but it’s been relatively successful so far for Alex Kirilloff in his first 44 major-league plate appearances. A .227 OBP compared to a .571 SLG is not exactly a plan for long-term success, though. The power is obviously quite real, but he’ll have to prove he can take a walk if he wants to stick around—he’s got just one so far. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a great minor-league track record in the walks department, so he’s unlikely to get a lot of hittable pitches going forward. Now is when we get to see how well he can stick around.
Byron Buxton (OF, MIN): 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB.
There’s not a ton to say here, Buxton has been incredible this year and you already know that. I just wanted to point out that even when the guy doesn’t get a hit, he still comes through for fantasy managers. It’s just the fourth stolen base of the season for one of the speediest guys in the league, but I think that has more to do with the fact that he has more extra-base hits than singles on the year. Even if he doesn’t deliver in the SB department like you anticipated, he’s obviously making up for it plenty.
Franmil Reyes (1B/DH, CLE): 3-4, 2 2B, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB.
After missing two games on the paternity list (congratulations to the Reyes family), the Franimal has picked up right where he left off—crushing the baseball. He smacked a pair of doubles and reached base four times yesterday in his first game back. He’s slashing .300/.333/.644 with seven home runs. He’ll cool off from time to time but he’ll also keep smashing bombs so it’ll be fine. And when he’s hot, he’s dominant.
Josh Naylor (OF, CLE): 2-4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB.
He’s stuck in the bottom half of the lineup, but hey—he’s got a consistent starting job. Naylor has gotten a few starts at first base but has largely stuck in the right field role. I wouldn’t go rush to add him, but hey, an everyday role is worth something in some leagues. Not most, though.
Pete Alonso (1B, NYM): 3-4, 2 2B, 2 R, 1 BB.
This is the great side of Alonso—when he’s hitting the ball not just for power (two doubles are nice, of course). He’s batting .282 on the season with an .883 OPS. Presumably, the Mets will start hitting well at some point and he’ll get rewarded with some solid counting stats, but you can’t complain about what he’s doing right now.
Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)