Hunter Dozier and plausible upside

Kansas City Royals' Hunter Dozier points skyward after hitting a home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, April 15, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Hunter Dozier's fantasy value could be shooting up this year (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Maybe it’s a mild stretch to call Hunter Dozier a post-hype prospect because his hype period was very brief. But let’s accept the reality of the situation: He’s off to a good start, he’s shown growth in some key areas, and maybe he’s putting things together in his age-27 season.

The biggest hype moment for Dozier came on draft day, 2013. The Royals took him eighth overall in that class, and expected a quick learning curve from the college kid. Alas, Dozier’s early minor-league returns were underwhelming. Baseball Prospectus squeezed Dozier into the 90s on their prospect list on two different occasions, but the other hounds ignored him. And when Dozier received 102 games to prove his worth in Kansas City last year, he did little with the opportunity: .229/.278/.395, with 11 homers and 109 strikeouts.

Fast forward to this month, with Dozier off to a tidy start. He’s posted a .298/.388/.596 slash, with four homers in 16 games. He went deep twice in the Chicago series. Sure, it could be just another random hot sample, the stuff that comes and goes all the time. But there’s some key improvement to make note of.

Dozier’s drawn eight walks over 57 at-bats, and he’s only struck out 12 times. Basically, he’s doubled his walk rate from last year, and cut his strikeouts by over 10 percent. We’re still dealing with a small sample of course, but walk and strikeout rates stabilize rather quickly in a fresh season. If these contact numbers are intact by the end of the month, we can feel good about trusting them.

Of course, fantasy baseball usually doesn’t work that way — not in a competitive mixer. If your opponents know what they’re doing, they’re probably overhauling the bottom of their rosters on a regular basis. Waiting for proof is a losing strategy in most mixed leagues. If you can’t figure out where to make educated guesses in the market, you’re dead money.

Obviously, you don’t want to cut from the top of your roster, even if you have some early picks who are disappointing. But there should be someone at the bottom of your roster who’s disposable, be it because of a major injury, a role change, or maybe a host of crappy play. When we see plausible upside, we have to consider action. Dozier is still free to grab in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues.

Scott Kingery Getting a Chance

The post-hype sleeper tag certainly applies to Scott Kingery. The Phillies prospect went from hero to zero rather quickly last year — after signing a six-year, $24 million deal prior to his MLB debut, he suffered through a nightmarish rookie year (.226/.267/.338). Kingery wasn’t even projected to be a starter on the 2019 roster.

Ah, but versatility is a calling card for Kingery; he’s played every position in the majors except for first base and catcher. Theoretically, he has several potential paths into the Phillies lineup. And two weeks shy of his 25th birthday, he’s far from being a finished product.

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Jean Segura’s balky hamstring has pushed Kingery into the lineup the last two games, and he’s come through with two home runs. Over 25 at-bats, he’s off to a zesty .480/.536/.880 start, with six extra-base hits. The sample is too short to hold much meaning, but let’s recall why the Phillies extended Kingery in the first place (he was a consensus Top-35 prospect a year ago). If any regular Philly player (other than a catcher) gets hurt for an extended period of time or goes into a major slump, Kingery has a path into the lineup. If you have some stash room on your bench, Kingery currently trades at 23 percent.

Rebound season for Hector Neris?

The Phillies bullpen is never an easy handicap, as Gabe Kapler eschews traditional leverage roles. It’s possible the Phils might not have a dedicated closer for the entire season. But with David Robertson on the injured list, things are opening up nicely for Hector Neris.

Neris was a fantasy friend in 2016 and 2017 before collapsing last year (5.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP). His strikeout numbers were still through the roof, but 11 home runs is a kill shot for anyone working just 47.2 innings. I don’t blame anyone that ignored Neris in March.

This year’s seven-inning sample is far from definitive, but it’s encouraging. Neris already has two saves and a couple of holds, strong ratios (2.57/0.86), and 10 strikeouts against two walks. Ground balls are up, and hard contact is down significantly. He’s also bumped his chase rate by five percent.

The Phillies figure to contend all year, and even without a clear chairman, someone is likely to get 20 or more saves here. Neris seems like the best bet. He’s waiting for your call in 80 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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