Addressing the first base position was an area the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to focus on during the 2013 draft. They did just that when they selected L.B. Dantzler, who at the time was a little known prospect that gained a lot of exposure during his first two seasons of professional baseball.
Picked in the 14th round; after a senior season at the University of South Carolina that saw Dantzler transition to first base from third base. Little did Dantzler know that the transition would be an excellent fit for him and the organization that would eventually select him as well.
“Making the transition from third base to first base was pretty easy,” explained Dantzler. “I broke a bone in college and missed four to five weeks of the fall practice. The guy filling in for me at third was doing a really good job, so my coach asked me if I could play first base and I said yeah I’ll play anywhere you need me.”
“I had a decent year at the position and was drafted as a first baseman and I’m happy with it,” he added. “I’m still learning some of the footwork that comes with the position, but all-and-all I feel pretty good at first.”
Beginning his 2014 season in the Midwest League, Dantzler joined the Lansing Lugnuts’ in late April after nursing a minor injury in extended spring training. The prospect made an instant impression hitting a grand slam in his first series with Lansing, a memorable moment for Dantzler who hadn’t hit a grand slam since he was a kid.
“Hitting a grand slam in Lansing was pretty cool,” stated Dantzler. “I haven’t hit one since I was 10-years old. It was fun joking around with the guys in the locker room afterwards.”
After batting .248 with eight doubles, a triple, three home runs, and 35 RBIs in the month and a half he was in the Midwest League the organization decided to promote Dantzler to the Florida State League. Joining the Dunedin Blue Jays in June, Dantzler batted .241 with 11 doubles, three home runs, and 29 RBIs as a member of the D-Jays.
The young prospect is well known for his ability at the plate, but his skillset doesn’t end there as he is also an excellent defender that has made tremendous strides at his new position in a short amount of time. Obviously his transition has required him to learn more defensive drills, which includes: holding runners on, pivoting his body to make pickoff tags, and moving into the play as the pitcher winds up to be in perfect position to field ground balls.
These new techniques can be challenging when you first learn them, but Dantzler has done an excellent job at mastering these skills quickly and it shows in his game play. Committing just three errors last season in 686 chances between low-A and high-A shows the progression the Florida native has made at his new position.
Excited about Dantzler’s future 2014 Lansing Lugnuts’ hitting coach Ken Huckaby has nothing, but praise for the young first baseman. The former major leaguer really likes the way Dantzler handles his business on-and-off the field.
“L.B. is a professional,” said Huckaby. “L.B. goes about his work the right way. L.B. is a professional hitter. He understands exactly what he can and can’t do. He’s a very good player that’s going to do big things in the future.”
Grabbing the attention of Blue Jays fans in 2013, Dantzler was named Northwest League Player-of-the-Year, after registering 70 hits in 232 at-bats in Vancouver. Collecting 29 hits of the extra base variety, which included: 20 doubles and nine home runs, Dantzler carried an impressive .302/.385/.504 slash line on his way to being a Northwest League Champion.
“Being named Northwest League Player-of-the-Year was special,” Dantzler said proudly. “It’s great anytime you get honored for your efforts. It was an amazing experience, but I’m prouder of the fact I won the Northwest League Championship in my first pro year. My ring is really special to me.”
The great start to his career is largely in part to the preparation he received at the University of South Carolina. Playing two seasons for the Gamecocks after junior college, Dantzler shined at the Division 1 level. Registering 138 hits in 477 at-bats, Dantzler carried a .289/.388/.516 slash line for his NCAA career.
“I loved playing at the University of South Carolina,” explained Dantzler. “After spending two seasons in a junior college where the conditions are a little rough to go to a school like South Carolina was unbelievable. I got to go to a College World Series and Nomar Garciaparra was our guest speaker at our banquet dinner. He said playing in the College World Series is just a step below playing in the big leagues and you will not experience anything like this until you make it to the show.”
It was while attending the University of South Carolina that Dantzler received the biggest honor of his life when he was named Capital One Academic All-America Baseball Student-Athlete of the Year. An honor he’ll cherish forever.
“Winning the Capital One All-America Baseball Student-Athlete of the Year was really special,” Dantzler recalls. “I was always a pretty good student in the classroom. But I was surprised they picked me. It was by far the biggest honor I have ever received.”
After taking a slight step back in 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays organization decided to send Dantzler to the prestigious Australian Baseball League to get some extra at-bats and a little more preparation for an excellent 2015 season.
Having an opportunity to appear in 31 contests for the Canberra Cavalry, Dantzler registered an extra 120 at-bats on his season. Picking up 32 hits, which included: seven doubles, and four home runs, the Florida native also drove in 20 runs and scored another 21 on his way to a respectable .267/.316/.425 slash line versus some of the best pitching he has ever faced.
Dantzler will definitely be looking to use that extra experience to his advantage this season, as he tries to make a serious push for a promotion to the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The experience he received down under will be a great measuring stick for the young prospect throughout spring training and the upcoming season as well.
Be sure to follow L.B. Dantzler in 2015 as he works hard to earn another promotion with hopes of playing in the major leagues in the near future.