Likely Starter: Brian Dozier
2012 Stats: .234/.271/.332, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 33 R
Potential Backups: Jamie Carroll, Eduardo Escobar
From the outside, nothing about Brian Dozier’s career path suggested that stardom was in the cards. In fact, there was little to suggest that he possessed the capability of turning into an MLB regular.
A Southern boy out of Mississippi drafted in the eighth round, Dozier debuted in 2009 with good numbers as a college draftee competing against more inexperienced players in rookie ball. He followed that up with an unimpressive .700 OPS in his first turn at full-season ball, looking the profile of a future utility guy, at best.
Over those first couple years, Dozier performed well enough to move up the ladder but not well enough to catch the eyes of scouts or prospect analysts (save for maybe our guy Seth). Then, in 2011, he experienced a breakout. Between Class-A Ft. Myers and Class-AA New Britain, the shortstop batted .320/.399/.491 with 54 extra-base hits while holding his own defensively. In isolation those numbers were excellent; with his age and experience level taken into account, less so.
Still, for the first time he had exhibited the potential to become a legitimate major-league asset. Shortstops that can get on base and flash some pop are valuable, especially in this organization.
It was around this time that the Twins’ front office – or, at least, certain members of it – became enamored with Dozier. We started to see quotes from organizational personnel touting his abilities, and fawning media portrayals
from scribes being fed by team sources. After his 2011 season, it became clear that Dozier was firmly entrenched in the team’s plans, almost regardless of his performance.
Last year in spring training there were reports of internal debates over whether or not the infielder, who had played only 78 games above Single-A, should open the season on the big-league roster. Ultimately, he was optioned to Triple-A, but it wasn’t long before he got the call despite mediocre numbers in Rochester.
Dozier joined the Twins in early May and played in the majors for about three month. He looked over-matched, struggling to put together good at-bats and seemingly taking the bad ones out onto the field with him. With both sides of his game failing to show the improvement they’d hoped to see, the Twins knocked him back down to Triple-A in August, where he played poorly over the remainder of the campaign and failed to earn even a September call-up.
Despite all that, Dozier has been hailed as essentially a lock to make the starting lineup from the outset this spring, this time at second base. Coaches in camp have remarked that he looks like a different player now. He has made several nice plays at second and although he's batting just .244 in exhibition play, a 5-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 plate appearances indicates that his plate approach has been sound.
Carrying those strides into the games that count will be Dozier's challenge. All the club needs is for him to be steady with the mitt and adequate at the dish. Anything more would be a great bonus -- especially if he can establish himself as a legitimate No. 2 hitter -- but shouldn't be expected based on his performance up to this point. In 132 contests between Triple-A and the majors, he has batted .233 and struck out in 17 percent of his plate appearances. Despite all the verbal accolades he receives, Dozier has much to prove on the field.
If he can't cut it, the Twins do have the luxury of a fairly reliable fallback plan. Jamey Carroll is in the second and final year of a contract he signed last offseason, and although he's hardly an offensive weapon (he slugged .317 last year) he's a steady player who makes the plays in the field and gets himself on base. Of course, he's also 39, so his ability to hold up for a full season could be in question. That's probably part of the reason he hasn't been viewed as a credible contender to start, along with the fact that feeding him at-bats does little for the club's rebuilding process.
Looking down the farm for prospective second basemen, there's no one noteworthy in the pipeline until you reach Eddie Rosario, who hasn't played above Low-A and is no lock to stick in the infield.
As such, the Twins are depending on Dozier to become a sturdy bridge, so it's hardly surprising that he's being handed the reigns, nor will it be surprising if he's given a pretty long leash.