A Look Back: 2011 Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year, Brian Dozier
Image courtesy of Betsy BissenBrian Dozier has become one of the best second basemen in baseball. He's played in an All-Star Game. He's participated in a Home Run Derby. He hit over 40 homers once. He's become the leader of the team. However, this story is from a year before Brian Dozier made his major league debut.
Brian Dozier grew up in the small town of Fulton, Mississippi. The town’s population is just shy of 4,000 in the northeast corner of the state. To Dozier, it’s the “best place on Earth to me. Everything is always the same. You always know what you’re going to get when you come back here.”
Occasionally, Dozier tells people that he’s from Tupelo. “I’m actually ten minutes outside of Tupelo. I tell people sometimes when I’m on the road that I’m from Tupelo just because a lot of people have heard of Tupelo with Elvis being from there.”
But Dozier is proud of his Mississippi toots. “It’s awesome. Everybody knows everybody. All of my best friends are still here. It’s just very laid back, and I love it here.”
Brian Dozier was the choice for Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year for 2011. It may be a cliche, but Dozier can be described as a “Baseball Player.” If you’re looking for someone in the Twins farm system who represents the organization perfectly, look no further than Dozier.
“I grew up around baseball. My dad was my coach throughout all of my years. I had an older brother - two years older than I am - that I looked up to throughout my younger days, and even now. He has taught me a lot.”
Although he grew up a big Mississippi State fan, watching all the greats that came through here, Dozier decided to attend the University of Southern Mississippi. “I had a lot of offers. I’m actually from right outside of Ol’ Miss and Mississippi State, two great SEC schools that kind of recruited me. I chose well by going to Southern Miss, I believe. It was also a great fit with me, a blue-collar program, and I fell in love with the coaching staff.
Dozier was very successful in college. As a freshman, he played in 62 games and hit .368/.442/.488 (.930) with eight doubles, four triples and three home runs. As a sophomore, he played 61 games and hit .339/.402/.456 (.858) with 17 doubles and four home runs. In his junior year of 2008, he played in 64 games and hit .342/.403/.476 (.879) with 17 doubles, two triples and five home runs. Despite the tremendous numbers, he went undrafted and returned for his senior year.
Unfortunately, a broken collarbone cost him time during his senior season. It limited him to just 37 games, but he hit .391/.485/.587 (1.072) with 13 doubles, a triple and four home runs. However, it was all worth it. “We had the opportunity to go to Omaha (to play in the College World Series) which was one of the best times of my life my senior years.”
In his four seasons, he walked 87 times while striking out just 73 times. He was also hit by a pitch 25 times.
The Twins used their eighth round pick in 2009 to draft the shortstop. “I was very blessed to be drafted by the Twins and believe it was a great fit for me.”
He signed quickly and reported to Ft. Myers where he spent five games with the GCL Twins. He was then sent to Elizabethton where he hit .353/.417/.431 (848) with 17 doubles in 53 games with the E-Twins. He was able to get off to a fast professional start, and he quickly credits the coaching staff.
“Right out of the gate, we have the best managers in our system in Elizabethton, Ray Smith, Reeder (Jeff Reed), and Shelly (Jim Shellenback). Those guys have been around the game so long, and they are just so knowledgeable about everything. I remember going to Elizabethton and Reeder being my hitting coach. I didn’t really have to ask him much. Rather, I just fed off of his stories. The stuff he was telling, it just gave you goosebumps. He talked about playing with Barry Bonds, catching a perfect game, that kind of stuff. And, he taught me a lot. Right away, he found a little hole in my swing, and we got going on fixing it Day 1. Elizabethton had a great influence on me.”
This article was originally posted in the 2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. Available in paperback.
He began 2010 with the Beloit Snappers. In 39 games, he hit .278/.347/.338 (.685) with seven doubles and a triple. On May 22, he was promoted to Ft. Myers. He played 93 more games and his .274/.352/.354 (.706) with 11 doubles, on triple, and five home runs. One the season, he walked 60 times with 57 strikeouts. He had 16 stolen bases in 21 attempts. He successfully laid down 12 sacrifice bunts.
It was a solid 2010 season for Dozier, his first full season in the Twins system. It came as a surprise to many when the Twins announced that Dozier received an invitation to big league spring training.
Dozier said, “I was very much surprised. I got the invite on Christmas Day. We were opening presents and that was the biggest one of them all. Very blessed.”
Merry Christmas, indeed!
Dozier made a strong impression on the Twins coaching staff, but he also learned a lot from the experience. “For me, the experience to get to know all the guys. I came in the first day, and I was locker mates with Michael Cuddyer, who I’ve been watching for years on TV. He has become a friend of mine now. I learned a lot from him and the other older guys, how they are on and off the field, how they interact with fans. I think that’s the biggest thing. As a young guy, you worry so much about the baseball side, you also have to think about the stuff that comes with it. I had an awesome time and had a lot of fun.”
Having ended 2010 in Ft. Myers, he knew that he would not be making the big club. He was sent back to Ft. Myers to start the 2011 season. He played in 49 games with the Miracle. He hit .322/.423/.472 (.895) with 11 doubles, five triples and two home runs.
Again, he credited his manager, Jake Mauer. “I tell you what. He’s a player’s coach. He’s been there, gone through the system and everything. He really relates to his players very well.”
He moved up to New Britain and worked with former Twins hero Tom Brunansky, a member of the Twins 1987 World Series championship team. Dozier said, “He is one of the best when it comes to hitting. He knows how to hit. Actually, when I got moved up, he found a couple of little tweaks in my swing that I never knew I was doing. He showed me on film. I was like, ‘Well, that makes sense!’ Ever since then, since that first week, we worked really hard in the cage, and he found a couple of things, and it took off from there.”
Under the tutelage of Brunansky and manager Jeff Smith, Dozier played in 78 games with the Rock Cats and hit .318/.384/.502 (.886) with 22 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs. Just days after he was promoted to New Britain, he was hit in the face with a pitch and missed just a week.
Mark Dolenc is a Minnesota native who spent the past two seasons in New Britain. He said, “When Dozier came up, he immediately stepped in and took on a leadership role.”
Dozier said, “I think from a leadership aspect, everybody kind of looks to the shortstop. They are the captain on the infield. I know Gardy takes a lot of pride in his shortstop being like the quarterback on the field. I’ve taken that to heart a lot. Same thing with my college coach. He was the same way. I’m not a big vocal guy. I never have been. I do try to put myself into the right situations, the right place at the right time, not only on the field but off the field. We see a lot of guys that aren’t playing the game the way it is supposed to be played, but if you play the game the way it is supposed to be played and always give 110%, people will respect that. I try to do that each and every day.”
Not only did Dozier put up big numbers for the Rock Cats, but he did so while helping his team push for a spot in the playoffs. The team fell short on the final day, but it was a great experience.
“We had a great year with the Rock Cats. Even in Ft. Myers, before I got called up, we were in the race for the first half of the division. I left a week early to go to New Britain and found myself in a great situation. They were in a playoff race the whole time I was there. You can’t ask for anything else when you come down to the wire. It just makes it that much more fun.”
So how does he separate winning with personal development in the minor leagues? “Sometimes everybody is worried about stats and you want to move up, but at the same time, stats will come if you work hard and put yourself in the right position for when the time comes. So you have to sit back and let that take care of itself and just play the game of baseball. Sometimes, especially at this level, we get into this mindset that it’s such a business. We try to do too much, but it’s a game. It’s a game we all grew up loving to play. We’ve got a group of good friends that have we’ve made over the years. If we just go out and play that game, which we all love to do, we have a lot of fun, and that’s what we did.”
Combined, Dozier hit .320/.399/.491 (.890) with 33 doubles, 12 triples and nine home runs. He scored 92 runs and drove in 56. He stole 24 bases. He was hit by 11 pitches. He successfully laid down 10 sacrifice bunts.
He primarily played shortstop (93 games), but he also played 28 games at second base and three games at third base.
Be sure to pick up your copy of the 2018 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook now. Available in paperback or e-book.
Late in the season, he found out that he was invited to participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He was excited. It’s a great opportunity to play with and against the best guys in the minor leagues. I’m truly blessed that they picked me for that.”
In 26 games for the Mesa Solar Sox, Dozier hit .296/.358/.454 (812) with eight doubles and three home runs. He scored 28 runs and knocked in 22. He was 4-4 in stolen base attempts. He was selected to play in the league’s Rising Stars game, and in his first at-bat, he homered.
Did he get out of the AFL what he was hoping to? “Yeah, I really did. The Fall League offers so much. You get to see where you are versus some of the best competition in the game at our level. I got to meet a lot of new guys, guys I’ve played against but never actually got to develop a friendship with. Now I have, and hopefully I can play many years against them down the road. I got to play under a great manager in Joe McEwing. He’s so intelligent with the game. I got to learn a few things from him. Actually, he gave me some insight on being set up for the play. I think that’s the biggest thing I learned from ‘Super Joe.’ I had a great time.”
Between 1998 and 2006, Joe McEwing played in 754 games with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, and Houston Astros. He was a very solid utility player. He played more than 45 games in the big leagues at second base (238), left field (161), shortstop (99), third base (92), right field (79), first base (61) and center field (46). McEwing ended his playing career after the 2008 season and has quickly moved up the coaching ranks in the White Sox organization. In 2011, he was the manager of the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. After Robin Ventura was named the new manager of the White Sox, McEwing was named his third base coach.
McEwing was a great influence for Dozier. “He stressed to me that I’m still a young guy and primarily a shortstop, and the TWins want me to play shortstop, but down the road, you never know, may have to play second base. I may have to in the near future. He saw one little thing with my set up before plays, a tip, and it flew out from there, improved my range. I’m very grateful for that. Anything you can learn from a guy like Joe McEwing is always a positive. He’s a great guy, and I’m lucky that he got to be our manager out there.”
2011 was a great year for Brian Dozier. But he knows that he still has more work to do before he reaches his goal of getting to the big leagues. “I’ve just got to be prepared. I have to get myself into the best shape possible. I’m not taking too much time off from baseball. Swinging that bat. Taking ground balls. All that footwork and stuff to put myself in the best possible position when I go to big league camp in February.”
With all the Twins issues and injuries in 2011, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire mentioned Brian Dozier several times as a guy he would like to see up with the Twins. It didn’t happen for various reasons, many of them business-related. But Dozier said, “I’m going to get there. It’s just the fact that you’ve got to wait it out and prepare yourself so when that time does come, you’re fully prepared and ready to go. I felt like I had a pretty good year and put myself in the talk up there (with the Twins management) to actually be called up just two years into the system, which is great. Hopefully I can work hard this offseason and get that opportunity next year.”
There is a strong likelihood that Twins fans will see Dozier in the big leagues sometime in 2012. And when he gets there, Twins fans will see a “Baseball Player.” They will see a team-first leader. They will see a guy who is proud of where he is from and appreciative of all those who have helped him get to where he is. He hasn’t played in a big league game yet with the Twins, but Brian Dozier is already a strong representative of what defines a “Minnesota Twin.”
- h2oface, dbminn and Tom Froemming like this