A few dozen feet to the left, another legacy's looming closure feels more fated.
Brian Dozier has already carved out distinction as one of the greatest second basemen in franchise history, and the best may well be yet to come, but his tenure in Minnesota is fleeting.Projected Starter: Brian Dozier
Likely Backup: Ehire Adrianza
Depth: Eduardo Escobar, Nick Gordon, Gregorio Petit
Prospects: Gordon, Travis Blankenhorn, Yunior Severino
It's one of the most obnoxious clichés in sports, but in this case it's too accurate not to acknowledge: Dozier has made a habit out of proving doubters wrong.
He wasn't in great demand as a draft prospect out of the University of Southern Mississippi back in 2009, slipping to the eighth round despite batting .355 during a four-year collegiate career.
In the Twins system, Dozier never graced the top end of prospect lists like the players who now follow him in the lineup. When drafted he was mostly viewed as a future utility player – a tweener in the middle infield without enough power to project as an impact hitter – and his early years in the minors followed suit.
But Dozier just kept on improving. He broke out with a monster year at Double-A, reached the big leagues by age 25, and slowly blossomed into a premier power hitter in the game.
His 2016 season seemed flukish, absurd, unrepeatable. Forty-two home runs? From a guy who previously hit 32 in eight years of college and minor-league ball combined??
How silly to doubt him. He brought it again in 2017, with arguably an even better overall performance.
Dozier is the embodiment of a self-made star, and the definition of a leader by example. His production last year solidifies his status as a 5-WAR player, placing him comfortably in the top 15 percent of all qualified MLBers.
Turning 31 in May, he's still in his physical prime. And beyond his natural competitive drive, Dozier has added incentive this year: the highest personal stakes of his life. For all his accomplishment, his career earnings amount to a relative pittance in the spectrum of Major League Baseball's upper echelon.
Dozier is not only trying to lead an improving young team back to the playoffs this year; he's also showcasing himself for the league in hopes of earning a nine-digit paycheck he most certainly deserves, at a time where those are getting awfully hard to come by.
If Dozier should stumble for some reason this year, we'll know for certain it wasn't due to a lack of effort, focus, or urgency.
Of course, the huge buzzkill of this whole deal is that Dozier's days in Minnesota appear to be numbered. He obviously has gotten the hint, and expressed his disappointment candidly earlier this week: "It's pretty much black and white from what I've been hearing, which is upsetting, but you turn the page and play to win."
Dozier's got a spectacular record of durability. Were he to uncharacteristically miss time, Ehire Adrianza or Eduardo Escobar would figure to primarily fill in early on. Potentially Nick Gordon could emerge as an option somewhere along the way.
Gordon's presence, in part, has contributed to the front office holding off on extension negotiations with Dozier. The 22-year-old ranks as Twins Daily's No. 3 prospect and will probably be playing short in Rochester by midsummer, if not from the outset. The tentative plan right now has him lining up with Jorge Polanco in the 2019 middle infield – assignments TBD. Neither has the makings of a stellar MLB shortstop and both currently are more ideally suited for second.
Here's the rub: Polanco and Gordon both are more likely than Dozier to be manning second base beyond 2018, and neither is at all likely to ever reach Dozier's current level of top-tier production.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The short-term outlook at second base is blindingly bright. Dozier is a legit star player with more experience and motivation than ever before. Every sign points to another year as one of MLB's more impactful assets.
After that, all bets are off. Gordon and Polanco seem almost equally likely to land at second as semi-permanent solutions. Travis Blankenhorn and Yunior Severino lurk in the lower levels.
This will very likely be the last year we're able to watch Dozier dig in to lead off each game for the club that drafted him nearly a decade ago. Enjoy it while you can, Twins fans. But throughout the summer, keep an eye on movement behind him on the depth chart and in the system, because it may foretell the future of second base for the franchise.
~~~Catch up on the rest of the series:
Twins Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins Position Analysis: First Base
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