MINNEAPOLIS — After a rollercoaster rookie season, Twins infielder Brian Dozier spent the offseason picking the brains of a few players who have had the type of success at the major league level Dozier is striving for.
Dozier, a Mississippi native, hung out with fellow southerner and Minnesota teammate Josh Willingham at Willingham’s home in Alabama. Willingham was the Twins’ best offensive player last season, hitting a career-high 35 home runs with 110 RBI. The duo also spent time hitting at Target Field prior to last weekend’s TwinsFest at the Metrodome.
Before that, Dozier was working with Baseball Hall of Famer and St. Paul native Paul Molitor, who helped Dozier with his fielding at the University of Minnesota campus. Molitor was primarily a designated hitter in the second half of his career but played nearly 400 games at second base, a position Dozier is still trying to master.
During his 84 games with the Twins last season, Dozier played only shortstop. But he did play both middle infield positions during a brief winter ball stint in Venezuela and has spent time at second base in the minors. As he approaches an important spring training — and knowing the Twins need help at both middle infield positions — Dozier feels confident in his ability to play either shortstop or second base.
“The offseason I’ve usually just worked strictly at short. But this time I got a lot of time (at second base),” Dozier said. “I didn’t take any time off to be honest with you because I really didn’t feel like I needed much time off. I wanted to take a little bit of time off to recharge, but I was like, ‘You know what? You’ve got to stay sharp.’ It’s a big year for me.”
Dozier batted .234 with six homers and 33 RBI in his first season in the majors. He also committed 15 errors in that 84-game span, something both he and the Twins hope will be fixed this spring.
At times, Dozier took his fielding struggles to the plate with him, a problem not uncommon in young players. Being able to separate the two will be key for Dozier, who was the Twins’ minor league player of the year in 2011.
“I’m going to take some of the accountability on that,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of Dozier’s struggles last season. “Maybe I pushed him hard. Obviously, he was our player of the year the previous year. I was bragging about him pretty good. I like him as a player. (Manager Ron Gardenhire) likes him as a player. Maybe I pushed it a little too quick for him, too fast.”
Dozier doesn’t believe he was overwhelmed by everything the big leagues presented last season, even though the adjustment is a lot to process for a minor leaguer making the jump to the majors. When he slumped at the plate, Dozier made adjustments to his batting stance that weren’t characteristic for him, dropping his hands below his shoulders. As he struggled offensively and defensively, Dozier tried whatever he could to break the slump and stay in the big leagues. Ultimately, he was sent back to Triple-A Rochester in mid-August and spent the rest of the season in the minors.
“Especially as a rookie, you hear a lot of information that comes your way. It’s how you deal with it that really matters,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve dealt with it the way I shouldn’t. I really tried to change a lot of stuff in my game last year. You’ve got to make adjustments along the way, but there’s a time to just stick with it.”
Dozier is one of several candidates for the two middle infield positions, along with veteran Jamey Carroll, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar. Last spring, Dozier was a sponge while working with the 38-year-old Carroll in the field. It ultimately paid off for Dozier with his major league debut in early May.
With that experience under his belt, Dozier is now hoping he’ll have a permanent home in the majors once the team breaks camp this spring.
“Now it’s just a matter of whether or not he feels like he fits. Sometimes, it’s, ‘Do I belong or don’t I?’ Last year, it was a struggle,” Ryan said. “He’s got the attributes you’re looking for in the middle of the diamond. He can throw enough, he’s got agility, he’s athletic enough, he’s strong enough, he runs enough, he can steal a base. He has power to hit it over the fence. It’s all there.”