This marks the fifth of a nine-part series that takes a look at each position for the Minnesota Twins leading up to Opening Day. Today’s edition breaks down the second base job, where one player emerged for Minnesota in 2013.
Brian Dozier (.244/.312/.414, 18 HR, 66 RBI in 147 games)
Eduardo Escobar (.236/.282/.345, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 66 games)
The second base position was somewhat of a question mark heading into the 2013 season after Alexi Casilla and Jamey Carroll split time at second in 2012. Dozier made the transition from shortstop in 2012 to second base last year after never having played the position in the majors. While he had spent a bit of time at second in the minor leagues, it was a bit of an uncertainty as to how Dozier would handle the transition. But he worked plenty with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor last offseason and spring to hone his footwork and positioning at second base.
Not only did Dozier play well defensively at his new position (just six errors), but he also set a Twins record for the most home runs in a season by a second baseman (18). While Dozier batted just .244, his power numbers ranked among the best on Minnesota’s roster. His 18 homers led the team, and his 66 RBI were second behind Justin Morneau’s 74. Dozier also improved his stolen base numbers from his rookie year, swiping 14 bases in 21 attempts. Those 14 steals trailed only shortstop Pedro Florimon (15). Defensively, Dozier had a .992 fielding percentage, tied for the fourth-best among all second basemen in the majors. He and Florimon made for a reliable double-play duo up the middle for the Twins, who turned an MLB-best 178 double plays (with Dozier contributing to 110 of them).
All in all, it was a successful first season at second base for Dozier, who was one of the few certainties in the lineup heading into spring training.
Dozier stayed healthy all year, meaning manager Ron Gardenhire was able to write Dozier’s name in the lineup as the starting second baseman 141 times. Minnesota only needed a backup second baseman in 21 games, and utility infielder Jamey Carroll started 15 of those games. Escobar, another utility infielder, spent just five games at second in 2013 while Doug Bernier made one start backing up Dozier.
While Minnesota had several position battles down in Fort Myers this spring, second base was not one of them. Dozier cemented himself as the Twins’ everyday second baseman, alleviating one potential worry in 2014. It remains to be seen if Dozier can hit for power at the same rate he did last season. Prior to his 18 home runs in 2013, the most homers Dozier ever hit in a minor league season was nine. He belted six in 84 games in 2012 while driving in 33 runs. If Dozier can come anywhere close to that 18-home-run mark in 2014, the Twins would be thrilled. But in reality, it shouldn’t happen again where Dozier leads the team in home runs. Minnesota has other players it relies on for power more than Dozier.
Given the latest round of roster cuts the Twins made Monday in camp, it appears as if Escobar will again make the roster to begin the season. He’s the prime candidate to back up Dozier whenever Gardenhire gives his starting second baseman a day off. While Escobar has spent more of his time in the majors at shortstop and third base, he does have 23 games of experience at second (and 73 minor league games at the position).
KEY TO SUCCESS
Keep Dozier healthy. While Escobar is fine as an occasional backup at second base, Minnesota doesn’t have another player on the 25-man roster who would make sense to get extended time there if Dozier were to get injured. And if Dozier’s offensive numbers in 2014 compare to what he produced last year, the Twins will need to keep his bat in the lineup.