Faith first for Twins’ rising Dozier

Twins second baseman Brian Dozier hit a career-high 18 home runs in 2013, a club record for the position.

Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

FULTON, Miss. — Every number on Brian Dozier’s stat line improved in 2013, his second season as a Twins infielder and first at second base.

Minnesota is expecting nothing less this season, but don’t expect the 26-year-old to give too many straight answers about his progress.

Dozier has a list of priorities; Brian is last on the list.

"We’ve made a lot of acquisitions to better our team. That’s the first thing. We want to win baseball games," said Dozier, who spoke at Friday’s Leadoff Banquet at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College in his hometown of Fulton. "(General manager) Terry (Ryan) did a lot of good things to help us better our team. That’s No. 1. Personally, I’m kind of over the stage of being a rookie, kind of got more experience, but all-in-all I want to win baseball games and I feel like we’ll do that."

Of course he wants to be as personally successful as he can, but only because that will make the Twins better. But Dozier will proudly tell you his greatest mission doesn’t lie in his stats, or the Twins’. And that may be the secret to his success.

He’s doing more than his offseason share of baseball work to continue a steady climb — last season Dozier was named the Twins’ Most Improved Player. But for more than a week in Nicaragua, his workout included a shovel, not a bat.

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In November, Dozier and now-wife Renee went to the Central American country on a mission trip, digging trenches to give locals a clean water supply.

"I recommend it to anybody," Dozier said. "It was kind of a life-changing thing, put things in perspective. It was really awesome."

As a 2012 call-up at shortstop, Dozier hit .234 in 84 games. Last season with a move to second, his average, slugging and on-base percentages rose (123 points to .726). He hit a career-high 18 home runs, a club record for a second baseman.

Dozier said he and hitting coach Tom Brunansky worked last offseason and especially into the early part of the season on adjustments to get more power out of his swing.

"He didn’t see that I was using my full potential out of my swing," Dozier said. "That was a huge adjustment for me. I think one of the biggest things is you’ve got to realize what kind of hitter you are in the major leagues. I think I did that last season. No big adjustments this season."

Dozier’s 55 extra-base hits ranked third among the position in the American League. He found his swing and is expressing a desire to steal more than 2013’s total of 14 bases — now that a bone bruise in his left knee is healed.

"You always hear, it’s so hard to get there, but it really is harder to stay," Dozier said. "The amount of work that I see each and every day from guys that have 15-20 years in the major leagues, the amount that they put in, outworking rookies, that’s what’s special to see."

Dozier’s defense improved last season as well, a leap worthy of long-term status, going from 15 errors as a rookie to six in 2013. His .992 fielding percentage was tied for second-best among major league second basemen. His 5.22 range factor ranked first in the majors at his position. The Twins named him Defensive Player of the Year.

AROUND THE HORN

Those numbers put more space between Dozier and prospect Eddie Rosario, who will start the 2014 season with a 50-game suspension for a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Dozier seemingly has the sky as his limit, but there’s more to him than a bat and glove and a side of him he’d probably rather talk to you about. Nicaragua may not have done anything to promote his career, or make him better at fielding a short hop. But it did improve a Christian faith he holds higher than the game he loves.

"That’s what my life’s all about," Dozier said. "I tell all the time, I’m a Christian just playing baseball on the side. That’s what I stand for and we have a lot of guys the same way up there."