Twins’ Brian Dozier has become a highlight-reel regular

MINNEAPOLIS — Terry Ryan saw this coming. The timing of it, however, was not as he envisioned it.

The Twins’ general manager knew Brian Dozier could be a solid big league player. That’s what Dozier has turned out to be in 2013, his first full year at second base for Minnesota.

Ryan, however, expected it to have happened one year ago. That wasn’t the case, as Dozier struggled in his first season in the minor leagues and wasn’t brought back up as a September call-up at the end of the year.

“I was a little surprised at that and I was a little disappointed in myself. Maybe I pushed him too hard,” Ryan said. “But now things are starting to come together.”

Indeed, Dozier has become one of Minnesota’s best players in just his second season in the majors. Before Wednesday’s game against Cleveland, Dozier had a 3.1 WAR (wins above replacement), which was second among all Twins players behind catcher Joe Mauer (4.6). Dozier’s 3.1 WAR was tied for sixth among American League second baseman.

Not bad for a guy who was hitting just .214 with a .558 OPS (on-base plus slugging) through the end of May.

“I got in a big funk early in the year,” Dozier said. “I’m not really worried about numbers or where they’re at or anything.”

Where they’re at now is a .241 batting average and 49 RBI after going 1-for-6 with a run-scoring single in Wednesday’s loss to Cleveland. Dozier’s 49 RBI are second most on the Twins after Justin Morneau’s 67. The power has also developed for Dozier, who is second on the team (behind Morneau once again) with 12 home runs in 104 games. That’s more than he’s hit at any level of baseball; in fact, he had just 16 combined home runs in four minor league seasons.

Dozier isn’t concerned about the home run numbers, though, nor is he trying to hit them. Minnesota has put him in the leadoff spot since the beginning of July. It was a bit of a default move as the Twins didn’t really have many options at the leadoff spot. Dozier has seemed to thrive there, though. Nine of his 12 home runs and 36 of his RBI have come in 58 games in the leadoff role.

Still, Dozier doesn’t consider himself one of the team’s big bats or a guy who is expected to drive in a lot of runs. He leaves that up to Mauer, Morneau or Josh Willingham.

“I feel like I’m comfortable in the leadoff spot. I like the one or two hole,” Dozier said. “I feel like (RBI are) for the big knockers. But you don’t want to lose sight of that if there are people in scoring position when I’m up, I have to be the RBI guy.”

Defensively, Dozier has been brilliant at times at second base, a position that he’s still learning. He didn’t play it at all in 84 major league games as a rookie last year and spent just 47 of his 356 minor league games at second base. He’s a shortstop by trade, having played that position in college at Southern Miss and predominantly in the minors.

The transition to the other side of the infield has appeared natural for Dozier, though. His arm strength plays well at that position and he’s gotten the hang of making the turn at second base on double plays, communicating well with shortstop Pedro Florimon on anything hit in the middle infield. Dozier has been a part of 84 double plays this year, the third-most among big league second basemen.

“It’s an adjustment if you hadn’t done it, but he’d played a number of days at short and a number of days at second down there,” Ryan said. “That isn’t going to affect him. He’s played enough at both spots in the minor leagues that it shouldn’t affect him up here.”

Dozier made a mechanical adjustment in his swing back at the end of May after he was missing fastballs and just slightly getting under pitches. He felt his swing was starting late due to his footwork, which created a domino effect. Now he’s seeing the ball better and is getting on base at a higher clip.

This was something the Twins hoped would have happened for Dozier in 2012. For whatever the reason, it just didn’t work out for him as a rookie when he hit just .234 with six homers and 33 RBI in 84 games. Now after a slow start to 2013, Dozier finally looks like he’s found his groove in Minnesota.

“I thought he was going to do this last year, and of course it didn’t happen. He was over on the other side of the diamond. That might have had something to do with it,” Ryan said. “He’d always shown some pop in his bat. He’d always shown some range. He was certainly athletic enough. He can run. … It’s not a huge surprise to anybody, because we thought it was maybe a year last year that he was going to do that and didn’t. It’s good to see him do it this year.”

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