CLEARWATER, FLA. – Brian Dozier is experiencing just how one promising season can turn around a young career.
A year ago, Dozier was in major league camp trying to prove himself, following a 2012 season in which he made his Twins debut but was sent down in August and then not called back up in September.
This year, Dozier is being considered for the leadoff spot and the Twins recently spoke with his agent about a multiyear contract, which was tabled for the time being.
“The game can change really quick,” Dozier said.
That’s what happens when you play solid defense and bat .244 with a team-high 18 home runs and 66 RBI. Dozier was one of the few bright spots during a 96-loss season.
“The biggest thing is establishing yourself, feeling able to gain confidence in the big leagues, feeling you belong,” Dozier said. “That was the big thing coming into last year, trying to prove that I’m an everyday player. Coming into this year it is not really the same thing, but I want to get better, take a next step and do bigger things.”
Dozier’s agent, Damon Lapa, met with the Twins on March 12, and the sides kicked around the possibility of a long-term contract but couldn’t get any traction toward a deal. They have agreed to put talks on hold for now but could revisit the situation at any time.
“Just a casual meeting to talk some things over,” Dozier said. “It didn’t work out, but I think it may be something in the near future. I’d be definitely up for it.”
Dozier has only one year and 100 days of major league service time, but teams are attempting to lock up young players earlier. The Braves signed Andrelton Simmons — with one year, 125 days of service — to a seven-year, $58 million extension. The Pirates are trying to lock up Starling Marte, and the Brewers are interested in locking up Jean Segura. Both shortstops have less than two years of service time.
The Astros recently offered top prospect George Springer — who hasn’t played a game in the majors — a seven-year, $23 million deal that was turned down.
Dozier, 26, was all ears about the possibility.
“Anyone who says they wouldn’t listen to something like that early on is foolish,” he said.
Dozier said he has no problems with his agent talking with the Twins during the season if they want to revisit the situation. He is focused on taking the next step in his career — which could mean stepping into the leadoff spot.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has looked at Alex Presley and Aaron Hicks a few times at the top of the order but has given Dozier four consecutive Grapefruit League starts in the leadoff spot. That includes Sunday, when he was 2-for-3 with two doubles in a 5-1 loss to the Phillies. He is batting .273 this spring.
Dozier batted leadoff in 74 games last season, posting a .253 batting average and .310 on-base percentage. He will have to improve on his .219 batting average against righthanded pitchers, but Dozier believes he made progress as last season went on.
“I have no problem with [batting Dozier leadoff] whatsoever,” Gardenhire said. “We have done that before.”
The Twins will have to scratch for runs any way they can in 2014 and need a player to set the tone for the rest of the lineup. Dozier wouldn’t necessarily be the prototypical leadoff hitter, but he might be the best fit for the team in that role.
“I probably feel more comfortable in the leadoff spot,” he said. “I like that role. I know I have to do a little better job, and the second half of last year I did do that. But I must be consistent the entire year in getting on base, but to a point where I’m not losing the ability to drive the ball and be an RBI guy because I think I can bring that to the table also.”