Dozier showing Twins he's worth a look

  • Article by: LAVELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2012 - 7:15 AM

Denied an opportunity to make his Twins debut last season, the infielder is impressing again this spring training.

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Infielder Brian Dozier was a 2009 eighth-round draft pick out of Southern Miss who turned heads with his .399 on-base percentage in 2011.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - Infielder Alexi Casilla returned from the disabled list last Aug. 12. He didn't make it through one full game before reinjuring his right hamstring.

The Twins considered their options. By then, manager Ron Gardenhire had seen many players get called up from Rochester and fail to impress. He was ready for someone different. Someone like Brian Dozier.

"I asked for him,'' Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire's request was denied, as Dozier had only been at Class AA New Britain for part of the season after starting the year at Class A Fort Myers. Now, the Tupelo, Miss., native is putting together a solid spring training that has encouraged the club, making a major league debut this season likely.

He is batting only .214 in camp but has taken good at-bats and has been solid in the field. And, if you look around, he's the best thing going among Twins shortstop prospects right now.

"Dozier has been taking steps up,'' Gardenhire said.

An eighth-round pick in 2009 out of Southern Miss, Dozier hit .320 with a .399 on-base percentage between Fort Myers and New Britain last year, numbers that got the manager's attention. After the season was over, Dozier played for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .296 with three homers and 22 RBI in 26 games. He should start the season at Class AAA Rochester -- a call away from his major league debut.

He's 24, so there's concern about how much better he can get. But he stepped up last year once he arrived at New Britain and began working with hitting coach Tom Brunansky. Dozier hit seven homers in 78 games with the Rock Cats. It doesn't sound like much, but he hit just seven homers in his previous 239 games in the minors.

"When I got to Double-A, my swing kind of changed,'' Dozier said. "I started to develop into my swing. I worked with Tom Brunansky and it really took off for me.

"I developed more power and was driving balls more than I was used to.''

That was evident Monday when he drove a ball off James Shields for a triple -- although the ball appeared to clear the wall for a home run.

At the same time, Dozier's .382 on-base percentage in the minors suggests he knows the value of being a table-setter.

"Whatever the job is,'' he said, "I try to do it.''

There have been questions about his arm and range, but the Twins believe he has enough of both to play the position well. Dozier says he has plenty of arm for the position, preferring to hold back for when he has to use it. As for range, he feels he made strides in that area during the Fall League while working with Mesa manager Joe McEwing, who helped him get to balls more quickly.

Gardenhire and free-agent signee Jamey Carroll have been working with Dozier to slow things down in the field because he gets too quick at times, which can lead to mistakes. But they both see Dozier's talent and feel he's not far from the majors. One reason the Twins signed the 38-year-old Carroll was to be the bridge to Dozier, but that bridge might not be as long as first believed.

"I liked him last year in camp,'' Gardenhire said. "I thought he was playing really well. He's a good one. But we didn't sign Jamey Carroll to be a holdover. We signed him because he can catch the ball.''

The next time Gardenhire asks for Dozier, he might not get turned down.

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