After a refreshingly strong first two months, the Twins settled into a June funk that saw their record slide back toward the .500 mark. Several players who were performing well early on came hurdling back to Earth, helping to contribute to what some might consider a team-wide regression to the mean.
One player that hasn't let up one bit is Brian Dozier, who is on a borderline MVP-caliber pace with about half of the season in the books.
There have been plenty of great stories on this team – from the rotation's rebound to Glen Perkins' dominance to Eddie Rosario's impressive debut – but Dozier is the biggest stand-out for this upstart club, with numbers that would justifiably put him in the American League MVP conversation at season's end if he keeps them up. And judging by his continued absence among even the Top 5 American League vote-getters for second base in the All-Star game, it seems that baseball at large hasn't really taken notice.
Here's a look at where Dozier ranks in several popular offensive categories compared to his MLB peers at second base:
OPS: 2nd (.869)
HR: 1st (16)
RBI: 1st (40)
R: 1st (58)
XBH: 1st (42)
BB: 4th (30)
Dozier's .266 batting average is nothing special, and unfortunately that seems to diminish his value in the eyes of some, but he has quite clearly been one of the game's best producers at his position and in fact he's been one of baseball's best power hitters in general. His 42 extra-base hits rank third in the majors, and first in the AL.
That is particularly amazing when you look at where Dozier came from.
Back in 2011, he was an eighth-round draft pick out of a fairly small college – he's one of only two active big-leaguers from the University of Southern Mississippi – and he signed for only $30,000. Early in his pro career, Dozier carried the profile of a utility man: not quite good enough defensively to start at short, but lacking the offensive punch to be a regular anywhere else.
Certainly, no one would have anticipated that power-hitting would be any kind of strength for him. He didn't hit his first home run until his 126th professional game, and totaled only 16 homers in 1,613 minor-league plate appearances.
A scouting report on Dozier from Baseball America's John Manuel back in 2012 called Dozier "skilled and savvy," adding that he "gets the most out of his solid athleticism and endears himself to managers with his grinding style." Those attributes have played out in a big way as the infielder has ascended and grown from a light-hitting prospect into a dominant major-league slugger.
Not only has Dozier blossomed as a player on the field, but he continues to be viewed as a tremendous teammate, a highly marketable asset for the organization, and one of the most outgoing and insightful interview subjects in the clubhouse for media members.
His four-year contract, signed late in spring training, didn't buy out any free agency years and seemed to yield little upside to the Twins beyond potential savings in the event that he somehow continued developing into an even bigger star. Well, that's just what we're seeing, and at this rate his $3 million salary next year and his $6 million salary in 2017 look like nice bargains compared to what he might have been able to negotiate through arbitration.
It's difficult to attach a monetary value to what Dozier has provided the Twins this year. He has been the one constant in a lineup that has endured some ugly slumps, with an OPS that is 100 points higher than the next qualified player (Torii Hunter). His defense has been great, and if you buy into intangibles, he offers them in spades.
Look around Dozier on the many leaderboards he appears on, and you're unlikely to find many players who have risen as far as he has, from as humble of beginnings. He's a tremendous story and a deserving face of the franchise.