By Steve Hunt
Special to the Journal
ARLINGTON, Texas – After a rookie season where he committed 15 errors at shortstop for Minnesota, which tied him for the American League lead, Brian Dozier was demoted to Triple-A Rochester last August and wouldn’t return to the Twins in 2012.
But during the offseason, club officials decided to try the former Itawamba AHS and Southern Miss standout at second base – and judging from the early returns, it’s paid off. Dozier currently leads AL second basemen in fielding percentage, assists and total chances and is also second in errors with four.
“Our manager came to me in spring training the first day. I was taking ground balls at both positions and he said ‘I don’t want you taking another ground ball at shortstop until I tell you otherwise.’ and that was the last ground ball I’ve ever taken there,” Dozier said.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, a former Mets infielder, feels the success his new starting second baseman has been having is due to him being more comfortable on the right side of the infield than he was at short.
“Moving him to that side of the infield has really helped him. At shortstop, we always said you’re playing deep,” Gardenhire said. “[We told him] you’ve got to shorten up on the field. He likes to let the ball come to him. Side-to-side he’s outstanding. I think he’s just so much more comfortable on that side not having to rush stuff.”
Dozier grew up playing shortstop and played there at Southern Miss in 2006-09. But in 2010, he started playing second on an occasional basis which has made this adjustment much easier.
Playing in the Venezuelan Winter League this past off-season and picking the brain of Gardenhire as well as Twins infield coach Joe Vavra has also been instrumental in this transition being seamless for the 26-year-old infielder. “I tried to get as much advice as I could from a lot of different guys. It always helps,” he said.
In fact, Dozier’s performance at second has been so stellar that he’s even being mentioned as a candidate to win a Gold Glove there. However, he doesn’t concern himself with such individual honors.
“Well, yeah obviously there’s been talk about it. As a player, you don’t look at that at all,” he said. “If you’re not winning baseball games none of that really matters. Nothing tastes as good unless you’re winning. We’re not doing that.”
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.