On the path: Baserunning paying dividends for Twins’ Dozier

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, left, and Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, right, share a laugh as Dozier presents Jeter with the last second base used in the Metrodome as the Twins honor Jeter before a baseball game in Minneapolis, Saturday, July 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, left, and Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, right, share a laugh as Dozier presents Jeter with the last second base used in the Metrodome as the Twins honor Jeter before a baseball game in Minneapolis, Saturday, July 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

By Steve Hunt
Special to the Journal
ARLINGTON, Texas – Last season, Brian Dozier committed just six errors in 734 chances, tying him for the fewest errors by a second baseman in Minnesota Twins history.
However the 27-year-old Dozier, who hit .244 with 18 home runs and 66 RBI in his first full season in the big leagues, knew part of his game still needed attention. So in the offseason, the former Itawamba AHS and Southern Miss standout started working on his baserunning with Twins baserunning coach Paul Molitor, who stole 504 bases during his Hall of Fame career, and Minnesota’s third base coach Joe Vavra.
In 2013, he was 14 of 19 in stolen base attempts and through 81 games this season, he was 15 of 19, a sign his hard work is paying off.
“I focused mainly on building my speed up, dissecting how to steal more bases,” Dozier said. “The biggest thing for me was trying to get better with stealing bases. That’s a big priority, especially at the top of the order.”
That efficiency on the basepaths is one reason Dozier leads the American League in runs scored – 62 through Friday’s games – despite hitting just .235 from the leadoff spot. He’s matched his walks total of 51 from 147 games last year, a key factor in his healthier .346 on-base percentage.
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said he is pleased with the strides his starting second baseman has made, but feels he could still be more patient when he’s on base.
“Yeah, he’s a good baserunner, an aggressive baserunner. What happens when you start stealing bases is teams start playing more attention to you. So he’s working through that part of it right now,” Gardenhire said. “They’re throwing over more. They’re slide-stepping an awful lot and I can see at times he really is trying too hard rather than looking for an opening.”
Besides the added focus Dozier has placed on being a better baserunner, another big difference this season is that he is no longer slowed by the knee issue that limited his ability to be aggressive in the latter stages of 2013.
The injury was “just wear and tear, didn’t really get shut down but when you know you’re not 100 percent, it’s kind of hard to be as aggressive,” he said. “But it’s better, everything feels good.”
While Gardenhire said he wants Dozier to pick his spots better where he tries to steal, he likes how hard his young infielder is working to continue improving this aspect of his game.
“Good baserunners bide their time and pick out a pitch, figure whether it’s going to be a breaking ball or a changeup or something, and right now he’s getting a little antsy,” Gardenhire said. “But he’s studying. He’s working on it. He’s constantly watching video. He’s a good player. He’s well-rounded.”
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.