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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Rookies: Harper and Dozier

Brian Dozier, new Twins shortstop
 One player you probably have heard of since he was 15 years old. Between the prodigious 500 foot home runs as a teenager, the eye black that could be mistaken for war paint, and an ego big enough to handle a $6.25 million signing bonus, he came into professional baseball already anointed as "the chosen one." Despite putting up fairly pedestrian numbers in relatively short stints at AA and AAA, it was of little surprise that the Washington Nationals promoted him early in the 2012 season: they want to sell tickets and be successful, and there's little doubt that he is a long-term solution to both those issues.

The other player only fans of the Twins minor league system had heard of up until this past spring. He is a college graduate and was a 4-year starter on the Southern Mississippi baseball team, he's 25 and just getting his first taste of the big leagues, was an 8th round draft pick, and (mostly) flew under the radar until he was named 2011 Twins minor league player of the year. He's not flashy, does not hit 500 foot home runs, and from what I have seen, he does not even wear eye black. He's not viewed as the second coming of Babe Ruth, and he's not expected to permanently change the face of the Twins franchise.

But just for kicks, I thought it might be fun to do a side-by-side comparison of Bryce Harper and the Twins' new shortstop Brian Dozier. On paper, of course, they couldn't be less similar players: one is a power-hitting teenage outfielder that may hit 500 home runs in his career; the other is a solid middle infielder expected to hit for decent average and with moderate power. It's interesting, though, that both broke into the big leagues at almost the same time -- Dozier's first game was May 7; Harper's was April 28 -- and both were brought up to inject some life into their clubs. The point here isn't to compare Dozier and Harper to one another -- that would be senseless. Rather, I'm just comparing what they have done, in a similar time span, with what fans of both organizations might have hoped for or expected.

As of today, Harper has a .244/.333/.449 slash line with 2 home runs, 2 triples, 6 doubles and 7 RBIs. His OPS is .782. Dozier stands at .279/.292/.426 with 2 home runs, 3 doubles and 8 RBIs, with an OPS of .719. Just looking at those basic stats, a couple things stand out: first, although Harper "only" has 2 home runs, his ability to hit for extra bases is noteworthy. Second, it's not surprising that Harper is batting under .250 -- he hit .256 in 37 games at AA, and .250 in only 20 games at AAA. Yes, you're reading that right: he only played 57 games above A level minor league baseball before being called up. As I mentioned, his promotion was not solely merit-based.

With respect to Dozier, he has been as advertised: capable in the field, some power, and the ability to hit for a good average. In short, in the extremely small sample sizes, both players are performing pretty much like you might expect. Dozier has been good on defense, has hit for average, and has shown occasional pop; Harper's batting average is lower than it was at AA or AAA, but he has demonstrated that, when he does hit, the power is there.

It's funny that there is so much hype for one player, Harper, and the other, Dozier, will play this season in relative obscurity (it doesn't help Dozier's case that the Twins will be out of the national spotlight all summer). Yes, I do think that Harper will be an excellent major league player for years to come, and I also admit that I have enjoyed watching the way he hustles on the field 100 percent of the time. But this season, while ESPN is cutting into other broadcasts to alert us as to what great athletic feat (turning a single into a hustle double) or crazy behavior (hitting himself in the head with a bat) Harper is engaged in, I'll be content to watch a solid-fielding shortstop, who seems like a genuinely decent guy, who hopefully can anchor the Twins' infield for the foreseeable future.

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