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Friday, March 23, 2012

Eight Reasons Why Brian Dozier Should Start at Shortstop for the Twins in 2012

He wasn't a household name last year at this time, even among many followers of the Twins' minor league system, but much has changed in the past 12 months. Depending on whom you speak to in the front office, there seem to be differing interpretations on Dozier's role in the Twins' organization this season. Make no mistake -- everyone is speaking of him highly right now. Terry Ryan, for instance, recently mentioned that he would not hesitate to call a player like Dozier up to the major leagues straight from AA New Britain, saying, "[t]hat's not going to scare us off. If he looks like he's mature enough . . . ." And we all know, now, that Ron Gardenhire actually wanted Dozier on the team last season, but that request was refused by management (side note: what does that tell you about how dire the Twins' middle infield situation was?). If Dozier stays healthy, and remains productive, it's a matter of when, not if, he will make his Twins debut. But today, I want to give you 8 reasons I think the Twins should add Dozier to the 40 man roster, award him the starting shortstop job in Minnesota for 2012, and call it a done deal.

Brian Dozier can take the shortstop job and run with it in 2012

1. Defensively, I acknowledge that some aren't very high on Dozier, and actually view him as more of a second baseman. Even assuming that he is not the greatest defensive shortstop (although the reports have been pretty positive this spring), the falloff from 38 year old Jamey Carroll to 24 year old Dozier will not be significant. Carroll has limited range, and actually was not even predominately a shortstop earlier in his career. I simply don't see a downside -- defensively -- to having Dozier man the 6-hole, when compared with the alternative.

2. Correspondingly, if Dozier plays shortstop, Carroll could move to second base. Carroll can still bat at the top of the order and be that on-base guy that the Twins desperately need, but I think he would be better, and perhaps more comfortable, at second. The stats on Carroll seem to suggest just that: his total defensive contribution at second has been positive (49 runs above average), but has been negative (4 runs below average) at shortstop.

3. Taking this one step further, having Dozier at short and Carroll at second essentially solves the Twins' utility infielder conundrum: Alexi Casilla is the answer. The Twins do not need to think about looking outside the organization for a Nick Punto-esque player (or even Nick Punto himself) to play second and short in a pinch.

4. The Twins, in all likelihood, won't be winning the division this season. Even if things go right offensively, I think the starting pitching will again be problematic. I'm not going call 2012 a rebuilding year, because a team with a $100 million payroll is not in rebuilding mode, but still it's fair to point out that, with the Tigers perceived dominance and the Twins' perceived weaknesses, it could be a challenging year. What better time to bring in a young prospect. Sure, the expectations will still be high for Dozier, but it presents a good opportunity to let a young guy get a year of MLB experience under his belt.

5. The Twins haven't shied away from aggressive moves this month, most notably by demoting failed shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka to AAA Rochester. The organization, in my opinion, has effectively admitted that the $14.5 million investment in Nishioka was a bust -- but also that the team will not let Nishioka take up a spot on the Target Field bench just because of the paycheck he is "earning." Tough love, indeed, for Nishioka. But Nishioka's loss -- and the Twins' aggressive move to jettison him -- could bode well for Dozier. Additionally, if the Twins plan to use Nishioka at shortstop in Rochester, he will have to split time with Dozier there. From a practicality standpoint, if the Twins ever want Nishioka to get better, he will have to play every day somewhere, just like Dozier. Another aggressive decision -- this time a promotion instead of a demotion -- will send the signal to some of the other young prospects (and perhaps some of our veterans) that hard work can quickly be rewarded in this organization.

6. Dozier has not looked lost in Spring Training. I haven't been following every at-bat, but I have read enough to know that Dozier is holding his own (batting .273 going into Thursday's game), and there has been little mention of bonehead fielding plays or dumb baserunning gaffes. Not that these won't come with any rookie, but it's fair to state that Dozier has not embarrassed himself at all while playing alongside some guys he probably looks up to in a pretty big way.

7. Why should Dozier spend a superficial 3 or 4 months at Rochester? If the Twins expect Dozier to hit major league pitching in the very near future -- like July or August or September of 2012 -- and then to continue hitting major league pitching for the next 10 or more years, why not start now, especially if there are not very many good players at Dozier's position above him on the depth chart? In Rochester, Dozier would be seeing some pitchers on their way up, some on their way down, and maybe a couple major league pitchers rehabbing injuries, but the competition would not be as fierce.

8. Last, but not least, this move gives fans something to be excited about. Carroll is not by any means a sexy or dynamic player. Dozier, on the other hand, could be the first in a wave of "new Twins" (hopefully soon to include Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee), like Mauer and Morneau in the early 2000s, and gamers like Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie and Johan Santana before that, and Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti even before that.

There are probably 8 or more reasons not to directly promote Dozier (including the issue of whether he is really going to be a solid defensive shortstop, the fact that having Casilla as the utility infielder raises an issue for a substitute third baseman, and the argument that the Twins should wait to promote Dozier to avoid him achieving Super 2 status), but I'm not convinced by any of them. Under my plan, the only thing that is really "lost" is a full season of Casilla at second base. But I guess I'm at the point with Casilla where I would rather gamble on Dozier, who admittedly is not a sure thing, than on Casilla, who most certainly is not a sure thing (and is no longer a young player, either). In the worst case scenario, Dozier cannot hack it in the majors yet, and will be sent down. This could be tough on Dozier, but it happens dozens of times a season, sometimes even to well established players -- but you know what -- adults learn to deal with it.

I'd be happy to hear your thoughts. Am I way off-base here? Or do you agree Dozier is ready for his shot?


  1. There are a three problems here:

    This would weaken the Twins middle infield defense at both shortstop and second base. The Twins pitching depends on a reliable defense.

    This would weaken the Twins offense by replacing Casilla with Dozier. If spring training performance is a reason to make Dozier the shortstop, then Casilla is hitting .355 in spring training and Dozier is hitting .240.

    Dozier would quite possibly fail and confidence is a big part of success in baseball. Rushing prospects to sell tickets is always a bad idea.

    1. TT, thanks for the comment. In order:

      1. I don't believe that Carroll, right now the opening day shortstop, is a better shortstop than Dozier. I think Dozier at short will make defense at short better. And looking at Casilla's advanced fielding stats on baseball-reference, I don't see him as much of an asset at second base, whereas Carroll has at least been close to average at second, with more experience there, over his career.

      2. I'm admittedly not in the camp that wants to give Casilla more chances. Yes, I know he did well in Arizona Fall League, and that his success has carried over to Spring Training. And those are good things. I think after the last few seasons of watching the ups and downs, and watching him not play more than 100 games ever in a season, I'm willing to give someone else a shot. But I acknowledge that reasonable people (and probably many in the Twins' front office) can disagree on Casilla's chances for success and health this season.

      3. I don't believe that a few months of seasoning at Rochester is ultimately going to make Dozier more or less likely to fail. And I believe, after watching the debacle that was last season, that it's a good opportunity to change some things about the way the Twins promote players. Also, I think the fans would like to see Doziercalled up, but I don't think he's going to sell tickets like Joe Mauer or Jayson Hewyard did, for example, when they were called up.

  2. While I expect Dozier to be promoted to the big leagues sometime this season, I do not think it should be opening day. Any player can get better if they work at it, and in the case of younger players, working to improve under less stressful circumstances is better than in the glare of the majors. Dozier will benefit from more time in the minors, especially at Rochester with Gene Glynn, the infield expert, and Tom Brunansky as his coaches.

    I also believe the Twins should find out if the time, patience and work on development they have put in are going to finally pay off with Casilla. If he plays as well as he has in winter ball and spring training, it will be a big boost for the lineup and on the base paths, and he might even end up returning to the second spot in the order if Carroll struggles at all. If Casilla fails again, as you seem to think he will, that will be the logical time to bring up Dozier, assuming he is not struggling then at AAA. I think Alexi has finally matured and settled down and will turn out to be a very good second baseman.

    Carroll is destined to be the utility guy at some point, and I suspect he knows it. I think he was signed to a two-year contract because the Twins wanted the veteran presence in the clubhouse, and they know he will help mentor the future starters in the middle infield. He should start to open the season and move to utility when someone is ready to step up.

    Finally, I understand the excitement of looking ahead to when some of the future stars arrive with the Twins. I too am looking forward to some better days. This year, though, we need to find out if Mauer, Morneau, Span, Liriano, Baker, Casilla, and Valencia are going to bounce back from bad years. If they all revert back to even their career average, this will be a much better year than most are projecting. For the record, I don't think they ALL will, but SOME will, and that is why I think Terry Ryan and the Twins are hedging their bets this year, to find out who will really be viable for the future before going into full rebuilding mode.

  3. I would agree with PK. If Carroll or Casilla play their way out of the line up, then bring Dozier up, absolutely. I am just not convinced that Dozier will be as strong defensively as Carroll/Casilla will be to start the season and after the debacle that was the Twins middle infield last year, some veteran consistency there is wise.

    Also, though Casilla may no longer be a "young player," by baseball standards, he's certainly not old, either. He's just 27 (turns 28 in July). Dozier turns 25 in May, so we're talking about less than three years' difference.

    1. Thanks for the comments, JC and PK. Some good points all around. I amend my initial statement that Dozier should be brought up to begin the season in MN. Seth Stohs made a great point on the TwinsDaily version of this post that waiting until May 1 will give the Twins another year (2018) until Dozier hits free agency. It's almost funny to think like that for a guy who may or may not turn out to be great, but if we're literally talking about 25 or so ballgames in April of 2012, I would wait until May.

      The rest of the post, though, I still stand behind. I'm not at all convinced that Carroll will be solid defensively at short. I'm not suggesting that he's going to make a lot of errors (like Nishioka and everyone else who played there last year), but I am suggesting that he is very limited, and 38. Yes, he will make plays on balls hit within his range. I just think he would be better playing second, and I think his career stats suggest that that is a true statement.

      I really, really, would like to be wrong on Casilla. Last year, I thought he was going to put it together, and again he disappointed (except for the month of May -- I think -- when he was pretty fantastic). I honestly see more of a future for unproven and untested Dozier, than I do for repeatedly tested and repeatedly disappointing (except for short spurts of greatness) Casilla. It's a judgment call, I suppose.

      Glad I'm not Terry Ryan!