One of the few bright spots, Brian Dozier sits down for a Q&A session
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Twins All-Star Joe Mauer is the only position player locked in for next year -- first base or catcher, which will be determined later -- according to an unnamed team official. This individual wouldn't bite fully on left fielder/designated hitter Josh Willingham, who could be trade bait this offseason or second baseman Brian Dozier.
We can debate the former in a separate entry this winter. But the latter is just as interesting. The decision-maker wasn't just playing devil's advocate to my staunch support. His point was Dozier's batting average, on-base percentage, and even his defense at times provides some hope. But not nearly enough to just hand him a regular job without winning it next spring training. The fact that Dozier struggled in April and May was brought up too. That the Twins need to see him put together a full season before announcing anything is a guarantee.
In Dozier's defense, he made tweaks to his swing, and worked exceptionally hard last winter, both in Venezuela and in Minnesota with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to learn the intricacies of second base.
I sat down with Dozier for a lengthy chat at Target Field a couple weeks ago. Among topics discussed: his roller coaster of a year, his offseason plans, and top prospect Eddie Rosario waiting to take over his position.
Writer's note: a Twins official said Rosario will play some outfield in the Arizona Fall League and winterball.
You don't get the call-up last September. You had to be down. How have you been able to rebound and have such a productive year?
A: Last year was kind of tough expecting to get called back up in September. Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) and Terry (Ryan) called me after the Triple-A season ended just to see where my head was and to make sure I stayed positive -- I was pretty down and out about it. But there's two ways you can take it: you can go positive or negative. You can either have that chip on your shoulder and prove people wrong for the next year on why you didn't get called up, or you can wallow in self-pity and try and make people feel sorry for you. I took it like, 'I got to prove that everyone knows I feel I belong up here.' Took a chip on my shoulder and went to Venezuela and worked for a few weeks on a few things at second base. Came back, and I was ready to go for spring training.
How down were you?
A: Nobody wants to get sent down. It happens to everyone unless you're Joe Mauer or something. It's very humbling. I knew I was going through some troubles up here last year. But at the same time, you feel like you have some bright moments that will keep you up here. It's tough when someone tells you you're not good enough. It's tough. It's very humbling. But you need to prove yourself that you belong.
Tell us more about Venezuela. Anyone deserve credit that hasn't gotten it yet?
A: Venezuela was good. It had good and bad to it. I wasn't a fan of the cold showers I took for three weeks -- I was supposed to be there for five or six, but at three weeks I said I was done. The experience outside baseball wasn't too comforting. But it was good to play for three-and-a-half weeks and play second base and get in more at-bats that I didn't get in September. Then when I got to Twins Fest (in late January) I called Paul Molitor (minor league instructor) and told him Gardy and Terry want me to play second base. I asked him if he could give me some ins-and-outs on the turn and everything. We went down to the University of Minnesota, just him and me and he gave me tips on positioning. This way I wouldn't just be thrown into everything when I got to spring training. It always helps that Gardy was a middle infielder, so helped me a long way. Then Joe Vavra (infield coach) has been a huge help. For him to know I wasn't sent to the minors to make the transition, but to be thrown into the fire in the big leagues, he helped me a lot.
Yes or no: you deserve the gold glove?
A: Whatever happens happens. I feel like things have gone well. But at the same time, it's so political. You see a lot of things happen. I know three years ago in talking to Jamey (Carroll) he led the National League in every defensive category -- he split time at second and short. He didn't get it because he didn't hit well enough. That's the thing. But I'm fine with anything. I know you can always get better in every aspect of your game, so just try to get better defensively and offensively.
Flattering though to be named with Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, and Jason Kipnis?
A: Yeah. It's an elite group. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Pedroia is pretty cool. I admire him a lot. He plays the game the right way. You see people getting away from that. He's one of my favorite players. He plays the game hard. He's very good in both aspects of his game.
Admire Pedroia because you took a similar path -- college draft pick, etc.?
A: Maybe. I came up from high school to college to here and every team has been blue collar. That's how I was raised and I know the same of the background of Pedroia. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. That's what I love about him and every other player in general that plays that way.
Tom Brunansky and the swing transformation in May -- he deserves some love.
A: We have worked together since Double-A. He's known me throughout my whole career and when I didn't have power. He transformed me then. Then each step he's worked with me to get better.
This past May when we got together and I had been missing a lot of fastballs down the middle and not hitting how I wanted to be, he said let's throw everything on the line. We just sat down the whole night after the game in Detroit and we compared my swing to Joe and other good hitters. We asked, "What's different?" We found a little hole and since then we've developed a routine before games that triggers my mind and mechanics. He's done a good job.
What is that routine?
A: I don't know if any other hitter does it. It's a weird stance drill. It makes me have a foundation in my legs, so I'm not so straight up or straight down. It's a drill we made up. It has taken off. We do it for a minute or two and then we take some flips. Then before every game after stretching he throws 10 balls to me -- he's waiting in the cage. It's a routine and I'm happy with it.
Where has the power come from?
A: It has been good. I credit the thing in May. There have been home runs, but I'm most happy about the extra base hits since that time. That's all credit to Bruno finding some things out and working to get everything where we needed it to be. I'm happy with it. Where's the power? I guess I'm just hitting at the right parks. I'm happy with where I'm at with my swing. But you can always get better. There's still some things offensively I need to get better at.
A: I need to cut down my strikeouts. People say with more power your strikeouts go up. But I don't feel satisfied with that. I can still do one without the other. I've always hit for average. I'd like to see that go back up. That means cutting down on the strikeouts and drawing more walks.
Another aspect of my game that (Rod) Carew and Molly (Paul Molitor) have worked on in spring training is bunting. I think I have only two (bunt hits) this year. They can bring an average up. Stuff like that. The little things that allow you to get on base.
How are you handling your newfound fame locally?
A: Maybe there's a few more (who recognize me). I come from a small town. If someone goes to a college and plays sports, everybody thinks they're famous. Going back home it's cool to see the support, and around town. Sometimes it's negative. At dinner and I'll hear, "I think Dozier needs to be in the batting cage. Why is he out to eat?" But most of it is good stuff. We have good fan support. I love Minneapolis. Hopefully I stay here for a long time.
Those fans want a winner.
A: It has been a tough year. We haven't played good. We've had ups-and-downs. You want to pick out the positives. We've had some. But overall, it hasn't been good. We know as players that we can get better in a lot of places -- pitching, defense, hitting. I think the main focus is accountability. I think we see that. That we need to get better. Every team goes through aches and pains. Can we turn the table for next year? We need to realize what we need to get better at and go forward.
How badly do you want to play for Gardy next year?
A: Gardy is awesome. He's a player's guy. He has a track record of winning divisions. He's had an unbelievable career. I don't want to play for anyone else. That's not up to us. He has my support in anything he does. He's given me the chance to play. He's taught me so many things. I know nothing else. I want it to stay that way.
When I say, 'Eddie Rosario,' what comes to mind?
A: Heck of a player. I saw him play a lot when I was rehabbing in Fort Myers or in spring training. He's a heck of a player. I wish him nothing but the best. I can't wait to watch him play at this level. Whether it's second or wherever, he can play. Unbelievable player. I can't wait to be his teammate.
You don't want him at second, right?
A: You play to win jobs, and it seems like second base is my job. But you have to continue to prove to people that this is your job and where you want to be for a long time. There's always someone trying to take your job in this game. You have to know that. As for whether Eddie ends up at second base -- he's a heck of a player -- he still has a long way to go. This is the big leagues. You have to prove yourself. I look forward to seeing what he can do at this level.
Will you reach out to Aaron Hicks -- he, like you, isn't a September call-up?
A: I'll give him a call after the season. In talking with a few guys, he was down-and-out. It was the same thing last year with myself. When Aaron got sent down I had a talk with him. I told him the one thing they look for when you get sent down is how you respond. Who cares how you play? Play good or bad, but they want to see your mental aspect -- if you still get to the field first, if you still run balls out, stuff like that. I wanted to make it a point that he still needs to work hard and not to go down and have people feel sorry for you. I made it a point to tell him that. From everything I got from the people down there he did a great job. I know he'll work hard this offseason.
Will you try to convince him to play winterball?
A: I heard that. That's up to him. I know he played last year. If he wants to get more at-bats -- he'll talk to Terry (Ryan) and whatever Terry wants I'm sure he'll do. But it's up to him. I don't think it'll make or break anything for next year. Heck, he may have some aches and pains we don't know about. It's totally up to him. I got to support him.
Take us through your offseason...
A: We (fiancé) are out to close on a house in Hattiesburg. I think almost every weekend I have something -- nothing too busy. Wedding showers, hunting trips -- I'm going to Pike County, Illinois. I've heard so much about it. Josh Willingham is going a week after me. He set me up with everything. I get married in January. It's a semi-busy offseason. You still need to get your work in. I look forward to working hard and getting better at a few things.
So, is the honeymoon Twins Fest in Minneapolis in January?
A: That sounds good. I don't know if she'll go for that. We're going to Maui for a week right after the wedding then we'll fly back here for the Caravan and for Twins Fest. Should be interesting.
You hands-on with the planning?
A: I'm the furthest away from planning. She does everything.
How different has this year been with not having to fight to be here? Being able to sustain a full year?
A: You have to prove yourself. Last year in my mind I did. But realistically I knew I would go to Triple-A coming out of spring training. Then I got called up. This year coming out of spring training I did everything I could to prove to people I'm ready. Then once the season started, it really wasn't my job. I was battling for the first month-and-a-half. Then after doing enough for the front office I started to play everyday. Coming to the park knowing you're in the lineup and hitting in a position you're comfortable with, that instills a ton of confidence. That's huge.
Some of the younger guys pick your brain?
A: I'm still young when it comes to service time. But we're such a young team that there are a lot of guys with less time. It's fun to talk to them -- with Hicks or Colabello. It's fun to see if they're not the first ones to the field. I had the privilege of playing with (Jim) Thome when I went to the exhibition games in Atlanta. I was one of the last ones to the field -- we didn't have to be there until 2 o'clock and I was there at 12:30. I was still one of the last ones. He told me to never let him beat me to the field. To share that with other guys -- to be the first one to the field and make a good impression -- that's good.
This team still loose?
A: Absolutely. You can't lose that. Two days ago (Sept. 9 vs. Angels) -- Cole might kill me as he's known for wearing his pants up -- he came into the dugout and Pelfrey, who's a jokester, put on a pair of De Vries' pants and comes into the dugout -- he's so big they were about to rip off of him. They looked like spandex on him and he had everyone giggling -- this is in the middle of the game. You have to have those things.