In the midst of what can only be called a lackluster start to the season, the Minnesota Twins have already been trying to tinker with their roster. Believing that Ben Revere needs to play everyday he was shipped back to Rochester, and in his absence the organization has been flinging castoff outfielders against a wall to see if one sticks. Clete Thomas and his multitude of strikeouts did not stick. Now we have Erik Komatsu and his upside of plate discipline.
Today also marks a pair of significant changes for the Twins. Struggling Australian right-hander Liam Hendriks will head back to triple-A to make room for southpaw Scott Diamond, but it will be the second incoming player that most people will be excited to see: shortstop Brian Dozier.
Dozier was an eighth round selection by the Twins in the now almost entirely defunct 2009 draft, and along with Niko Goodrum has been seen for the last couple years as the only players in the system who could possibly project into any kind of a Major League player (at least until Levi Michael was drafted last June). In January, Baseball America listed Dozier as the system's tenth-best prospect; Goodrum was praised for having the strongest infield arm, but it was Dozier who was nominated as the best defensive infielder and who was given the nod for having the best strike zone discipline.
But where Goodrum is just 20 years old in 2012, Dozier is 25 and may be as close to being Major League-ready as he can be. Between Fort Myers (high-A) and New Britain (double-A) in 2011, he hit .320/.399/.491 in a combined 569 plate appearances. That's all outstanding, but his age at those levels should be taken into consideration.
In 28 games with the Rochester Red Wings so far this spring, Dozier has batted .279/.339/.371 with 11 walks and 18 strikeouts. He nearly made the team out of spring training with a nearly identical batting average and on-base percentage as that. Of course spring training numbers don't mean too much, but the shortstop also slugged .511 in March.
How does Dozier compare to a few other shortstops that have come up through the Minnesota system?
Jason Bartlett was a year younger than Dozier when he got his first taste of triple-A, hitting .331/.415/.472 in 313 plate appearances back in 2004. At the time the Twins insisted he wasn't mature enough and wasn't enough of a leader to deserve a full-time job at the Major League level, which doesn't seem to be an issue with Dozier. Bartlett's offense does grade out higher however, as he'd continue to rock triple-A pitching until he was up for good (.325/.390/.461 lifetime at that level).
Cristian Guzman never went to triple-A. In 1998 he batted .277/.304/.352 in double-A with zero plate discipline and blistering speed that he didn't know how to use to his advantage on the bases. It was good enough for Baseball America to rank him the game's 68th best prospect coming into 1999, and he'd never look back. His '99 debut with the Twins saw him as a raw 21-year old, but he'd lead the league in triples three of the next four seasons and make an All-Star appearance.
Those two players are the only real comparable guys you could look at over the last ten to fifteen years, as they're the only shortstops to see real Major League time. Dozier doesn't have some the special tools Guzmas had but he's a better overall athlete and a better defensive player, at least fundamentally; Barlett was the better hitter, but it sounds like the Twins are more willing to put their faith in Dozier than they were Bartlett at the same age.
The only other player we could think about comparing Dozier to would be Alexi Casilla, but then we'd have to start talking about Luis Rivas. And Twins fans already have enough to gnash their teeth about without bringing him up.
Dozier will not be the savior of this organization. The Twins don't expect him to be, and we shouldn't either. Not just because it would be an impossible feat for him to accomplish on his own, but also because he's not an elite prospect. It's easy to be misled because of his great 2011, and it's easy to be excited because the Twins don't produce a lot of middle infield talent through the minor leagues, so it's important to know exactly how much we should expect from our latest arrival.
The best thing the Twins could do would be to tell Dozier that shortstop is his for the rest of the season. That they're going to allow him to learn on the job and that making mistakes will happen. A short leash does a new player no good at all, and if there are any aspirations at all for him to take over the shortstop position for the next couple years then they need to show him that level of faith.
Hopefully that's exactly what happens. Expecting great things from Dozier right away isn't what should be exciting about his callup. Instead, let's be excited that we get to see him develop and grow right in front of us, and that two years down the line he's a solid starter. That's the goal.