One might say Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier is the pride and joy of Fulton, Miss. Fulton is a small city of approximately 4,000 residents, which thrives on sports and close family relationships. Brian and his older brother Clay were highly regarded players on the Itawamba Agricultural High School baseball team. In his senior year, Brian hit .518 and earned a place on the Southern Mississippi University baseball team.
Dozier broke his collarbone in his senior year at Southern Mississippi, but he was still selected by Minnesota in the eighth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. The Twins were getting more than a player with the ability to handle middle-infield positions. They were getting a fundamentally sound, highly motivated, intense player with outstanding character.
Dozier, at 5-feet-11 and 190 pounds, won't overwhelm with any one particular tool. He isn't a powerful home run hitter. He may not hit .300 at the Major League level, but I believe he will have a solid and very respectable batting average.
Dozier can play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
He has good baseball instincts and a work ethic that will help him get even better. While not overwhelmingly fast, he has enough quickness and speed to steal bases, enough hitting ability to get on base and score runs and enough defensive skill to get the job done properly. He's the type of player managers love to pencil in the lineup. He gives 100 percent effort every game he plays. He does the little things to help his club win ballgames.
In parts of four Minor League seasons that spanned the entire Minnesota Twins organization, Dozier has a composite career batting average of .305. Major League pitching will be more challenging.
Dozier really has not had one bad season in professional baseball. He has played in 345 Minor League games that encompassed 1,532 plate appearances. Last season at high Class A and Double-A, Dozier hit a combined .320 in 569 plate appearances.
His outstanding season at the plate earned Dozier the Twins Minor League Player of the Year Award for the 2011 season. He led the Twins organization in nine offensive categories and played strong defense.
Immediately following his strong 2011 Minor League season, I got to see Dozier this past fall in the Arizona Fall League. Playing for the Mesa Solar Sox, Dozier continued his robust offensive development by hitting .296, with three home runs and a team-tying 22 RBI. He stole four bases without getting caught and tied for the club lead in doubles with eight. He made only two errors and played a very solid and steady shortstop.
Even though the Arizona Fall League is known as a "hitter's league," execution and ability have to carry the day. Dozier was impressive. In a short season, he managed to continue his development by showing good reactions on both sides of the ball. His maturity and game awareness were among qualities that set him apart.
His stellar 2011 season at Fort Myers (high Class A) and New Britain (Double-A), and that very good Arizona Fall League play, earned him a promotion to Triple-A Rochester to start the 2012 season. He played 28 games for the International League club before getting the call in May to assume the Twins' shortstop position. He was well prepared for his promotion to Minnesota.
It usually takes time and repetition for young players to adjust to the better quality pitching seen at the Major League level. That has been the case so far with Dozier. He's learning.
Dozier is hitting .241 in his 50 games since taking over for Jamey Carroll at shortstop. His steady play and commitment to doing the work necessary for improvement will pay dividends and increase his chances for success. The competition Dozier is facing is better than anything he's faced in his career. He's more than holding his own. He's doing well, and he will continue to improve.
Dozier is a right-handed hitter, and he is hitting better against left-handed pitchers thus far with the Twins. He also hits better at home than on the road. Both of those splits are natural for young, upcoming players.
Perhaps Dozier's greatest strength is his ability to see lots of pitches and make a pitcher work deep into counts. He is a selective, intelligent hitter that will not surrender an at-bat without great effort. He makes contact, selects pitches he can handle and gives himself and his team a chance to succeed.
So far with Minnesota, Dozier has struck out only 35 times in 202 plate appearances, which is an outstanding statistic for any player, let alone a rookie. Of his 46 hits to date, 12 are for extra bases, including eight doubles, a triple and three home runs. One of his base hits was a ball that went five feet foul, then spun and turned fair. The play was constantly replayed because it was so strange and rare.
Defensively, Dozier is not a flashy or Gold Glove-type defender. However, he can make all the routine plays. He doesn't have the greatest range or the strongest throwing arm, but he is average-to-slightly above-average at the everyday tasks of playing shortstop. While I like him at short, I think he would prosper more if he played second base. I think his tools and his footwork -- as well as his arm strength and natural ability -- play better at that position. The Twins, however, like him at shortstop, and that's his position.
Dozier is a grinder. He will have to adjust to the better breaking balls, higher velocity and better control and command of pitchers he is seeing more consistently. Everything I have seen seems to indicate he will work hard to make the necessary adjustments.
The folks in Fulton, Miss., should be watching Dozier with great joy for years to come as his career develops with the Minnesota Twins.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.