FORT MYERS, Fla. Brian Dozier is a pretty good baseball player, but he's also a pretty good golfer.
Dozier, the Minnesota Twins' 24-year-old shortstop prospect, was a four-sport athlete at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss. He was the quarterback of the football team and the point guard on the Indians basketball team, as well as a shortstop. But he always had one true passion.
"Golf is probably my favorite sport to play, to be honest with you," Dozier said. "Well, baseball, of course. But golf, man, I love golf."
Dozier grew up on a golf course in his native Mississippi and is a big fan of PGA golfer Bubba Watson. Yet for as avid a golfer as he is, Dozier claims he can't remember his lowest-ever round. He does admit, though, that he shoots even par at his home course, Fulton Country Club.
"Don't let (Trevor) Plouffe say this," Dozier says, looking around the clubhouse for his close friend and Twins outfielder. "If I play in the offseason and stuff, pretty much every day or every day in the offseason, I can get down to shooting in the mid-70s, I guess. Sometimes I get lower than that or higher than that."
Plouffe picked up golf last spring training and has only played with Dozier once this spring. Dozier said he hits the links nearly every other day in Florida during spring training and has a little wager going with Plouffe the next time they golf together.
"He said he'd spot me 10 strokes, which I think is pretty aggressive on his part," Plouffe said. "He's athletic. He's good at all the sports he tries. I'm sure that he's pretty good."
The Twins are sure that Dozier is a pretty good baseball player, too. He was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year last season after he split time between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. In 78 games at the Double-A level, Dozier batted .318 and slugged .502 while hitting seven homers and driving in 34 runs for the Rock Cats.
Dozier is now in his second spring training with the Twins, and he has an opportunity to audition for a spot on Minnesota's 25-man roster. The Twins signed veteran infielder Jamey Carroll in the offseason with the intent of playing him as their every-day shortstop. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, signed from Japan last season, struggled at shortstop a year ago in his first season in the majors. And Plouffe, who saw time with Minnesota at shortstop last year, has been converted to an outfielder.
The door is seemingly wide open for Dozier to earn a spot, but the young shortstop views this spring as part of the learning process. He's not taking anything for granted. So far this spring, he's worked closely with Carroll, absorbing any information the 38-year-old veteran can offer.
"It seems like he has the mindset to play this game for a long time," Carroll said. "Watching him and seeing him, he's very willing to learn. You can appreciate that in a kid who has success the way he has and yet is still willing to learn to do what it takes. He's going to be a good player."
There's a 14-year difference in age between Dozier and Carroll. Dozier has yet to play at a level higher than Double-A, so he doesn't yet know how fast the game can move at the major league level. That's something Carroll has been working with Dozier on slowing things down, both at the plate and in the field.
"I think that's the biggest thing that he's been trying to teach me, but at the same time just doing (it) so I can kind of feed off him," Dozier said of Carroll. "He slows everything down when it comes to ground balls, hitting, anything, especially in practice. He slows the game down, makes sure he catches the ball, makes sure he does the little things right."
Dozier has done most of the little things right so far this spring. In Monday's game against Tampa Bay, he went 2-for-4 with a walk and played 10 innings at shortstop in Minnesota's 2-1 extra-innings win. Dozier's first hit of the game was a triple off Rays starter James Shields. The deep drive to left appeared to clear the wall in right but was ruled a triple.
If it were a regular-season game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would have likely gone out to argue the call. Instead, Minnesota's skipper remained in the dugout.
"I told them I wanted a replay, and they said they didn't have one of those either," Gardenhire joked.
Gardenhire has seen what Dozier is capable of. He wanted Dozier up with the big league club a season ago, but Dozier never got the call to the majors.
If the young shortstop continues to improve, Gardenhire could soon get his wish.
"I just want him to play, get out there and play," Gardenhire said. "He's slowed his game down a lot, and that's what you have to do."
Yet Dozier knows nothing is guaranteed in this game, and that's the way he's been going about his business this spring.
"Obviously, in all (reality), I'm not going to make the team out of spring training. But at the same time, just continue to work hard," Dozier said. "If it's Double-A or Triple-A, which I haven't been told yet I'm assuming Triple-A either one in our organization is pretty good. So I'm just looking forward to it and continuing to get better."
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