FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 05: Shortstop Brian Dozier #77 of the Minnesota Twins signs an autograph just before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Boston Red Sox at Hammond Stadium on March 5, 2012 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The end of Chuck Knoblauch's era with the Twins wasn't a pretty one. You could say the same about the end of his career and, inevitably, five years later, his involvement in The Mitchell Report. Last September, Amelia Rayno had a great read over at the Star Tribune on Knoblauch, and it's something of a haunting read. Knoblauch is a unique guy in how he thinks and operates, and that comes through.
Yet 21 years ago, Knoblauch was about to get exactly what Brian Dozier probably wants. An impressive start to a good career, through a jump to the Major Leagues from double-A.
In 1990 the Twins had three players rotating at second base - Al Newman and two guys who split the season in half: Fred Manrique and Nelson Liriano. Manrique couldn't hit, forcing the Twins to trade John Candelaria to Toronto for Pedro Munoz and Liriano.
Liriano and Manrique were both gone after the '90 campaign, Newman had crossed the age-30 barrier (and couldn't really hit, either). So when spring training came around in 1991 the roster spot was up for grabs. Chip Hale had seen 28 games with the Twins in '89 (just one in '90), had more walks than strikeouts in the minor leagues, and in his age-26 season was looking to make an impact. Utility man Jeff Reboulet was still hanging around in the minors and was going into his age-27 season. But the Twins gave Knoblauch the second base job from opening day. And nobody ever regretted that decision.
Knoblauch's minor league track record isn't that impressive, at least by traditional standards. As a 21-year old in double-A in 1990 he hit .289 without any power. But he also displayed great vision at the plate, scoring 63 walks versus just 31 strikeouts, leading to a .389 on-base percentage. He also had plus speed, which led to 23 steals in 30 attempts.
Brian Dozier has a lot of fans in the organization. As a 24-year old in double-A last season he hit .318/.384/.502. The speed isn't on par with Knoblauch's, nor is his plate discipline (at least at this level), but a lot of the circumstances are the same. His position doesn't belong to an entrenched starter. If he would make the team out of spring training, we'd see the Twins run him out there every day.
Yesterday the Strib ran an article called "Dozier probably destined for AAA". And he might be. But reading Gardy's impressions, you know he'd be happy to hand the starting job over to Dozier. In fact, that article seems less about sending Dozier to Rochester than it's about seeing what happens in the next couple of weeks. Even Terry Ryan echoes that sentiment in the succinct and measured way that can only be his:
Ryan is reserved on Dozier -- "He's doing fine; we'll see what happens in the next week."
Shifting Jamey Carroll to second base, where he's more comfortable, and shifting Alexi Casilla into a utility role, where he's better suited, makes sense. Looking at what the Twins are saying it seems like they're certainly open to that possibility.
The job is there for the taking for Brian Dozier. Knoblauch forced the Twins' hand by playing well and putting forth the kind of effort and attitude they favor. Now Dozier has to do the same thing.