FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The 2011 Minor League season was a turning point for Brian Dozier.
It was then that Dozier established himself as a future big leaguer, enjoying an impressive season between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain, hitting .320/.399/.491 with nine homers, 33 doubles and 24 stolen bases in 127 games en route to being named the club's Minor League Player of the Year.
Dozier followed that up with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, batting .296/.352/.454 with three homers, 22 RBIs and four stolen bases in 26 games with the Mesa Solar Sox.
Dozier said his stint in the AFL helped his confidence, as he proved he could hold his own against some of the top pitching prospects in the Minors on an everyday basis.
"You get exposed to some of the elite arms in the Minor Leagues instead of just hit or miss during the regular season," Dozier said. "It was day in and day out for six weeks to see some of the guys who are knocking at the door of the big leagues. So it was great for me. I learned a lot."
Dozier carried that over into the 2012 season. He made his Major League debut on May 7 that year and became the club's regular at shortstop.
However, Dozier's rookie season didn't quite go to plan, as he struggled after a hot start, hitting just .234/.271/.332 in 84 games before being optioned back to Triple-A Rochester in mid-August with a return to the Majors as a September callup.
Dozier used his demotion as motivation for the 2013 season, as the Twins asked him to move to second base, and he ended up winning the starting job out of Spring Training. Dozier started out the season slow, but he had an impressive second half to finish with a final slash line of .244/.312/.414 with 18 homers, 33 doubles, four triples, 66 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 147 games.
"I think, the thing with Dozier, he came up here on a mission," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was kind of a wakeup call for him. He knew this thing could slip away for him. He came back, we changed positions. He took it and ran with it."
Dozier's 18 homers set a club record for second basemen, and his 55 extra-base hits ranked fourth among all Major League second basemen behind only Matt Carpenter, Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis. Dozier doesn't believe the power was a fluke, as he thinks it'll be a big piece of his game again this season.
"I kind of figured out what kind of hitter I was last year, especially in the second half," Dozier said. "That's part of my game -- I have to be able to provide power. I can't just be a singles-type guy. I also need to add a lot more stolen bases, and now I'm healthy enough to do that."
After hitting just .214 with a .259 on-base percentage the first two months of last season, Dozier hit .255/.331/.458 the rest of the way after making slight mechanical adjustments to his swing. He also did it while dealing with back soreness and a bone bruise in his left knee the last month of the season. Dozier said he's feeling healthy this spring after letting his injuries heal during the offseason.
"The last month or so I didn't get shut down, but I didn't run as much, because my knee and my back was acting up," Dozier said. "So I guess I didn't really pace myself in the beginning of the year in my first full year. So I learned a lot."
Dozier is expected to hit early in the order again this season, likely batting second, but he could see time as leadoff hitter. Dozier said improving his on-base percentage is key for him this season, as he had a career .370 mark in the Minors, but it's at just .297 in 231 games in the big leagues.
"I felt like after I made adjustments in the beginning of last year, I started to get on base more, and that's the thing I have to keep carrying into this season," Dozier said. "It's definitely one thing that if I'm going to be at the top of the order, in addition to power and speed, I have to get on-base more."