Note: I wrote this article to send in for an internship opportunity, but I've decided to post it here so it doesn't go to waste and because it has relevance to Oakland's pursuit of a second baseman. And it's about baseball, which I know we all like.
In Minnesota, Brian Dozier is putting together a fantastic season. His team-leading 15 home runs (which also pace all MLB second basemen) are a glowing bright spot for an organization struggling to return to their overwhelming success in the mid 2000s. There's certainly hope on the horizon for Twins fans - the team has five Top 100 prospects - but their belief is being tested as the rebuilding project in Minnesota stumbles along at a plodding pace. The Twins remain near the cellar of the AL Central, and so once again they'll have to decide who to exchange for minor league talent and who to hold onto as the trade deadline inches closer. And in a market that's starving for production at second base, even Brian Dozier could and probably should be offloaded for the right return.
Dozier is finding his success this season through the well-worn method of hitting for power and drawing walks. 15 homers and a .451 slugging percentage are huge figures for a second baseman, but especially for Dozier who had never flashed much power before last year. He's also raised his BB rate 6% while lowering his K rate 1.6%, which has led to a stellar .352 OBP. And when on base, Dozier has made things happen with 15 stolen bases.
Dozier's peripheral statistics demonstrate how his ability to get on base is a legitimate asset rather than a fluke. In fact, his .245 BABIP is well below his career BABIP (.267), showing that he's actually been pretty unlucky so far in terms of reaching base. Further, those improved walk and strikeout rates show that Dozier's approach at the plate is improving as he enters his athletic prime at 27. It's not uncommon for hitters to find their power stroke around this time as well, which helps explain Dozier's improved home run numbers. However, 17.2% of his fly balls have resulted in home runs, and that should regress, leading to slightly less long balls in the future. But there's little indication that Dozier is anything less than one of the best young middle infield bats in baseball.
Normally, a breakout middle infielder in his twenties is the type of player to build around, an untouchable cornerstone, but second basemen will be in extremely high demand come the July 31st trade deadline. Right now, Oakland is stuck with an Eric Sogard/Nick Punto platoon, the Tigers are giving Danny Worth and Austin Romine regular playing time, and San Francisco has allowed Brandon Hicks 192 at bats to the tune of a .172 batting average. Those are just a few examples of contenders with dire situations at second. So there's a firm possibility that a team in the playoff hunt will overpay for a guy like Dozier, who represents the best long-term positional answer of any of the second basemen who will be available.
Unlike second basemen Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ben Zobrist, or Daniel Murphy who could all also be traded to contenders mid season, Dozier is still on his rookie contract and can't become a free agent until after the 2018 season. For someone with a 3+ WAR in his 26 and 27 age seasons, he's extremely valuable.
Dozier isn't the only player who could be handed a get out of jail free card - a one way ticket out of Minnesota - with household names Josh Willingham, Kendrys Morales, and Phil Hughes amongst those who the Twins will actively shop over the next month. The potential return for those players and a Dozier overpay is tremendous, and would add even more muscle to an already fearsome list of prospects in their minor league system.
Two of the Twins most prized prospects play second base, giving GM Terry Ryan solid internal options to replace Dozier if he's traded away.
Eddie Rosario, who can play the outfield in addition to second, is one potential replacement for Dozier. Aside from a 50 game drug suspension to start the 2014 season, Rosario has shown that he has the ability to develop into a solid hitter for a middle infielder, and while his capacity to hit home runs in the majors is a real question, he can still be a prolific doubles guy. At just 22, the former fourth round pick is already hitting AA pitching well with a .283 career average at that level (his overall minor league batting average is .306 and his career OPS is a smooth .859). It's not unreasonable to think that Rosario could reach the major leagues sometime next year.
The Twins also have Jorge Polanco, who's a more intriguing second base prospect than Rosario but further away from reaching the majors. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2009, but he's still only 20 years old and is developing rapidly. Before this season, minor league scout John Sickels wrote, "Polanco is a switch-hitter, now listed at 5-11, 185, born July 5, 1993. Although he's been around awhile, he's still just 20 years old, making him more than two and a half years younger than the average player in the Florida State League. He has a good sense of the strike zone, avoids excess strikeouts and will also take a walk. Although he isn't going to be a big home run hitter, he shows good punch into the gaps and should produce plenty of doubles."
Sickels wasn't the only one impressed by Polanco, as many Twins fans echoed similar praise before the season. And it looks like the collective optimism surrounding the Dominican born kid will only intensify, with Polanco more than holding his own in the Florida State League so far in 2014. His triple slash line of .282/.360/.405 is pretty incredible for someone who's 2.7 years younger than the average player in High A ball. But what really sets him apart from other prospects, especially because of his age, is his plate discipline. So far this season, Polanco has a 33/39 BB/K ratio, a significant improvement from an already above average 42/59 mark last season. He's played at shortstop this season but by all reports he's uncomfortable there, and after making 20 errors already in 2014, his return to second base, where he's considered a solid defender, should come soon.
Both Rosario and Polanco have a chance to be, at minimum, serviceable major league players, and if Polanco's growth continues, he could eventually put up Dozier-like production for the Twins as they enter their next contention window. Prospects are a crapshoot in that so much can go wrong so fast, but nevertheless, second base represents one of Minnesota's deepest organizational positions.
It's hard to trade away one of your few bright spots mid season, but a team like Minnesota cannot afford to be sentimental, especially with two possible replacements for Dozier advancing rapidly through the minor leagues. There's a chance here to turn one of the better minor league systems in baseball into one for the ages if Willingham, Morales, and Hughes can also fetch decent returns. And if no contending team wants to bite the bait with Dozier, the Twins will still have a 27-year-old legitimate power threat at second base for years to come. Finally, something to smile about for Twins fans.