Appreciating Brian Dozier's first half

The voting for the American League's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game is a tight race between Omar Infante and Jose Altuve. Obviously, Altuve would be a much better selection than Infante, but he's not really the deserving starter, either. That's probably Jason Kipnis, who leads the AL in FanGraphs WAR and is tied with Mike Trout in Baseball-Reference WAR. But right behind Kipnis is Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier.

Dozier had a breakout season last year when he hit 23 home runs, drew 89 walks, swiped 19 bases and scored 112 runs. He's been even better in 2015, hitting .268/.341/.530 with 16 home runs and an MLB-leading 61 runs. He absolutely deserves to make the All-Star team, but if Infante gets voted in, it's possible Dozier will be squeezed out.

Nick Nelson of Twins Daily has a nice appreciation of Dozier's season. He writes:

"Dozier's .266 batting average is nothing special, and unfortunately that seems to diminish his value in the eyes of some, but he has quite clearly been one of the game's best producers at his position and, in fact, he's been one of baseball's best power hitters in general. His 42 extra-base hits rank third in the majors and first in the AL."

That is particularly amazing when you look at where Dozier came from.

Back in 2011, he was an eighth-round draft pick out of a fairly small college – he's one of only two active big-leaguers from Southern Miss -- and he signed for only $30,000. Early in his pro career, Dozier carried the profile of a utility man: not quite good enough defensively to start at short, but lacking the offensive punch to be a regular anywhere else.

Certainly, nobody would have anticipated that power hitting would be any kind of strength for him. He didn't hit his first home run until his 126th professional game, and he totaled only 16 homers in 1,613 minor-league plate appearances.

Dozier signed a contract extension in spring training that didn't buy out any free agent years but will end up giving the Twins some bargain salaries: He'll make $3 million in 2016, $6 million in 2017 and $9 million in 2018, much less than he what he would have earned via arbitration, considering his play so far.

It's the kind of deal that a medium-market team like the Twins can really benefit from, freeing up extra money to dip into free agency as needed. Twins prospects have been getting a lot of hype, with Byron Buxton (currently on the DL) called up a couple weeks ago and Miguel Sano getting the call today. But the face of the Twins franchise isn't the kids and it's no longer Joe Mauer: Brian Dozier is the team's best player, and one of the best in the majors.

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