Dozier may stay, but only if he's starting

Dozier may stay, but only if he's starting

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla started in the Twins' middle infield against the Tigers on Wednesday, and that very likely will be the double-play combination on Opening Day. But that doesn't mean Brian Dozier isn't making that decision difficult.

The Twins' No. 14 prospect has hit .273 with a triple and a home run this spring entering Wednesday, but no one really questioned his ability to hit. He's seen time exclusively at shortstop, his primary position in the Minors, though he's also played a good amount of second base in the past. But the Twins wanted to see how Dozier would handle the rigors of playing short at the big league level.

"I want to see him play and see how he handles himself," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There's a lot to learn and he's been working really hard. We've been doing a lot of defensive drills, so when we're home, he's out there on the defensive fields and getting all those extra ground balls. He's really slowed the game down an awful lot. He's doing a lot of the things we hoped he would do that he hadn't yet mastered. It's coming into play on the field."

But will it be enough for him to land a spot on the 25-man roster? When Tsuyoshi Nishioka was optioned on Monday, it led to speculation that perhaps it could open the door for Dozier. Gardenhire made it pretty clear on Wednesday that the only way that would happen would be if he was needed to play somewhere every day.

"He's not going to sit on the bench when we signed Jamey Carroll, I'll tell you that," Gardenhire said. "He's not going to sit up here and be a utility man. He's too good. He has a lot of people in his corner, including me. I really like this young man. I think he's one of our top prospects, as far as I'm concerned. Whether he stays here or not depends on how we get through the rest of Spring Training. But I'm not going to keep him up here as a utility guy. There's no way that's going to happen. If he's staying, he's playing."

The only way that seems feasible is if one of the two infielders in Wednesday's starting lineup aren't ready to start the year. Gardenhire needed only to point to the infield lip here at Joker Marchant Stadium, where a ball hit and struck Miguel Cabrera in the face on Monday, as proof that anything can happen.

"That's why we're going to wait here another couple of weeks, to see what happens out there in the middle and see how we get through things," Gardenhire said. "Things can change, where you have to make adjustments. That's why I'm not saying he's out of here. He's not. I won't keep him here as a utility guy. But to play? Absolutely, I wouldn't be afraid of that at all, to tell you the truth."