Talking baseball with AL All-Stars

Brian Dozier, one of this year's biggest surprises, got to compete in the Home Run Derby. Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- One of my favorite players to watch this season has been Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, in part because his excellent performance, at least to this level, was unexpected. After all, Dozier was a 20th-round selection in ESPN live drafts, and he’s currently one place behind Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera for the No. 25 Player Rater spot. Think about that! Way back in 2011 I saw Dozier play shortstop for Double-A New Britain (not far from ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.) and there certainly didn’t appear to be a fantasy monster lurking. Well, there clearly was!

The same Dozier who never reached double digits in home runs in a minor league season has 18 blasts at the All-Star break, and earned a position in Monday’s Home Run Derby, where the hometown favorite smacked only two home runs in an early, and, to some, predictable exit. Dozier, one of the real bright spots for the Twins this season, seemed genuinely honored -- not that other fellows weren’t, but still -- and humbled to be included in the same company as some of baseball’s top power hitters, but when I caught up with him during a media session he attributed this "new" him to deliberate changes in approach, which clearly have been working.

“A couple of years ago I made a big adjustment to try to create more power,” said Dozier, who is second to Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in homers by a middle infielder, and since the start of June 2013 he ranks tied for 16th among all players in the statistic. Nobody ahead of him in home runs since then plays middle infield. “You have to find out what kind of hitter you are and whatever that is, and if it’s power, then OK. It’s been night and day for me from since New Britain, and I've learned a lot of things up here. But I would have laughed if you told me two years ago I'd be in the Derby today!”