Prospect #9 – Alex Dickerson
In addition to nabbing Gerrit Cole with the first pick of this year’s draft, and taking an enormous and ultimately successful gamble on Josh Bell in the second round, the Pirates were able to land Indiana University star Alex Dickerson when he slid all the way through to round three. Under Greg Smith, the Pirates’ emphasis on drafting pitchers has left the system devoid of position players, particularly those with any semblance of power. So it was a pleasant surprise that Dickerson was available, and that the Pirates selected him.
Dickerson was one of the NCAA’s top sluggers in 2009 and again in 2010 when he won the Big Ten Triple Crown, was named first team All-American, and was projected to be a legitimate first round pick heading into his junior season.
Unfortunately, as you can see from the numbers, Dickerson tailed off significantly in 2011.
There are three issues that probably combined to contribute to Dickerson’s lackluster season. He had surgery on a bulging disc in his back while in high school, and the problem resurfaced early in the year, contributing to his subpar performance, and scaring some teams off. Also, Indiana wasn’t particularly good this year, and Dickerson may have been pitched around. The biggest issue may have been the lifeless bats introduced by the NCAA in 2011 which severely curtailed offense, and home runs in particular.
What I find interesting in Dickerson’s performance in 2011 is his reduced strike out rate. I pointed out the importance of K rates in NCAA hitters in a piece on Pedro Alvarez, and while Dickerson’s home run rate plummeted, his BB/K rate improved. I don’t know if this was a conscious attempt on his part to make more contact due to the change in bats, but Dickerson’s effort in his last year at Indiana seems to be pointing him in a somewhat different direction, which continued in his initial professional experience.
Dickerson has considerable familiarity with wood bats, having hit very well for Wareham in the Cape Cod League in 2010, so it is not surprising that he did so well in a brief stint at State College. Dickerson slugged .493, but he only hit 3 home runs in 173 PA. His BB/K rate was ok, too. In other words, he continued the trend that developed in his last year of college, away from power and towards a more contact-oriented approach.
I am not saying that Dickerson is looking more like Casey Kotchman than Prince Fielder, or that this would be a positive development. However, having suffered through a year of watching Pedro Alvarez struggle to make contact – and facing the possibility of a complete implosion on his part – the fact that Dickerson appears to have a lower ceiling and a higher floor may not be a bad thing at all. He is a big guy with some loft to his swing, so home runs will come. But for now I see Dickerson hitting for a high average with a lot of doubles power, a left-handed Billy Butler, perhaps. The move to 1B was inevitable, so credit the Pirates for not pretending that Dickerson is an OF.
With his pedigree, it would be pointless for Dickerson to start next year lower than High-A, so he should be manning first for Bradenton come April, where he should put up some big numbers as a left-handed hitter in McKechnie. At this point, he is the Pirates’ only long term 1B option, so his development will be crucial for the team’s success in the coming years.
photo courtesy Indiana University