2013 Prospect #15 – Alex Dickerson
If there is one prospect on our list whose performance in 2012 was absolutely enigmatic, it is Alex Dickerson, the Pirates third-round draft choice in 2011 out of Indiana University. If I had told you prior to the season that Dickerson would be named the Florida State League Player of the Year as well as the best defensive first baseman in the league, you probably would have been ecstatic. Yet Dickerson’s season was actually considered to have been a disappointment by most analysts. Are their opinions justified?
Prior to his junior season at Indiana University, Dickerson was one of the top college sluggers in the country and was considered a first round talent. His stock dropped by draft day because he failed to reproduce that performance with the new BBCOR bats put in use for the first time by the NCAA, as well as rumors of a recurrence of back problems that plagued him in high school. Scouts were left to guess whether the drop in his power was due to the new bats, which dramatically drove down power and offense across the NCAA throughout the year, or represented a genuine decline. I tended to agree with the former, given that Dickerson had hit very well with wood bats in the Cape Cod League, and he cited here that he was very uncomfortable hitting with the BBCOR bats.
I watched Dickerson play early in the season at Bradenton, and some of the problems that plagued him throughout the year were already making an appearance. His swing was just not getting balls into the air; while he did not look overmatched in any way, Dickerson was hitting too many ground balls. He did crush one mistake, showing the type of loft and slugger’s swing that I was looking for, but even that ball, which looked to be long gone, ended up as just a long fly out to right field.
April and May did not go particularly well, but he really put together two excellent months after that, with an OPS of .906 in June and .949 in July. As is their puzzling wont, the Pirates did not seize this opportunity, when Dickerson’s confidence was at its highest, to promote him to AA. He tailed off after that, but his overall numbers still look good on the surface. But with most of the competition having been advanced to higher levels during the season, Dickerson was able to win his awards through attrition rather than merit.
A wRC+ of 126 is good, but it only ranked 16th in the Florida State League last season, while Dickerson’s OPS was 11th best. Among first basemen, Dickerson ranked 4th, but only two other players below him were even league average. For a player who is limited defensively to that position, his production was simply not good enough.
If you look at Dickerson’s batted ball ratios, the problem I referred to earlier is clear. His GB%, while it decreased as the year went on, was a relatively high 41.1%, and his GB/FB ratio was 2.33. Not surprisingly, his power output was low, with an ISO of .156; only 7.9% of his fly balls left the park. As a comparison, fellow college slugger, C. J. Cron, from the same draft class, had a GB/FB ratio of 0.82, an ISO of .223, and a HR/FB rate of 16.3 last season.
There were some positives that lead me to believe there is hope for Dickerson. For one, he stayed healthy throughout the season. While his walk rate was only 7.2%, he has shown the ability to get this up in the 10% range. His strikeout rate is relatively low, and most importantly, he has not shown any platoon split, and actually hit left-handed pitching slightly better than right-handed pitching last season, which is very rare for a left-handed power hitter.
While the defensive metrics did not like him very much, I thought Dickerson looked like a very capable first baseman, given that this was only his second year at the position. He is a much better athlete than I was led to believe by scouting reports. He will not be a base stealer by any means, but he won’t clog the base either.
It is possible that Dickerson may turn out to be more of a high BA/OBP type of first baseman; if he can produce at the level of Lyle Overbay or Casey Kotchman in their best years, he may still have a major league career. But his path would be eased considerably if he can get his power stroke back. One thing is for certain, he will have his work cut out for him at AA Altoona, which is not a kind place for a left-handed power hitter. If Dickerson can improve his numbers in that environment, his stock will rebound quickly. Given his college career and his performance in June and July, I still hold out hope for him, but I am far less optimistic than I was a year ago.