A's Rashun Dixon Turning Tools Into Skills
Born and raised in Louisiana, Stockton manager Webster Garrison has watched plenty of SEC football games. So Garrison got excited when he learned last winter that Rashun Dixon, his new right fielder, is the younger brother of former Mississippi State and current San Francisco 49ers running back Anthony Dixon.
"When I first heard that was (Rashun's) brother, I said 'OK, he's athletic like his brother,' " Garrison said. "Now we've got to hone all that athleticism into a baseball player."
Athleticism has never been a problem for Dixon. He was named the best athlete in the Athletics organization in 2010 and starred in football and baseball at Terry (Miss.) High. In 2008, he was named Mr. Baseball in Mississippi and signed his letter of intent to play both sports at Mississippi State before ultimately signing with Oakland.
Dixon's athleticism remains one of his biggest assets. Listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, the former wide receiver has plenty of speed to run balls down in the outfield. And with his strength comes natural power.
What hasn't been as easy is converting all of that ability into results on the diamond. Though young for the California League at 20 years old, he has struggled to just a .211/.303/.389 batting average through 26 games in the offense-friendly circuit.
"Pretty much right now, it's consistency," Dixon said of his struggles. "Repeating the same swing, getting into a good routine and preparing for every game the same."
Like both of his older brothers, Anthony and Antwon, Dixon grew up playing football and baseball. While his brothers were better at football, Dixon excelled at both and did not favor either sport. Instead he juggled them both, realizing after his sophomore year that he was good enough to play either in college.
"I had a pretty good (sophomore) season in football and baseball," he said. "In the summer I went to some showcases and started getting calls for camps."
His recruitment, especially for baseball, took a hit during his junior year. He had elbow surgery to repair a broken bone and didn't attend any showcases. Despite the setback, he still signed with Mississippi State, just like both of his brothers. By then, Anthony had become the seventh Bulldog to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, gaining 1,066 yards as a sophomore in 2007. Antwon never wound up in Starkville, however, instead going to junior college and then Division II Midwestern State.
Once Dixon got back on the field, he showed no ill effects from the surgery. In 2008 as a senior, he became the first athlete since 1999 to be named a member of The Clarion Ledger's "Dandy Dozen" preseason all-state team in two sports. He backed up the honors on the field, where he was named all-state in football despite missing time because of surgery. In baseball, Dixon was dominant, hitting .511/.632/1.067 with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs.
"He was such a clutch player," Terry High coach Jerry Gibson said. "Even starting as a freshman, he stood out in big games. He would always throw the big runner out or get the big hit."
Though Dixon saw an increase in scouts attending his games throughout the season, he still didn't know what to expect from the draft. He figured he would go to Mississippi State in the fall. But once the Athletics took him in the 10th round and offered him a $600,000 signing bonus, Dixon decided to turn pro.
He was sent to the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he hit .263/.328/.525 with eight home runs in 45 games.
"Some of my best games came in rookie ball," Dixon said. "I wasn't really thinking about some of the stuff I'm thinking about now."
Athlete To Ballplayer
Dixon's athleticism and raw talent often flash through his play, but getting to a point where his play reflects his ability all the time is the focus of his development.
"He's getting a lot of experience playing," Garrison said. "He can turn on any fastball and can go out of the park anywhere. Now it's about consistently putting the barrel on the ball."
Dixon's path in baseball might have been easier if he had focused on the sport in high school, like many top players do. But he believes playing football has helped his baseball career, especially in creating natural power.
"A lot of kids didn't lift when they're 13 or 14 (years old), and I did that for football," Dixon said. "I've always been pretty strong."
Garrison has been pleased with Dixon's defense as well, not realizing Dixon was a catcher in high school before moving to the outfield after the draft at his request.
"He takes good routes and has a strong throwing arm," Garrison said. "His defense doesn't hold him back at all."
Hitting has been the challenge for Dixon this season. He got off to a 2-for-23 start this year before beginning to find his swing. Even after coming out of the worst of his slump, Dixon still hasn't hit as well as he did last year at low Class A Kane County, when he went .275/.371/.383 with eight home runs and 54 RBIs. Dixon believes some of it is bad luck.
"In the beginning, I was worried about stats and things weren't going my way," Dixon said. "I kept looking at the numbers and digging into a hole. I was hitting the ball hard, but I was disappointed got down on myself.
"Now, I'm still hitting the ball hard and I'm still not getting as many hits as I want. But I realize we're only about 20 games though season and there are still 120 more."