Alex Dickerson has been a hitter his whole baseball life. Even Tom Brunansky, the former big league right fielder and Dickerson’s coach for eight years beginning in Little League, calls him a “pure hitter.”
That label has generally been kind to Dickerson. It was his bat, after all, that propelled him to the Big Ten player of the year award last spring at Indiana, caught the eye of scouts in Cape Cod League games and earned him a spot on Team USA last summer. His bat was the reason the Nationals drafted him in the 48th round out of San Diego’s Poway High in 2008, and his bat made him the Big Ten’s first Triple Crown winner in more than a decade last spring.
But being a pure hitter has its downside as well. Many talent evaluators wonder if he’s good enough defensively to be an everyday left fielder at the next level. Some question his arm strength and his speed. They speculate first base might be a better option for the 6-foot-3, 225-pound lefthanded hitter.
“He’s a bat only,” an American League crosschecker said. “You’ve got to really believe in the bat.”
Dickerson knows he has doubters, and understands his fielding needs improvement. He remains confident that if scouts don’t see his fielding as adequate yet, they will.
“It’s just a work in progress,” Dickerson said. “I only made one error last year. There are still some holes here and there. If it’s not there now, it should be there soon.”
For those that watched him play in the outfield even two years ago, the improvement Dickerson has already made is striking. When he arrived on Cape Cod to play for the Wareham Gatemen in the summer of 2009 after spending his freshman year as Indiana’s DH, Dickerson had lots of work to do.
Wareham manager Cooper Farris said he worked on his throwing motion and taking better routes to the ball.
“He kind of looked like a football lineman going after balls in the gap,” Farris said. “He turned into a pretty good outfielder.”
Hoosiers coach Tracy Smith calls the fielding questions fair, but he has his response ready for those that evaluate his star. “I think the pro guys will be pleasantly surprised in his ability to adapt and improve every day,” Smith said. “With the reps he gets in pro ball, he will be able to play defense wherever he plays.”
Outfield Or First?
Where Dickerson plays as a professional is a source of debate even among those that have coached him. Farris is confident he can be an outfielder, but Brunansky isn’t as sure.
“I think that’s where his first shot should be,” said Brunansky, now the hitting coach at the Twins’ Double-A affiliate. “That’s where he plays at school, that’s a good spot for him. But I think eventually he’ll end up at first base.”
While his future position will be a hot topic for scouts as the draft approaches in June, Dickerson says he isn’t thinking about his professional prospects yet. He’s intent on leading Indiana to its second Big Ten title and NCAA tournament appearance in three seasons.
To reach the tournament again after a year’s absence, the Hoosiers will need Dickerson to produce the same gaudy numbers that led to his unanimous selection as the Big Ten player of the year. He hit .419/.472/.805 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs in 2010.
“We have a pretty powerful lineup,” Dickerson said. “I have to figure out a way to make a difference with every at-bat.”
Even with the introduction of the less potent BBCOR bats, Smith isn’t expecting Dickerson’s numbers to fall off this year. Of all the Hoosiers, Smith said the new bats affected Dickerson the least in fall ball. With concerns about how the bats will reduce home runs, Indiana needs Dickerson to keep slugging.
“He’s the centerpiece of what we’re built around offensively,” Smith said. “We built teams for power and he’s the main, main piece.”
It isn’t enough for Dickerson to rack up another big home run total this spring. That is the expectation. Posting big offensive numbers with a BBCOR bat might satisfy the scouts who wonder if his power is a factor of his swing or a metal bat, but it won’t do anything to change their minds about his range, arm or speed.
“I liked him a lot going into the summer,” an NL crosschecker said. “But I was disappointed in him—I would put him in that metal-bat category too. He’ll probably hit 20 home runs this year at Indiana, but I think other people probably had the same concerns about wood bats and approach.”
While the scouts keep debating the finer points of Dickerson’s secondary tools this spring, he’ll keep hitting and keep working to improve. The draft is a concern far down the road, past Opening Day, the Big Ten tournament and Selection Monday.
After all, it only takes one team’s belief in his talent to make him a first-round pick.
“He can hit in a minor league system right now,” Brunansky said. “He’s a great kid. You pull for kids like that. I’d love to have him and develop him as a pro.”