Alex Dickerson Could Be the Long Term Answer at First Base

Alex Dickerson should start the 2012 season in Bradenton.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently without a long-term solution at first base. The team will enter the 2012 season with a platoon of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee at the spot. Matt Hague could be a backup plan should the platoon struggle, although Hague profiles more as a James Loney type, and not a long-term solution.

The best long-term solution might be 2011 third round pick Alex Dickerson.

In a draft that featured outfielder Josh Bell getting $5 M in the second round, and pitcher Clayton Holmes getting $1.2 M in the ninth round, it’s easy to overlook Dickerson. He entered the year a candidate to be drafted at the end of the first round. Baseball America ranked him as the 27th best prospect in their pre-season rankings. He slipped due to a back injury during his junior year, but was still rated as a top 50 prospect.

Dickerson fell in the draft, and was taken 91st overall by the Pirates. They signed him for the slot price in the third round, which was $380,700.

Dickerson is a guy who hits to all fields, and hits for power to all fields. He made his pro debut in State College last year, hitting for a .313/.393/.493 line in 150 at-bats. He also moved to first base, despite playing outfield during his time at Indiana. He was a little raw during his season, and again during instructs, but the continued work at the position has helped and his defense is starting to come along.

“I’ve shown flashes in the past of being able to play it, and I’ve shown flashes of not being able to play it,” Dickerson said about first base. “Right now I’m just taking it one step at a time and I’m really trying to concentrate on fundamentals, which is something I haven’t done because I haven’t played there.”

A big thing for Dickerson will be getting more time at the position and concentration on his foot work.

“For him [the focus is] going to have to be to keep his feet moving,” Pirates’ farm director Larry Broadway said. “Keep his feet moving, [and] his hands will work fine. But he’s a big guy, a strong guy, so guys like that have a tendency to get cement boots on. So his big key will be to keep his feet moving, continue to get reps, and he’ll be alright.”

“My main goal is to just become a better first baseman,” Dickerson said. “I think I’ve done that. There’s still those welcome to reality moments. I’ve been doing really well and I think I’m going to keep improving there.”

The Pirates have had Dickerson working with two other similar players: Jose Osuna and Jared LaKind. Both hitters have raw power, but both are also poor defensively, limiting them to first base. Osuna played outfield in 2011 at the GCL level, but has been getting work primarily at first base. LaKind was drafted in 2010 in the 23rd round and was given a $400 K signing bonus. He was a left-handed pitcher and a first baseman in high school, but the Pirates drafted him for his bat.

The Pirates have had Dickerson working with Osuna and LaKind at first base since the instructional leagues.

“We really do play like a team when we’re doing these drills,” Dickerson said about his work with the group. “We all wish the best for each other, and I think that’s really helped as far as just getting through it every day.”

Nothing is set this early in Spring Training, but if everyone remains healthy Dickerson should lead the group as far as his placement in the system. Dickerson is expected to go to Bradenton to start the year, with Osuna going to West Virginia, and LaKind starting in State College. Justin Howard, who has also been getting some time at first base, and who played first with New Mexico, could also get some time in Bradenton at first base, although Howard is a better candidate to play in the outfield than Dickerson.

The defensive work at first base will be the key for Dickerson. Offensively he’s strong. His swing isn’t fully there this early in Spring Training, and they haven’t had many game situations yet, but he’s done well putting the barrel of the bat on the ball in the batting cages.

The back injury, which gave Dickerson problems last year as well as once before in high school, doesn’t seem to be an issue right now. Dickerson had a hiccup in the fall, but feels healthier than he has in a while this Spring.

Since the Pirates lack a long-term first base option in the majors, many will be watching how quickly Dickerson can move throughout the system. Last year the Pirates promoted Matt Curry to the AA level in his first full season in the pros after college. Curry struggled with the promotion, although he skipped over high-A in the process. It’s not a guarantee that the Pirates would take the same approach with Dickerson.

“There’s two trains of thought. If [players are] having good years, let them have some success, especially the first year out,” Larry Broadway said”. “Let them, one, go through the grind of a whole season. Understand what that’s like to be in the same spot, to show up every day. And two, to give them some success.”

“If they’re having a good season, we don’t necessarily move them based on the numbers. It’s more developmentally, one, have they accomplished what we wanted them to accomplish at the level, and two, are they ready for the challenges at the next level? We weigh the benefit of ‘is it better to keep them here the whole year to experience this, or is [a player] going to get more out of the next level?'”

Dickerson already received recognition this off-season, being named the ninth best first baseman in the minors by Jonathan Mayo of If he could make the successful jump to AA in 2012 — which is the hardest jump to make for a hitter, and the big test of skill for college guys — then he’ll starting opening more eyes. If that happens we could also start seeing his name on the horizon as a long-term option in Pittsburgh, maybe even as early as July 2013.

  • Back problems don’t just go away, that’s a huge red flag for me.  I also like Matt Hague, he’s certainly earned a chance.  And Tim, looking out 6 years in the future isn’t something anyone can do.  Remember your article on prospects being shiny new toys?  Nothing shinier than someone in A ball…

    • The “shiny new toy” argument doesn’t apply here. Dickerson has legit talent. He’s got more power than Hague. Also, my opinion on Hague has always been the same. I think he can be a starter in the majors, but he’s not a guy who you look to as your long term answer. The addition of Dickerson didn’t change my view on Hague, so it’s not a shiny new toy thing.
      I give my opinion on what I think a player can become. No one has to agree. But arguments like “no one can predict six years from now” or “let’s give him a chance and see if he can become more” are usually selective. You never see those lines when people agree with my predictions.

  • I don’t even understand why people think Hague hasn’t gotten a chance. He has stepped through the minors one level per season and played his first time at AAA last year.  If he keeps hitting and shows he can hit for a little more power than he has he will get his chance.

    •  As Hurdle says “All he does is find grass”. I have been a Matt Hague fan for years.

  • Dickerson seems to have become an afterthought from the 2011 Draft class. But, before his back problems, Dickerson was rated as a late first round pick in a deep and strong draft class. He’s the kind of player that could turn into a draft steal — he only needs to hit.

  • Reminds me of when Bautista and Ty Wigginton played 3rd for the Pirates. Neither were adequate enough, according to the scouts and Littlefield, but the Stats showed plenty of potential. Yet they were so enamored to bring Joe Randa back. 

  • Hague reminds me a lot of Alex Presley.  Kind of came out of nowhere, and nobody expects him to keep it up – but he just keeps hitting.  Hope he gets a shot at some point this season, just so we can finally see what we have.

    • They’re not really comparable. Presley was a guy who looked like A-ball depth in 2009. He didn’t look like he would make it beyond AA, and would be released in 2010. Then he did a complete 180 and became a prospect.

      Presley also provides defense in the outfield, and speed on the bases.
      If Hague could put up his AAA numbers in the majors, he’d be a strong starter. But that’s a big if.

  • while I would be surprised if Hague is long term answer, he has performed at every level.

    I even think his reverse splits (which were pretty equal last year) are not an issue.  I think that his ability to handle right handed pitchers at Indy is a potential plus.

  • I also love how quickly everyone discounts Curry b/c he struggled for a few months after his promotion.  

    • Kevin_Creagh
      March 9, 2012 4:41 pm

      I haven’t.  I’m still in his camp and rated him higher than Dickerson in my personal Top 50 for the book.
      Dickerson’s back issues are a concern for me.

    • I don’t think anyone is discounting Curry. I didn’t expect much from him after that aggressive jump to AA. In fact, we rated Dickerson the 20th best prospect in the system this year. Curry was #22. They’re basically neck and neck. They both profile the same: strong hitters with power who aren’t strong defensively. This article just happened to be on Dickerson. There will be a future article on Curry.

      • Two reasons why Hague is not seen as the answer are the lack of 1B power and the number of errors at AAA (15, .987 %age).  Dickerson is green and we are trying to convert him to 1B as we did with Jeff Clement last year.  Matt Curry was a .997 at Lo A and .994 at AA.  His bat was in shock after the two classification promotion, but he did not allow that to affect his contribution to the team as a 1B.  50+ EBH between Lo A and AA and 73 RBI’s, with a solid glove at 1B, is enough for me to see this kid as the best prospect we have in the system for 1B in 2012/2013.  16th Rounder keeping pace with Harper and Brentz at Lo A last year was nice stuff.

  • So a guy with chronic back problems who hasn’t even reached AA is our best long term option?  This makes no sense to me.

    • Bob, Tim uses words like could and might. Nobody, including Tim can say how any player will turn out. Tim gives his opinion based on facts, experts analysis and personal observations thousands of people read this blog and rely on his well thought out articles. I think you need to read what he writes instead of what you thought he wrote.

      • I do read what he writes, and never is Hague given a shot at being a contributor.  This guy has hit at every level, very durable and deserves a chance.  The FACTS are that Hague played more games than anyone in International league last year (141), he had more hits than anyone in International League (165), 3rd in doubles (37), 3rd in Total bases (244) and only K’d 68 times. 

        • john.alcorn
          March 9, 2012 3:47 pm

          Its OK Mr. Hague calm down. The FACTS are that Hague didn’t perform well enough as a 25 year old in AAA to merit discussion as a future everday MLB player. There is a reason why Matt Hague is not considered a very good prospect. You have to hit a ton to be an answer at 1B, not just a bit over .800 ops in AA and AAA. Jeff Clement out hits that. Every projection system out there pegs Hague at a .700-710 OPS as a big leaguer. That isn’t nearly good enough at 1B and its worse than Jones.

          Look, I like Hague and I really feel he should have been given ab’s last summer rathing than wasting them on Overbay. The reality is that he is an average defender at best who will be below average at the plate.

          At any rate, Pedro will be the answer at 1B if he starts hitting again. We should be focused on 3B, or 2B if Walker eventually moves back.

          • What part of his performance wasn’t good for a 25 yr old?  His power #’s are only thing I can see and as a team we have no power anyways so why would it matter if he doesn’t hit 20 HR’s?  If he hits around .300 with 10 HR’s that would be fine with me.  Better than Jones hitting .225 with 20 HR’s.  If Pedro does get on track he simply will not accept a move to 1b, his agent has already hinted at that fact when we looked at drafting Rendon.  

            • john.alcorn
              March 9, 2012 4:53 pm

              Wow if you throw out the most important thing then Hague is great! Top 1B prospects hit .900 ops at AAA, not .820. If Hague could hit .300 in MLB, and play plus defense, and get 40 double then sure he’d be fine. There just isn’t any good reason to think that a 26 year old fring prospect is going to morph into Mark Grace.

              Pedro will accept the move after another terrible year at 3B defensively. Boras has no say over where the Pirates play him, he’s not going to sign an extension anyway.

        • If you read what he writes point out where he says he says he can’t contribute.

          • although Hague profiles more as a James Loney type, and not a long-term solution.

            • James Loney was the 8th best fielding 1B in MLB last year, hit .288 with 12 HR’s….if he profiles as a James Loney type he should definitely be starting on this team.

              • The way our team is built is speed, HR’s don’t help the speed, base hits do.  

                • In addition, Hague’s splits are much better than Loney

                  • john.alcorn
                    March 9, 2012 4:55 pm

                    Loney was much better at AAA as a 22,23 year old than Hague (.341avg, .877ops). Tim was not comparing Hague’s D to Loney’s. You seem to be taking AAA stats as a literal translation to MLB. Hague is old for his level and has no projection left.

              • I think there’s two arguments here. I’m talking about a long-term solution. You’re talking about right now. I think we both agree that Hague would be a good option right now. But do you think Hague is a guy who you can put in at first base and forget about the position for the next 6 years? I don’t, and that’s why I say he’s not a long-term solution.

            • What the h*** does that have to do with contributing.I quit, you don’t even make sense

  • AHHHHHH!!! Stop dissing Hague!!! I am so tired of you saying he isn’t the answer, why don’t we give him a chance before we make that determination?  He is durable, hits for average at every level he has been.