This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. Subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox
Dillon Dingler takes a detour on his way to UPMC Park every Sunday morning. It’s part of his routine.
“He’s the donut guy,” said Gabi Alvarez, director of Double-A Erie.
Dingler is usually the first player to hit the field most days, so he swings by a local donut shop on his way inside and picks up donuts for the staff and teammates. The Tigers’ nutritionists might not like him, but he makes friends in the club.
“There’s a spot here that has some good stuff, maybe about 10 minutes away,” Dingler said. “Our club got them once and we liked them, so I usually try to come back. We try to get some good stuff.”
Weekends are a prime time for Dingler due to the way Minor League schedules are set up. With a six-game series running from Tuesday through Sunday, the next matches are when the catcher can make a difference. Staff and coaches compile exploratory reports on the opposing hitters entering each series. By the end of the week, Dingler could improvise some.
“I usually get out of the scout report thoroughly for the first couple of days and then read some of the volatility,” Dingler said. “It honestly depends on what bowler you have on the hill, but you always try to use his stuff on the hitters stuff every day of the week. Some guys have a slightly different strategy when they’re on the pile, so you kind of lean that way. But once you get a couple of games or Three matches in a series, you usually know what the hitters are trying to do.
“You just have to understand what each one is [pitcher is] You try to do it on a daily basis and plan accordingly. Some players are more speed-oriented or have more movement beyond their speed, while others need to attack with the fast ball to reach their non-fast speed in order to work a little better. Whether the team has more bouts with the slow spin or the fast spin, or if the team is able to make the quick change of the ball better than they can hit the spin, you’re trying to figure out the situation for each opponent and go from there.”
Behind the plate, Dingler is well ahead in his second season in the minor league. He has taken ownership of the Erie staff that boasts 14th-ranked prospects Wilmer Flores, No. 16 Reese Olson and No. 27 Austin Bergner, all of whom have enjoyed strong starts this season with different pitching styles.
In the process, Dingler – possibility number 3 for tigers – has boosted his profile. He was known as the offensive catcher whose strong arm was the calling card behind the board. His work to improve his catching — along with weeding out 38 percent of potential thieves — has upended the script amid the growing afflictions as a hitter.
“I really liked his preparation,” Alvarez said. “He comes in every day and reviews the Scout Report not just with the bowler but with our coaches, and he dives deep into that. He wants to know all about that particular hitter, and he’s proud of that now. I think he’s really taking a step forward.”
Offensively, Dingler has been going through a season of ups and downs. Its averages of .291, 0.395 on a percentage basis and .790 OPS in May showed progress before taking a step back in June. Wednesday’s income more than doubled the number of strikes (24) of walking (nine) during the month. His .698 OPS of the season feeds jumps of 60 points in percentages on base and sluggishness from half of his season at Erie last year.
Balancing offensive action and defensive responsibilities is a challenge that many hunters learn over time, but defense always takes priority.
Alvarez said, “He’s not even close to his potential yet, but when he hits the ball, he drives it. When he hits it, he hits it hard. Other teams know who he is. They know it’s a big possibility and they’re hard on him.”
“He’s going to be a top player for a long time because the defense is good enough. He’ll be good enough at the major league level, and that was kind of questionable about him.”