Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers catcher Dillon Dingler has a locker in the team’s spring training facility. He is isolated. That’s because of the COVID-19 protocols and — maybe the real reason — his spot on the depth chart.
“I’m in a staff locker room,” Dingler, 22, said Friday. “But there’s about six players in the first one, and I’m in a little room behind the first one. A couple other guys are joining us in a week, so it’ll get a little less lonely in here.”
Welcome to the show, kid.
Seriously, Dingler — a second-round draft pick (No. 38 overall) in 2020 from Ohio State — hasn’t played a professional game; the minors were canceled last season because of coronavirus concerns. Yet he got a non-roster invite to Lakeland for big-league camp, joining five catchers with much more experience.
Despite his youth, Dingler is making a positive impression on manager AJ Hinch.
“Shown some poise, shown some confidence,” Hinch said Friday. “He’s got some presence. Pretty good-looking athlete. Even though he hasn’t played his first pro game, you can start to see why the organization was so high on him, why they drafted him so high.”
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Dingler caught Hinch’s attention Thursday after reliever Joe Jimenez pitched to him. After each bullpen, the pitchers and catchers meet to exchange words. Of course, Hinch figured Jimenez — with four years in the majors — would do all the talking.
It was Dingler.
“I like him,” Jimenez said Thursday. “He’s grown up already. He knows what he’s doing. … I think he’s going to be a great guy coming up for us.”
First, Dingler broke down what he saw from Jimenez’s wipeout slider and four-seam fastball. Then, he explained in detail which pitches the right-hander missed on.
“He just wants honest feedback, so I try to give it to him,” Dingler said. “I try to give it to all the guys, just try to be very forward with them. Tell them what I saw. Tell them what I liked. And what’s working for them right now and what they need to work on.”
So far, Dingler has caught Jimenez, Zack Hess, Matt Manning and Ian Krol. While Hess and Manning are still waiting for their MLB debuts, the other two — Jimenez and Krol — have combined for 408 games.
And Dingler isn’t overwhelmed.
“A lot is expected due to the rankings and some other stuff,” he said. “You try not to listen, try not to worry about it. Just try to play the game to the best of your ability and help your club out as much as possible. That’s my mentality.”
Entering this month, Dingler already had a good idea about three of his five fellow catchers. He spent time with Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers and Eric Haase throughout summer camp last July and at the alternate training site in Toledo during August and September.
He is still getting to know Wilson Ramos and Dustin Garneau, two offseason additions to the catcher pool. This year’s camp is an opportunity for Dingler to soak up information and prepare to rise through the minors.
“He’s going to flourish from being around these guys,” Hinch said.
It won’t happen right away, but the Tigers will call on Dingler at some point. The farm system’s No. 8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, will get a chance when the next wave of catching opportunities passes through, after No. 12 prospect Jake Rogers gets another go-round.
Dingler hit .340 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 13 games before Ohio State’s 2020 season was shut down. His 2019 season wasn’t quite as explosive at the plate: The 6-foot-3 right-handed hitter recorded a .291 batting average, three home runs and 19 RBIs in 48 games.
He has a chance to turn himself into a complete catcher for the Tigers.
And the journey to getting there is already underway.
“I’m liking what I’m seeing so far,” Dingler said. “Obviously, there are adjustments that need to be made. Just trying to be as consistent as possible. You’re not going to be perfect. I have to realize that and stay within myself.”
Another pitcher joins
The 28-year-old has 23⅓ career innings in the majors for the Boston Red Sox (2017) and Cleveland Indians (2018), with 10 walks and 26 strikeouts. He owns a career 5.40 ERA.