FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Dillon Dingler, the Detroit Tigers outstanding catcher prospect, crouched behind home plate, acting nonchalant. Setting the trap.
Kelvin Melean, the Fort Wayne TinCaps second baseman, was the unsuspecting prey. Melean took a big lead and started to drift off second base on Tuesday night.
“He did get a little bit far,” Dingler said. “(Second baseman Andre Lipcius) kind of gave me a look.”
After the next pitch, Dingler sprang to his feet and fired a missile to second, picking off Melean.
That one play showed many of the reasons why the Tigers took Dingler in the second round of the 2020 draft: his athleticism, his catlike reactions, his above average arm strength and his high baseball IQ.
The play ended the inning and wiped away a TinCaps scoring chance.
“It was a decent throw and we were able to get out of a tight spot,” Dingler said after the TinCaps beat the Whitecaps, 4-2.
Dingler, who batted cleanup for the Whitecaps, stripped off his gear and grabbed his bat. He opened the next inning at the plate, facing Matt Waldron, who pitched at Nebraska.
“I faced him before in college, so I kind of knew a little bit of what he was about,” Dingler said.
On the second pitch, Dingler showed off a smooth, balanced, powerful swing and smacked a homerun to the opposite field.
This is another reason why the Tigers love Dingler — he has the potential to hit for power. He hit five home runs and four doubles for Ohio State in just 10 games last year before the Tigers drafted him.
“We want him to understand that it’s going to take a little time but he’s going to be one of the great ones,” Whitecaps manager Brayan Peña said.
Yes, Peña said one of the great ones.
Peña, it should be noted, has an interesting perspective on catching, considering he played catcher in 437 games in a 12-year MLB career.
“This guy, he’s a special,” Peña said. “God blessed him with a very special talent.”
‘I can see why …’
That’s the perfect word.
I went to Fort Wayne to watch the Whitecaps open their season because this team is loaded with talent, and it’s the epicenter of the Tigers rebuild, at least for positional players. The Whitecaps’ starting lineup featured the Tigers’ top four draft picks from 2020 and seven of the organization’s top 28 prospects.
Many were making their professional debuts.
MORE FROM SEIDEL: Here’s why Dingler brings a Chris Spielman mentality to baseball
After two games, the player who kept catching my eye, the one who kept making plays and doing impressive things— both big and small — was Dingler.
Granted, he touches the ball after every pitch, so your eye naturally goes to him.
But there is just something about the way he plays.
“It’s hard for you not to fall in love with him,” Peña said. “He’s very humble and super approachable.”
Dingler looks like the real deal from his frame, to the way he acts, to the way he carries himself. He is a 6-foot-3 catcher who is a multi-sport athlete.
In high school, Dingler was a four-year letterman in baseball, football and basketball. And he was a first-team all-state football player.
“I can see why (the Tigers) love him so much,” Peña said. “I can see why all of us, you know, are really, rooting for him and believe in his talent, and that’s another one that is going to be a great one for the Detroit Tigers.”
It isn’t going to happen overnight, or even this season. “It’s going to take time,” Peña said.
True, but Dingler has a presence. When one of the Whitecaps’ pitchers was struggling, Dingler called time and ran out to calm him down.
Typical catcher stuff, to be sure. But it comes natural to him. He was a two-time team captain at Ohio State and that leadership is obvious in games.
“It is a blessing to see him, working everyday and to see the way he’s preparing himself and how well he communicates with everybody,” Peña said. “It says a lot about his character.”
Vital to the future
Dingler is the Tigers No. 5 prospect.
Jake Rogers, who is at Triple-A Toledo, has slipped to No. 14 because he has struggled to hit.
But how Dingler plays over the next few months could have a direct impact on the Tigers’ upcoming draft.
The Tigers hold the No. 3 pick in July and are in desperate need of more bats.
Ideally, it would make sense for the Tigers to draft a shortstop and the top candidates are all in high school: Jordan Lawlar (Dallas), Marcelo Mayer (Chula Vista, California) and Brady House (Winder, Georgia).
So if Dingler plays well, it could make easier for the Tigers to focus on shortstop — or any other position — instead of taking one of the top two catchers: Henry Davis (Louisville) or Miami’s Adrian Del Castillo.
Dingler has certainly started off hot, hitting .375 after his first two games.
Early and a small sample size, to be sure.
But it is something.
Lessons from hinch
Dingler is still refining his receiving skills.
He was invited to the Tigers spring training camp but didn’t get a ton of reps. He played in eight spring training games and got eight at bats. He had three hits, including a double, and four strikeouts.
But he soaked up information from Tigers manager AJ Hinch.
“I just learned a lot about being like a good catcher and being there for your pitchers,” Dingler said. “Because the biggest thing as a catcher, you know, it’s a plus if you can hit, but you really need to be there for your pitcher. You have to do everything you can to keep the ball in front of you, to control the running game and all that stuff.”
Over the last two games, Dingler wasn’t perfect behind the dish. He dropped a couple of balls that should have been snagged.
“Honestly, after these first two games, I just want to get more comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I was a little jittery behind the plate, which obviously, in any position on the field, the calmer you are, the better you do.”
So he wants to get more comfortable and he’s working on his framing.
He is far from a finished product. He is young and still in High-A ball. There will be ups and downs. And as Peña said, it’s going to take some time.
But still, there’s just something about this kid.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.