Dillon Dingler takes a detour on his way to UPMC Park each Sunday morning. It’s part of his routine.
“He’s the donut guy,” Double-A Erie manager Gabe Alvarez said.
Dingler is usually the first player to the ballpark on most days, so he swings by a local donut shop on the way in and picks up donuts for staff and teammates. It might not endear him to nutritionists in the Tigers’ organization, but it makes friends in the clubhouse.
“There’s a spot down here that has some pretty good ones, probably about 10 minutes away,” Dingler said. “Our clubbie got them one time and we liked them, so I usually try to go back. We try to get some good ones.”
Weekends are a key time for Dingler because of the way the Minor League schedules are set up. With six-game series’ running Tuesday through Sunday, the later games are when a catcher can make a difference. Staff and coaches assemble scouting reports on opposing hitters going into each series. By the weekend, however, Dingler can improvise some.
“I’ll usually go off the scouting report strictly for the first couple days and then kind of read some swings,” Dingler said. “It honestly depends on which pitcher you have on the mound, but you’re always trying to use his stuff over the hitters’ stuff every day of the week. Some guys have a little bit of a different strategy when they’re on the mound, so you kind of lean that way. But once you get two or three games in a series, you usually know what hitters are trying to do.
“You just have to understand what each [pitcher is] trying to do on a day-to-day basis and plan accordingly. Some guys are more off-speed oriented or have more movement on their off-speed, and other guys need to attack with their fastball to get to their off-speed for it to work a little bit better. Whether a team has more fits with slow spin or fast spin, or if a team can hit fastball-changeup better than they can hit spin, you try to figure out what the situation is for each opponent and go from there.”
Behind the plate, Dingler has advanced by leaps and bounds in his second Minor League season. He has taken ownership of an Erie staff that boasts ranked prospects in No. 14 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 — the Tigers’ No. 3 prospect — has enhanced his profile. He was known as an offensive catcher whose strong arm was his calling card behind the plate. His work to improve his catching — beyond throwing out 38 percent of would-be base-stealers — has flipped the script amidst growing pains as a hitter.
“His preparation has really impressed me,” Alvarez said. “He comes in every day and goes over the scouting report with not just our pitcher but with our pitching coaches, and really dives deep into it. He wants to know everything about that particular hitter, and he prides himself in that now. I think he’s really taking a step forward.”
Offensively, Dingler has had an up-and-down season. His .291 average, .395 on-base percentage and .790 OPS in May showed progress before he took a step back in June. He entered Wednesday with more than twice as many strikeouts (24) as walks (nine) for the month. His .698 OPS for the season is fueled by 60-point jumps in on-base and slugging percentages from his half-season in Erie last year.
The balance of offensive work with defensive responsibilities is a challenge many catchers learn over time, but defense always takes priority.
“He’s not even close to reaching his potential yet,” Alvarez said, “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 that he’s a big prospect and they pitch him tough.
“He’s going to be a big leaguer for a long time because the defense is plenty good enough. It’s going to be plenty good enough at the Major League level, and that was kind of the question about him.”