Corey Dickerson followed his first All-Star Game appearance in 2017 with his first Gold Glove last season, so it was only natural to ask the Pittsburgh Pirates leftfielder about his goals for this season.
Dickerson was a step ahead of me, not just in answering the question. In nearly two weeks of spring training in Bradenton, Fla., Dickerson was almost never at his locker at Pirate City. He was constantly on the move, from the gym to the batting cages to the baseball field, always finding something in his game to work on and fine-tune.
“It’s always, what’s next?” Dickerson said. “As soon as I won a Gold Glove, it was really cool and really rewarding but immediately I was like, what’s next? What can I achieve next to help this team? How can I get better? It motivated me more to go to the gym, to work on my craft, just to get better. I’m always, what’s next? It’s not necessarily specific goals. It’s just self-improvement every day.”
Following a season in which he slashed .300/.330/.474 won’t be easy, but Dickerson has his sights on different statistics. Dickerson has hit .300 before – he batted .312 in 2014 and .304 in ’15 with Colorado – but only hit 13 homers last summer. That was a major drop-off for a player who hit 24 home runs in three of his previous four seasons. The improved averages were by design, but Dickerson didn’t like that they came at the expense of his power production.
“Last year, I decided to shorten up and choke up and prove everybody wrong that I could hit the high fastball and up my contact percentage,” Dickerson said. “I was able to get a lot of hits and didn’t want to go back and go away from that. So, I just continued to do what I was doing. I wish I would’ve stayed a little more true to myself and be who I want to be. That’s what I brought into the offseason, get back to being me.”
That’s the big question: Who is Corey Dickerson?
He hit for power and average with the Rockies, but that was playing in the thin air at Coors Field. He had a tremendous first half in earning the All-Star nod for Tampa Bay, but that was mostly as a designated hitter. The Pirates need him to hit for average and power, putting his lefty bat in play at PNC Park without trying to pull every pitch to right.
“Just put up the same seasons I’ve always done: hit for power, but let it come naturally,” Dickerson said. “Just drive the baseball, not really shorten up and worry about the swing and misses too much. You can’t please everybody. You have to be the best you. Doing what I did last year definitely was something I can morph into what I do now and what I’ve done in the past and be able to become more complete.”
That’s the thing you have to love about Dickerson. He plays with a chip on his shoulder to prove people wrong. After being designated for assignment by the Rays and then traded during spring training for reliever Daniel Hudson and a minor-league infielder, Dickerson wanted to show that he was worthy of being an everyday outfielder.
“I’ve always been a highly motivated person internally. The external just helps fuel it a little bit more but I’m also a believer that anybody can become anything that they want to be,” Dickerson said. “When you’re so precise in the details of that goal and that vision that you have and you’re so focused on the little things to make it happen, then anything’s possible. You absolutely can become anything.
“With some of the broadcasters, even with the Pirates, saying how good I was last year at defense but by no means a Gold Glover. Then I pull it out at the end and show everybody (they’re) wrong. That’s just because I had a goal and was very persistent and determined to just get better.”
It didn’t hurt that Dickerson was entering his final year of arbitration, which netted him an $8.5 million contract from the Pirates. Unless the Pirates decide to offer an extension to Dickerson, who turns 30 on May 22, he will become a free agent at season’s end.
That’s great incentive, but here’s all the motivation Dickerson needs: He sandwiched his worst months around his best last season. Batting .263 with no home runs and one RBI in June and .211 with no homers and two RBI in August took some shine off his best month: Dickerson hit .400 (28 for 70) with six home runs and 12 RBI in July.
What Dickerson wants is to be a more complete player. What the Pirates need is more consistency. Get that from both Dickerson and Starling Marte and you’ve got a pair of All-Star and Gold Glove outfielders in left and center with the potential to hit for average and power.
Dickerson has two gloves with the gold Rawlings patch in his locker, and it takes only one look at the label to remind him of all the little things that he did right and the promise of endless possibilities.
“That’s my goal, to play as hard as I can every single day,” Dickerson said. “I always think that hard work always pays off. Hard work outworks any slump that you’ll go through.
“I play the game the right way. I try to make people respect the way I play. If people respect the way I play, the numbers, the awards and all those things will fall into place. I don’t play this game for awards. I have a purpose for why I play this game. I get to share the field and a locker room with all of these guys, and be able to feed into them and them into me – and that’s what it’s all about.”
That’s what Dickerson is all about.
Now it’s about what he can do next.