Catching on: Dillon Dingler climbs Detroit Tigers system with big bat, developing glove

Josh Weir
The Repository
Erie SeaWolves catcher Dillon Dingler, left, waits as Altoona Curve batter Canaan Smith-Njigba enters the batter's box on June 16, 2021, at UPMC Park in Erie.

AKRON — On his rare day off from baseball, Dillon Dingler likes to tee it up and play some golf with teammates.

As to the quality of the golf, the former Jackson High School three-sport standout and Ohio State star shakes his head and says, “It’s terrible. Everything goes right.”

It’s nice to know Dingler is human.

It also should be pointed out that Dingler’s baseball swing is doing just fine.

Erie SeaWolves batter Dillon Dingler steps up to the plate on June 15, 2021, against the Altoona Curve at UPMC Park in Erie.
Erie SeaWolves catcher Dillon Dingler talks prior to a game at Akron in Canal Park on Tuesday.

Dingler, drafted last year in the second round by the Detroit Tigers, is making his professional debut this season after COVID-19 wiped out minor league baseball in 2020. He already has made his way to Double-A. He finds himself in Akron this week with the Erie SeaWolves facing the RubberDucks.

The 22-year-old Dingler was promoted from High Class-A West Michigan on June 14 after batting .287 with eight home runs, six doubles and 25 RBIs in 37 games. In five games with Erie entering this week, he was batting .294 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored.

“I’m happy with how I’ve played so far, both offensively and defensively,” Dingler said Tuesday at Canal Park. “At the (alternate) site last year and this spring training, I kind of got my feet wet. But I didn’t really feel comfortable until a couple of weeks into pro ball. You start to learn some things and the routine gets a little easier.”

Erie SeaWolves batter Dillon Dingler hit this ball for a second-inning single against the Altoona Curve on June 15, 2021, at UPMC Park in Erie.

More:Ohio State coach saw pro future for Dillon Dingler early on

Managing the workload of being an every-day professional catcher is a process, even for a 6-foot-2, 215-pound specimen such as Dingler, a guy Erie manager Arnie Beyeler described as, “Very athletic. For a catcher, he’s just a very athletic guy.”

Jackson grad Dillon Dingler of the Erie SeaWolves talks prior to their game at Akron's Canal Park on Tuesday.

Erie plays at Akron for rest of the week

The SeaWolves sat Dingler on Tuesday for a scheduled rest day, much to the chagrin of the numerous purple-wearing Jackson fans who made their way to Canal Park to see Dingler play.

More:Why Detroit Tigers prospect Dillon Dingler's fanbase shows he's one to build around

“I feel pretty bad about that,” said Dingler, who is at the mercy of a Tigers organization that is more interested in properly developing its prized prospect than appeasing people in Jackson Township.

Local fans should have plenty of opportunities to catch Dingler in person since Erie is in Akron through Sunday.

Dingler seems to be loving life as a pro baseball player, with the novelty of it all not fading a bit since the Tigers made him the second highest Stark County player selected in Major League Baseball Draft history at 38th overall (Thurman Munson was picked fourth overall in 1968).

“I still think it’s kind of funny,” he said. “You still feel like you’re playing a game, same as school, but now you’re getting paid to play baseball. I feel very fortunate to be in this situation. I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

Joins top prospects Spencer Torkelson, Riley Green at Erie

Baseball people tend to think the future is very bright for Dingler, who is the fourth-ranked prospect in the Tigers organization. He was promoted to Erie along with infielder Spencer Torkelson, the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 1 overall pick of last year’s draft. They join outfielder Riley Green, the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect and a 2019 first-round pick, on a SeaWolves team that has the full attention of Detroit baseball fans.

Spencer Torkelson of the Erie SeaWolves takes infield practice prior to their game against the Akron RubberDucks at Canal Park in Akron on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

Dingler does his best to avoid the moving-up-the-ladder chatter. Baseball is hard enough without worrying about the next stop.

“It’s a lot of talk. A bunch of rumors,” Dingler said. “You try not to think about it. You can’t let yourself get caught up in it or anything. All you can do is take care of your business on a day-to-day basis.”

While Dingler being a catcher probably opens a quicker path to the big leagues, it also steepens his pro baseball learning curve. Handling a pitching staff and receiving/blocking/framing pitches at a high level are enormous tasks for a young player such as Dingler, who has turned heads with his rifle of a right arm.

Erie SeaWolves catcher Dillon Dingler works against the Altoona Curve on June 15, 2021, at UPMC Park in Erie.

Becoming a major league-caliber catcher seems to be the first priority, followed by becoming a major league-caliber hitter.

“You have to be a catcher first,” Dingler said. “It’s a plus if you can hit.”

Arnie Beyeler, manager of the Erie SeaWolves, talks prior to their game against the Akron RubberDucks at Canal Park in Akron on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

Beyeler put it this way: “From here on out, it’s all going to be about his catching. The pitchers don’t care about his at-bats. They just want him to catch the ball and block the ball and know what fingers to put down. Some guys struggle with that when they get to the Double-A, Triple-A, big league levels.

“Now, he does have some bat potential down the road. Hopefully he can be a middle of the order-type guy. That’s tough for a lot of catchers once they get to Double-A, to kind of put that on the back burner and get to the big leagues as a catcher.”

Jackson catcher Dillon Dingler throws to first base during a 2017 tournament game.
Dillon Dingler TD. Lake @ Jackson football.

Three-sport star for the Jackson Polar Bears

Dingler was a sort of Bo Jackson figure at Jackson.

As a senior, he was talented enough to be The Canton Repository Stark County Player of the Year in football and a sixth man on Jackson’s state champion basketball team before even getting to his bread and butter of baseball (where he helped lead Jackson to another state championship along with fellow future pro Kyle Nicolas).

He then went on to Ohio State, where he earned All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors at a position (center field) he had never played in his life before switching back to catcher.

Dingler’s star continues to rise now in pro baseball.

Despite his high profile, Dingler maintains an unassuming quality that stretches back through Ohio State to his high school days at Jackson.

“He’s a great teammate. Fits in everywhere,” Beyeler said. “He’s not the guy running around with his chest out and expecting everything to be given to him. He works his butt off and shows up everyday early. He wants to learn. He asks questions. … With his attitude, the sky is the limit.”

Reach Josh at josh.weir@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jweirREP