What Detroit Tigers prospect Dillon Dingler is learning in camp before he goes to minors
Anthony Castro's pitch came in fast, high and tight — not a good combination for Detroit Tigers catcher Dillon Dingler, who couldn't get out of the way.
His elbow guard protected him; the baseball ricocheted and landed near his feet. He took two steps toward the mound before bending over, picking the ball up with his left hand and giving it a soft underhand toss back to Castro.
Then he stepped back into the box, though he could've taken a free pass in Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage at Comerica Park. Instead, he wanted another chance to battle against Castro and ended up getting his first hit.
"It didn't really hurt," Dingler said. "I made that a very big point when I got here to make sure I have an elbow guard on."
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Some might say the 21-year-old's presence in summer camp is a formality. After all, he was the team's second-round pick in June, but it's clear Austin Romine, Jake Rogers and Grayson Greiner are well ahead of him on the depth chart. Dingler didn't expect to make the 60-man squad, so he's not taking anything for granted.
He was inside Marshalls returning a bathing suit when he got the call.
"It took me by surprise," Dingler said, "and I was so amped up to get the opportunity and drive up here."
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General manager Al Avila picked Dingler because of his hitting abilities, batting .340 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 13 games at Ohio State before the coronavirus canceled his season.
Although, in the last half-month, Dingler has been focused on things other than slugging the baseball.
Manager Ron Gardenhire paired him with fellow catcher Brady Policelli, a 13th round pick in the 2016 draft from Towson. Now 25 years old, Policelli has four years of minor league experience, something Dingler won't get this season.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound catcher keeps a notebook to retain what Policelli and other teammates have taught him.
"First couple of days, when I was starting to catch bullpen and seeing guys for the first time, I was jotting down pitcher names, each pitch they have, their movements on their pitches and just the general outline of the entire staff," Dingler said.
He even caught the organization's No. 1 prospect, Casey Mize, in a bullpen session. The 23-year-old righty throws a moving fastball, slider and a nasty splitter, his prized possession that gets batters to miss. His control is unlike other pitching prospects, hence why he's making a considerable push for the big-league roster.
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"He was my first bullpen, actually," Dingler said. "So that was crazy. One of the best pitchers in the organization, if not the league."
Mize struck out Dingler with that splitter Tuesday in a simulated batting practice drill.
He has taken notes on how the future ace "goes about his business" inside Comerica Park and carries himself among veterans, like two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera. He watches the way Mize focuses on his body in the weight room and uses stretches to help avoid an injury.
When it's time to relax, he hangs out with younger players, mainly Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. He's not afraid to ask questions. During intrasquad games, he normally doesn't enter the scrimmage until the later innings, meaning he gets plenty of time on the bench to chat with veterans.
"There's not a single person that has been rude or anything like that," he said. "Every player in the organization has been welcoming, so I do appreciate that a lot."
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Despite intrasquad matches, bullpens and batting practice with big leaguers, there's going to be a time in the near future where Dingler is told to pack his bags. He'll leave for Toledo to be housed at Fifth Third Field, home of the Triple-A Mud Hens, with 30 others on the taxi squad roster.
For Mize, there's a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation. But it's not the same reality for Dingler, who needs experience before the organization is willing to call on him.
That's why he's thankful to be here, even if it's not for long.
"It's kind of tough," he said, "but just makes you that much more excited for next year."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.