A quick look at the Cincinnati Reds’ 40-man roster reveals a land of opportunity in the outfield. Aside from mega-prospect Jay Bruce (more on him tomorrow), there’s…not much else. Utility-man Ryan Freel endured an injury-plagued season (though at least he still has Farney) and while Jerry Hairston Jr. (splitting time between center field and shortstop) turned in .326/.384/.487 line in 297 PA last year, he is also a 31 year-old with a career .700 OPS.
A lot could happen between now and opening day, be it a free agent signing or a trade. But as it stands right now, home-grown product Chris Dickerson figures to see a significant amount of playing time. A 6-3, 225 pound lefty hitter, Dickerson possesses an interesting blend of patience, speed and a little bit of power. The 26 year-old certainly made the most of his major league debut in 2008, batting .304/.413/.608 in 122 PA, popping 6 homers and drawing 17 walks. Is his Ruthian start a sign of things to come, or just insignificant small-sample mashing?
Selected out of Nevada in the 16th round of the 2003 amateur entry draft, Dickerson has shown good on-base skills in compiling a .260/.363/.415 minor league line. Since reaching AAA Louisville, he has shown a little more pop:
2007: 354 AB, .260/.355/.435
2008: 349 AB, .287/.382/.479
Dickerson could also be of some help in the steals category, as he has been a high-percentage base stealer in 2007 (23 of 28, 82.1%) and 2008 (26 of 33, 78.8%).
Of course, there’s one giant pink elephant in the room: Dickerson’s Kingman-esque strikeout rate. He whiffed a whopping 37% at Louisville in 2007, before cutting that rate to a still-whopping 29.2% in 2008. With the Reds, he K’d 34.3%. While he showed relatively solid plate discipline in Cincinnati (swinging at 24.44% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone), his contact rate was a Custian 69.53%.
Strikeouts do not necessarily keep a player from producing, provided that player has very solid secondary skills (walks and power). Dickerson has one of those, but his minor league track record suggests that his pop is only mid-range. Given his advanced age for a prospect, a high whiff rate and modest pop, Dickerson looks more like a useful fourth outfielder at the major league level than any sort of impact player. Don’t be fooled by his scalding cup of coffee last year: Dickerson can draw a walk and cause a little havoc on the basepaths, but he’s probably not starting material.