Introducing Corey Dickerson, the Best MLB Hitter You've Never Heard Of

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistApril 20, 2015

David Zalubowski/AP Images

LOS ANGELES — So, what do we make of this kid Corey Dickerson?

"Amazing hitter," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis says. "There's nowhere to pitch him."

You know, Dickerson…left fielder…Colorado Rockies?

"I love that kid," one National League scout says. "His hand-eye coordination is incredible. And he's hitting lefties this year."

You know, the hitting freak who cleans his bats with rubbing alcohol every single day and then re-tapes the handles?

"Pretty OCD, isn't it?" Rockies hitting coach Blake Doyle says, grinning.

Meet McKenzie Corey Dickerson, who would have been in the thick of the National League batting race last season with just 24 more plate appearances (at 478, he just missed the 502 it takes to qualify). He's 25 (26 on May 22), and talk about a catch:

The offseason after his rookie ball year, he would pop by Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, purchase huge tubs of unpopped popcorn kernels and then take his girlfriend out in the backyard of their Mississippi home and have her pitch them while he swung a regular wood bat.

"She couldn't really throw 'em too good," Dickerson says. "She'd throw them behind me.

Jul 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Corey Dickerson (6) during the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

"So she got fired. Plus, I think she was in the line of fire, with me hitting them back at her."

That girl, Beth Anne, is now Corey's wife.

I mean, really. How can you resist this guy?

Growing up in McComb, Mississippi, he used to hit berries with switches. And pingpong balls with broomsticks. His brother, Craig, three years older, would spin those pingpong balls like a whiffle ball, and he'd try hitting one of those with a broomstick.

Corey could. And, speaking of whiffle ball, yep. You knew that was coming, too.

"My brother and I used to make our own homemade pitching mound and have whiffle ball tournaments," Dickerson says. "We'd get clay from the woods and pack it in, build it up and then use a piece of plywood for the pitching rubber."

Who needs travel ball and pricey personal batting coaches with development like that?

His father, Tim, would shake his head, chuckle and tell Corey, "I can't believe you're doing that" when Corey would pick berries from the fence line around the family home, toss them into the air and smack them with a switch. Imagine, a kid developing his skills with healthy doses of creativity and determination.

By the time he was eight, Corey was playing up in age in the local Little League with nine- and 10-year olds. At 10, he was playing with 11- and 12-year olds.

"A couple of times, I deserved to make the All-Star team but I couldn't, because I was too young," he says.

Just like last year, when he would have finished fourth in the National League batting race, if he'd had a few more plate appearances.

One of these days, this guy is going to get his just rewards.

Jun 20, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Corey Dickerson (6) is congratulated for two run home run by special assistant Vinny Castilla (9) in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Coors Field. The Brewers defeated the Rocki
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

"When he was a call-up [in 2013], you could pitch away to him," the Dodgers' Ellis says. "Next thing you know, he's hitting opposite-field home runs at Dodger Stadium at night [when the cool air makes that more difficult]."

"It's amazing with his timing and his rhythm how he can hit balls out of the zone," says Doyle. "That hand-eye coordination. It's the same thing Hunter Pence does."

Indians manager Terry Francona says he's never seen someone swing harder than Dickerson. And yet, Doyle says, one of Dickerson's biggest attributes is his two-strike approach, the way he'll narrow his vision to a particular part of home plate and get "a little more direct to the ball" with his swing.

"I call it aggression under control," Doyle continues. "That makes him a very, very tough out."

The Rockies' eighth-round pick in the 2010 draft, Dickerson, who batted .312/.364/.567 with a team-leading 24 homers and 76 RBI last summer, was disappointed at the time. The Phillies, Mets, Cubs and even Rockies had indicated he could go in the second or third round.

But he was playing at a small school, Meridian Community College in Meridian, Mississippi, in an out-of-the-way area; even though he had committed to play at Mississippi State, he figures the lack of buzz in that part of the country conspired to drop him down.

Of course, it wasn't as if he had spent his entire life planning on a career playing baseball. In high school, he was a pitcher who threw 93 mph but then suffered a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff. He played his entire junior year of high school with the injury, pitching sidearm because of the pain.

Don Boomer/Associated Press

He had surgery that summer but stopped his throwing program after just two months of rehab because, well, football practice was starting. In those high school days, he just put his head down and plowed ahead to the next sport, which was football and then basketball after baseball.

Now, he wishes he would have finished that throwing rehab. Because he didn't, he wound up moving from the infield (where he played when he wasn't pitching) to the outfield because the throws were more infrequent and easier.

But, ah, hitting. Even with a sore shoulder, he could always do that. And after debuting in the majors in 2013 with a .263 batting average, five homers and 17 RBI in 69 games, he told Rockies sideline reporter Jenny Cavnar of Root Sports during a spring interview last year that his goal was to win a batting title.

That sure sounded awfully sweet and idealistic…until the 2014 season began unspooling, Carlos Gonzalez suffered an injury and an opportunity opened for Dickerson. Then, bam! He was huddling with teammate Justin Morneau, who would win the batting title at .319, down the stretch, studying pitchers.

By season's end, his .931 OPS ranked seventh in the majors among those with a minimum of 450 plate appearances. Only three outfielders ranked ahead of him: The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen (.952), the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton (.950) and the Angels' Mike Trout (.939). McCutchen and Trout have MVP awards on their resumes, and Stanton finished second last year in NL MVP voting.

Yes, like many who came before him, Coors Field aided Dickerson, where he hit .363/.415/.684. On the road, he hit .252/.305/.431.

Apr 8, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA;  Colorado Rockies left fielder Corey Dickerson (6) hits a solo home run in the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

This year, in just three home games his OPS is .962, while in nine road games heading into Sunday it was a healthy .897.

As Ellis points out, Dickerson is trending in the right direction: He's closing even more holes in his swing.

And as the scout notes, he's hitting lefties this year: .273/.333/.364 (in an admittedly small sample size) after last year's .253/.306/.418.

"One of the great things about Dickey is he studies pitchers and prepares, but he does not overanalyze his swing whether he's going well or not going well," Doyle says. "He goes by old-school feel.

"And he's such a good hitter he doesn't care who's pitching, left-hander, right-hander or ambidextrous. He's just going to attack the ball."

Dickerson, who was hitting .298/.327/.532 with two homers and 10 RBI (tied for fifth in the NL) through Sunday, probably spends as much time with his bats as he does in front of the monitors watching video.

He cleans them every day.

"I wipe them off with alcohol to get the scuffs off," he says. "And I re-tape them every day, too.

"I'm OCD about my bats. I want them to be perfect. I want to see where on the bat the foul balls hit, that's the reason I clean them. And I re-tape them because the pine tar gets too thick and sticky on the handle."

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Just like artists and jazz musicians, he goes by feel. And, yes, don't even ask about his batting gloves, either: He estimates that for every 12, he finds only three or four usable for games. The rest are cut too thick, which, again, messes with his feel for the bat.

"My teammates always see me with a bat," he says. "I'm sure they're saying, 'There goes weird Corey with a bat.' And the trainers get mad at me for using all of the tape."

But a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do, right?

Darn right, he's set a goal of winning a batting title one day. But not in some sort of arrogant way. Not even close.

"I love hitting," Dickerson says. "I want to be good at it. I want to succeed at it.

"You've got to have goals where you've got to try your hardest to reach. That's what drives me."

Anybody have any extra tape?

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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