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Rays Tales: The stories behind Corey Dickerson's ascension

 
Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
Published May 28, 2017

The 25 pounds DH/LF Corey Dickerson lost during the winter through diet and exercise are considered the primary reason for his ascension to one of the American League's most productive hitters, going into the weekend leading in hits, multihit games and total bases, and ranked in the top five in average, runs and extra-base hits. But there's more to Corey's story — most interestingly his use of a 2x4 in hitting drills — as in his second season with the Rays he also has emerged as a strong candidate for the AL All-Star team. Here is some of what's new and some of what got him here:

Laying down the wood

While reducing his overall number of pregame swings, Dickerson has returned to a drill he was first introduced to in 2011 at Class A ball by coach Lenn Sakata to reduce his leg kick — standing on a 2x4 piece of wood (which is on the ground the long way) while taking swings at a ball on a tee. With his heels hanging off the back, Dickerson forces himself to be better balanced as he swings, first with his feet still, then by striding. "I'm a firm believer in being really grounded," he said. "When I get off it, I feel really grounded and I'm back on my legs, and I feel like I'm where my swing needs to be." Hitting coach Chad Mottola sees the benefits, as do a couple of other Rays now trying it.

A little bit less of a bat man

Dickerson is loosening up his obsessive compulsion in taking care of his bats, including noting and cleaning foul ball scuff marks with rubbing alcohol and retaping the handles daily. "I'm definitely not as bad as I used to be, not as meticulous," Dickerson said, noting some days he will even hit with no tape on the handles. Also, he's sticking with the same models more often rather than frequently changing, currently favoring a Marucci DD10 (named for his son, Davis) that is 34 inches long, 31½ ounces and flat gray with a shiny black handle.

Consistent consistency

Dickerson said the biggest reason for the more consistent production is more consistent preparation. "The consistency of what I'm doing is better than it's ever been," he said. "The consistency of my routine, and the way I go up to the plate and handle when I don't have success — I continue to be who I am and I know the way I'm doing the process and what I'm doing throughout the day is what's helping my result. And sticking to it, I think that's been the biggest thing, trusting that." Even on a bad day, Dickerson is satisfied knowing he put in the same work and the same time, arriving 1-1:30 p.m. for a 7:10 game, getting busy around 2, starting his cage routine at 3:50 then going onto the field for batting practice.

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Leading man

Dickerson seemed like an unorthodox choice when the Rays — absent an obvious option — slotted him at leadoff vs. right-handed starters, but he has taken to the role and prospered. Dickerson had past experience in the minors and Colorado and said he doesn't consider it a big adjustment: "It's an opportunity to get up there to hit a few more times maybe in a game. I think I can hit in any spot."

Big swingin'

Dickerson has hit four of the Rays' longest homers of the season, per ESPN's Home Run Tracker:

1. 453 feet, May 16 at Cleveland

2. 447 feet, May 20 vs. Yankees

3. 445 feet, April 21 vs. Astros

5. 437 feet, April 16 at Boston

(Logan Morrison had No. 4 at 444, May 10 vs. Royals)

An impressive perspective

No. 2 hitter Kevin Kiermaier has a good view of Dickerson's work, marveling not only at what he has done, specifically hitting for big power and a high average, but how much time, effort, thought and conversation he puts in: "I've never had a teammate who enjoys hitting, or talking about hitting, more than him. I love it when guys take pride in their job. I know he cares so much he can beat himself up at any time, but that's how competitive he is. … He can literally hit any pitch anywhere. It doesn't matter if it's up and in at his face, or down and low bouncing off the ground, he can put a barrel on anything."

And another …

Cleanup hitter Logan Morrison said what impresses him most is how Dickerson covers the whole plate, and more, and makes solid contact: "He's always had a special eye-hand coordination that very few have. When you see him take (a 97 mph pitch) up at the eyes and hit it down the leftfield line, that's special. And then a changeup down on the plate he somehow hits and fouls off. It's like he's playing cricket sometimes. … I told him I would like to see him swing at more strikes and let more balls go, but he hits balls out of the park, so I don't know why you would tell him to do that."

How the deal has worked out

The Rays got Dickerson and minor-league 3B Kevin Padlo from the Rockies in January 2016 for LHP Jake McGee and RHP prospect German Marquez. Here's how they've done:

Dickerson: .268 BA, 36 HRs, 93 RBIs, .823 OPS in 196 games

Padlo: Broke hamate with Stone Crabs; .229, 16 HRs, 66 RBIs in '16

McGee: 2-3, 3.90, 16 of 21 saves in 77 games, no longer closer

Marquez: Joined rotation late April; 4-3, 4.37 in 12 games total

More on Corey

His walkup song is Take My Life, by Jeremy Camp. … With the No. 6 he wore in Colorado taken by bench coach Tom Foley, Dickerson chose 10 with the Rays, in part because he grew up in Mississippi watching Braves star Chipper Jones. … Was born in McComb, Miss., as were other hitmakers Bo Diddley and Britney Spears (right). … With brother Craig, built a backyard mound and would hit berries with a switch and bottle caps and ping-pong balls with a broom handle.

Draft rumblings

MLB.com's latest mock draft has the Rays taking Louisville 1B/LHP Brendan McKay as the No. 4 pick on June 12, with the Twins taking Vanderbilt RHP Kyle Wright No. 1, RHP Hunter Greene going second to the Reds and N.C. prep LHP Mackenzie Gore third to the Padres. … Baseball America predicts the Rays take California prep SS/CF Royce Lewis, with Wright first, McKay second and Greene third to the Padres. … ESPN's Keith Law has the Rays taking Wright, after McKay, Greene and Lewis. … Minorleagueball.com has the Rays taking Gore.

Rays rumblings

With all the grief Indians manager Terry Francona gives buddy Kevin Cash, a just reward would be naming him to the AL All-Star Game coaching staff. … One popular question is what the Rays will do with INFs Tim Beckham, Michael Martinez and Daniel Robertson when Matt Duffy and Brad Miller return from the DL; another is whether to keep Derek Norris or Jesus Sucre when C Wilson Ramos is ready next month. … With the Yankees adding a Judge's Chambers seating section, what could the Rays do? Kiermaier's Korner? Longoria's Lads? The SouzaPalooza? … The Rays are not just last in attendance, but their 14,719 average is barely half the MLB mark of 28,974, with six gatherings under 10,000 despite some weekday ticket bargains. … A new stadium will be a big issue in the St. Petersburg mayoral election; the Times' Charlie Frago reports Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg contributed $10,000 to Rick Kriseman's re-election campaign and other Rays folks another $25,000. … It seemed an odd question given their recent improved play and pending return of injured players, but baseball operations president Matt Silverman told MLB Network Radio they are "not even thinking" about selling off. … No surprise to those of us watching, but Rays games through last Sunday averaged 3:15:23, behind only the Red Sox and Tigers. … FanRag Sports Jon Heyman had RHPs Chris Archer (8), Jake Odorizzi (13), Alex Colome (15), Alex Cobb (25) and Brad Boxberger (54) and 1B Logan Morrison (48) on his list of 70 players who could be traded. … The mystery of why Cash ditched his pink hat midway through the Mothee Mother's Day game is solved: He held it in front of a heater to dry it out and it got burned.