Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball career.
After a slow start in Low-A West Virginia last season, Dickson saw massive improvements in the second half of the season, posting a 2.33 ERA from July through the end of the season, while also cutting down on his walks.
Often times when a pitcher sees a drastic improvement similar to the one Dickson experienced during the second half of last season, it usually materializes from a mechanical adjustment or the improvement in the player’s overall health. Contrary to the norm, His improvement happened more organically — through repetition, experience and finally trusting his natural ability on the mound.
“From working on stuff, [I was able to get] it all to finally click,” Dickson said when reflecting on last year’s improvements. “Nothing really changed mechanically throughout the year, just finally got into that rhythm. Instead of spotting up [my pitches] two out of ten times, I started to do it eight out of ten times.”
Dickson has a good arsenal. His four-seam fastball sits in the low 90s with good movement, he has a plus curveball, and a good feel for his change-up that continues to improve. His biggest challenge has been his mindset. After he throws a great pitch, he’s had the problem of trying to make the next one even greater.
“He’s adapting to the pro game,” Pirates Minor League Pitching Coordinator Scott Mitchell explained. “He’s not feeling like you have to do more. He’s executing pitches and letting hitters get themselves out, versus putting everything on his own shoulders. It’s a mindset of I’m going to do less instead of trying to do more.”
This mindset stands for all of his offerings. When he throws a great fastball, he can’t try to throw one even harder, or in an even better location the next time. When he throws a great curveball, he can’t try to make it break harder his next offering.
“Just let your stuff play…trust it,” Dickson said. “Once I figured that out and got my innings and realized how to pitch throughout the games, that stuff started to fall in place.”
Now that Dickson has the right frame of mind on the mound, going forward he can begin to focus on the skills that will allow him to move up the minor league ranks. At 6’ 3″ and only 180 pounds, he worked on adding strength and becoming better conditioned in the off-season. The added strength will aid Dickson in holding his delivery deeper into starts, as well as maintaining his health and freshness when the dog days of the season come around.
“You always see guys going down towards the middle of the season, going into August. The biggest thing to me is just staying healthy,” Dickson explained. “If you can stay healthy and you can continue to go out there and get innings, then your stuff is going to keep getting better.”
Another skill that Dickson is focusing on is fastball command to both sides of the plate. An emphasis for him is commanding glove-side fastballs more efficiently (inside on right-handed batters, outside on left-handed batters), a pitch that has been his “Arch Nemesis” according to Mitchell. The ability to command his fastball to both sides of the plate will allow his secondary pitches to become even more effective.
Dickson is a player to watch in the Pirates system with the potential to breakout 2015. He is entering his 23-year-old season and is expected to start in High-A Bradenton. If he can repeat last year’s second half success in Bradenton this season, he could end the year in Double-A Altoona and cement his status as the Pirates’ top left-handed pitching prospect.