What Holds Cody Dickson Back From Being a Top LHP Prospect For the Pirates?

ALTOONA – From a stuff standpoint, Cody Dickson should be one of the most interesting left-handed starting pitching prospects in the system. He can get his fastball up to 94 MPH. He’s got an above-average curveball that can be used as an out pitch. One of the knocks against him coming in was that he didn’t have a changeup, but he’s shown improvements with the pitch. It’s not as good as the fastball or curveball, but it’s good enough for him to stick as a starter.

Despite this stuff, Dickson falls behind softer tossers like Steven Brault and Brandon Waddell, along with other hard throwers like Stephen Tarpley.

The downside with Dickson is his control. That was on display in the worst form on Monday, when he walked seven batters in three innings for Altoona. Granted, that was his Double-A debut. It was also cold. The control might not have been as bad as the stat line showed, but control problems aren’t new for Dickson.

Over the off-season, the Pirates sent Dickson to the Arizona Fall League, with a focus on his control. In this case, the issue wasn’t mechanical. It was more with his mentality of attacking hitters.

“I’ve seen him better than I did tonight,” Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage said after Monday’s start. “Out in the Fall League, it was limited, but he did okay out there. We’re just going to have to clean up some mentality things for him to be able to work on that. There may be a delivery thing and some timing issues going on there too, but he’s got three good pitches that I don’t know he fully trusts and sees how good they are.”

Meccage feels that Dickson could have an average changeup and “a really good breaking ball with depth” when he trusts his stuff. But trusting his stuff is something Dickson struggles with. Instead of attacking opposing hitters, he works around the edges of the plate, and ends up missing those spots and getting behind.

“Just trusting that your stuff is going to play, instead of trying to be so perfect,” Dickson said on what his focus needs to be. “I feel like my stuff is above-average, and you just play with that, instead of trying to make it above above-average. Whenever that happens, you put yourself in a bind, and your stuff doesn’t end up as good as it could be if you ended up trusting it.”

Meccage felt that there was a lack of conviction on a lot of Dickson’s pitches on Monday. He’s not sure if that has to do with fear of contact, or trying to be too perfect. Either way, Meccage doesn’t feel that Dickson needs that.

“Now that we’ve got some seasoning under us, we’ll start attacking some of those things,” Meccage said, after referencing his chance to observe Dickson in the AFL. “I don’t know if it is necessarily fear of contact or trying to be too perfect… Part of me wants to say that he is trying to make perfect pitches… He thinks he has to be perfect and he doesn’t. We’ll see where this goes. We’ll leave it that it’s the first outing and see what happens the second.”

One thing that could help Dickson is a two-seam fastball. At the end of Spring Training, he started throwing a two-seamer in games, after previously being a three-pitch guy. He was throwing it in flat ground work, but didn’t really know if it was a good offering. The pitching coaches noticed it, and asked why he didn’t throw it in games. He ended up trying it out in his final starts, including his last start of the Spring, when he used it almost exclusively.

The two-seamer could help Dickson when he falls behind. When it’s got break, it’s a forgiving pitch. It’s one that you can just throw for contact, not worrying about hitting a specific spot. Dickson was throwing about 50% of his fastballs as two-seamers on Monday, sitting in the 88-90 MPH range with the pitch, rather than the 90-92 range for his four-seamer.

“When he does throw it in the zone, it’s a ground ball pitch,” Meccage said. “When he threw it in Spring Training, he got a lot of ground balls. When we were at the Yankees, there were a lot of ground balls. It’s just a matter of selling out to stuff over command mentality and trusting that.”

It’s hard to say whether this will just be a situational pitch for Dickson, or if he becomes a two-seam guy going forward. Dickson said that he needs to figure out how the pitch plays, and when to throw it first. Meccage said that the biggest thing is getting his mentality in the right place.

That’s a key for Dickson. His four seam fastball could be a good pitch — sitting 90-92 and touching 94 — but he doesn’t seem to trust it enough to attack hitters with the pitch. The two-seamer would require him to attack hitters and make them try to hit the pitch. It would be hard to imagine he would trust that new pitch more than the fastball he’s thrown all along the way. And if he’s not trusting his fastball, then he’s going to fall behind in counts, making the curveball useless.

Dickson has the potential to remain a starter, and be a starter in the majors. For that to happen, he’s going to need to trust that his stuff is good enough to attack hitters and get good results, or embrace the two-seamer as a pitch that can generate ground balls, and be more forgiving than his four-seam fastball when he doesn’t hit his exact spot. Until that happens, we might see more control issues in his future.

  • Tim, I did get to see Randy Tomlin pitch. Is Waddell similar?

  • The “mental” ability and the lack thereof is often what separates MLB players from failed prospects. Lots of guys out there pitching in Twilight leagues who ‘had the stuff’ physically, but ‘didn’t have the stuff’ mentally.

    • You hit the nail squarely on the head with that comment. Couldnt agree with you more. Guys with less stuff have made it because of their mental makeup.

  • Talking to Scott Elarton, Pirate minor league pitching coordinator, about Branden Waddell. Me – “I hear Waddell doesn’t throw hard”; Elarton – “he throws hard enough”. After that I went behind the plate and saw the radar gun getting him at 93. So to be referring to Waddell as a “soft tossing lefty” is not accurate.

    • He primarily relies on his sinker, which is upper 80s. Not a bad thing.

    • This is from the Bradenton season preview, which Tim wrote:

      Unlike Tarpley, Waddell doesn’t have a fastball that hits upper 90s. He can hit 92-93 MPH, but his game is mostly around changing speeds and location, rather than power. Waddell throws five different pitches, with a sinker and a four seam fastball, and the usage on any given night dependent on the opposing lineup. He also throws a curve, slider, and changeup, and has a good feel for all of his pitches.

      None of Waddell’s offerings are much better than average, although he uses deception, location, and mixes his pitches up well enough to keep hitters off-balance. He could end up being along the same lines as Steven Brault last year, who also didn’t have great stuff, but got results thanks to his movement and ability to pitch.

  • Tim…the guy who is now on my account, Dan Donohue, doesn’t know how to ‘get in’? I don’t see a registration button, just a login button. He says it won’t take his password. Shouldn’t/Isn’t there a place for newbies or does the fact that he is on my sub plan create a problem?

    Any thoughts I can pass along to him?