What should the St. Louis Cardinals do about Corey Dickerson?
By Ben Remis
Only a few weeks into the season, the pressure is already mounting on new St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Corey Dickerson.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Corey Dickerson on March 17 this offseason without much fanfare. A solid left-handed veteran bat, the goal was to provide some power off the bench, as well as give the team flexibility with promoting or not-promoting younger prospects. Since that day, however, things have gotten complicated.
Only eleven days later, the Cardinals signed Albert Pujols. Now there was another veteran bench bat in St. Louis, and this time it came with a whole lot of buzz. Dickerson was still the left-handed side of a DH platoon, but he was no longer the esteemed veteran presence. No one knew how Pujols would perform, but right from the beginning, the pressure increased on Dickerson to prove he was worthy of a roster spot.
Fourteen games into the season, there are even more questions about Corey Dickerson’s role on the Cardinals. Dickerson has started only seven games and pinch-hit twice. His 23 at-bats (which do not include three walks) are tenth on the team, only ahead of Edmundo Sosa, Andrew Knizner, and the recently sent-down Lars Nootbaar. The small opportunity says a lot for someone expected to be a regular contributor.
While Dickerson has produced some nice moments, he also has only four hits. More importantly, there’s been no power. Each hit has been a single, and he’s in the 16th percentile for exit velocity in all of baseball.
It’s early in the season, but there’s added pressure on Dickerson for two reasons. First is the production of Albert Pujols, and second is because Dickerson is taking away opportunities from other, potentially more exciting left-handed hitters. Let’s start with Albert.
Number five has only three more at-bats than Corey Dickerson this season, yet he is out-performing him in almost every aspect of the game. Pujols has more hits, a higher slugging percentage, multiple home runs and is also in the 75th percentile in exit velocity.
While a comparison between the Cardinals legend and Dickerson seems unfair, they are the two central platoon players at the DH spot for the St. Louis Cardinals. Again, very early returns but one side of the platoon has clearly been better than the other.
The second reason for the added pressure on Dickerson is the performance of the Cardinals’ prospects. While Albert is blocking a promising right-handed bat in Juan Yepez, Dickerson is in front of a multitude of talented young lefties. Lars Nootbaar was recently sent down (most likely to see more playing time) but in his place came another lefty in Brendan Donovan. Donovan is an Arizona Fall League all-star from last season, and should be an exciting young player to watch. In addition to Donovan, Andrew Burleson is another lefty at Triple-A having a great start to the year, with five home runs and an OPS of .968.
More specifically, however, Dickerson is blocking top prospect Nolan Gorman. Although he struggled with strikeouts early this season (already at 20), Gorman has a whopping 1.108 OPS, and leads all of Triple-A with eight home runs. The front office might have held him back for a few weeks to manipulate service time, but the additional work in the minors has proven that Gorman is ready for the big leagues.
Technically, you could argue that Gorman is blocked by incumbent shortstop Paul DeJong or second baseman Tommy Edman. But Edman has been stellar to start the year, and DeJong’s contract isn’t going anywhere. The $5 million being paid to Corey Dickerson is a lot less than the $6 million this year or $9 million next season owed to DeJong. Gorman’s bat is a great fit for the DH spot, and Dickerson is the man in front of him on the depth chart.
So we find ourselves with the curious case of Corey Dickerson. Signed to be the veteran half of a DH platoon, that role was taken by Albert Pujols. And though it is difficult to judge performance only a few weeks into the season, the organization’s top prospect is lighting the world on fire. Through little fault of his own, Corey Dickerson’s future in St. Louis has become extremely perilous.
What should the Cardinals do? I’m not sure I know the answer because Corey Dickerson is a fine ballplayer. Chances are that he’ll start hitting, and his teammates seem to really like him. It’s a shame that we find him in an unfortunate position this early in the season. All that being said, it’s time to recognize that the longer Dickerson struggles to provide pop, the more pressure will increase to replace him with one of the young guys in Memphis.