With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2017 Padres, breaking the team down position by position. Today, we preview San Diego's left fielders.
Alex Dickerson was never the most highly touted prospect in the Padres' system, but the 26-year-old left fielder has raked everywhere he's played, dating back to his time in youth baseball in Poway, Calif.
That list now includes the big leagues.
• Around the Horn:C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS
In his rookie season, Dickerson began receiving regular playing time last June, when Jonathan Jay went down with a right wrist injury. He proved his worth quickly, batting .257/.333/.455 with 10 homers in 84 games.
It was no coincidence that San Diego's National League-record-tying 25-game home run streak began shortly after Dickerson's arrival. He went deep five times during the streak, and he did so in four consecutive games at one point -- a Padres rookie record.
Dickerson's most important takeaway from his first month as a regular: He had proven he belonged.
"It was about getting rid of the awe of this mythical place that's unreachable and actually getting to play and feel comfortable at this level," Dickerson said at the end of last season. "I show up to the ballpark, see the names on the opposing lineup -- I feel like I belong on the field with them. That's a big hurdle, confidence-wise, when you first get up. Now, it just feels like I'm going to go into next year, I expect to play well enough to be here and be able to play every day. It's the same game it used to be, just on a different stage."
Dickerson enters camp as the favorite for the Padres' starting left-field job, and his roster spot is essentially locked up. But he'll still be fighting for playing time.
As it stands, San Diego will enter the season with four young outfielders -- likely Dickerson, Travis Jankowski, Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot. The plan is to split at-bats among them, keeping them fresh.
"Six hundred at-bats, for all of those guys, they've never done that," said Padres manager Andy Green. "Having four of them -- if that means two or three of them get 500 at-bats, another one or two get 400-450 at-bats -- there's going to be a lot of playing time split between them."
Dickerson could very well end up receiving the most playing time of the four. For a left-handed hitter, his left-right splits are fairly even. And Dickerson is already withstood the grind of playing through a big league season -- unlike Margot and Renfroe.
In fact, Dickerson played the final two months of the 2016 campaign with a nagging right hip injury he sustained from a collision on the warning track. His production declined sharply in the immediate aftermath, and so did his range -- not that he'd use the injury as an excuse.
"I had [an injury] I could play through, and you figure out a way to compete," Dickerson said. "... This game is a feel sport; the slightest thing in a swing may take you off entirely. It's always a learning experience: What did that do to me? What am I going to be able to do next time if something like that happens to get right back on track quicker? The more you grow in this game, you learn more about yourself."
When Dickerson isn't playing, either Jankowski or Margot will slide over to left field. (Against certain tough lefties, Christian Bethancourt could get a spot start in the outfield, as well.)
Jankowski and Margot are elite defenisve center fielders. When they're playing at the same time, the Padres will boast one of the most formidable defensive outfields in the game. At the Winter Meetings, Green quipped, "You might just go left-center and right-center and five infielders."
But in Green's eyes, Dickerson is a better left fielder than he's generally given credit for. Dickerson switched from first base to the outfield in the Minor Leagues, so he's still relatively new to the position. But he's learned quickly, and he was a middle-of-the-pack defender last year, according to most metrics.
"Alex has drawn some flack for his defense," Green said. "But the guy I saw before he landed on the warning track and hurt his hip was moving around incredibly well out there. I have the expectation he's going to be an above-average defender out there."
Projected starter: Dickerson
Potential backups: Jankowski, Margot, Bethancourt, Jabari Blash
Top-30 prospects: Margot, No. 2; Michael Gettys, No. 10; Jorge Ona, No. 13; Buddy Reed, No. 14; Nick Torres, No. 26; Jeisson Rosario, No. 30.