This prospect is grinding his way back from meniscus surgery

May 14th, 2023

ERIE, Pa. -- The words of encouragement from provided a soundtrack as Sawyer Gipson-Long warmed up for his start Thursday in the SeaWolves bullpen at UPMC Park.

“Good one,” Dingler said as he pointed out after one pitch.

“That was sick,” he said after another one.

Once the pitches counted, Dingler, Detroit's no. 14 prospect, guided Gipson-Long through five innings with two runs allowed and five strikeouts. He threw out would-be base stealers at second and third, and nearly had another thrown out.

Not bad on a night when Dingler went hitless for the first time since returning to the team a week and a half earlier. It was a reminder why Dingler has been the Tigers’ top catching prospect since being drafted in 2020 out of Ohio State.

“No doubt, I was missing it,” Dingler said. “I was definitely getting a little bit of FOMO, really itching to get back out there.”

When Spring Training began, Dingler made his goal clear: Get to Detroit this year. A torn meniscus in his right knee put those hopes on hold, followed by a return to Double-A, but he has turned a negative into a positive.

“I was getting frustrated during the offseason with [the knee] not feeling all that good,” Dingler said Thursday. “Honestly, as soon as I got the surgery, it was a positive. I was happy with all the steps moving forward, getting the strength back into it and having a for-sure timetable on when I was going to come back and play.”

He made his presence felt upon return, enjoying his best stretch of hitting since his first weeks in Erie two years ago. After homering in the final three games of his rehab assignment at Class A Lakeland, he homered in his first two games back with the SeaWolves and drove in nine runs over four consecutive two-hit games. After homering in his first game back at UPMC Park last Tuesday, he singled home Wednesday’s only run.

No swing overhaul, he said, just a better, more consistent approach.

“Being more on time for pitches that I feel like I can do damage on,” he said. “Being on time for fastballs, not getting stuck in between, making sure I’m in a position to see the ball, and putting swings on balls that I feel like are in my zone rather than pitchers’ pitches. …

"I’m happy. I just have to make sure that it’s not just a quick start, going back to making sure that I take every at-bat seriously and don’t throw away at-bats, build on what I’ve started and go from there.”

He has shown no signs of fall-off in his top-notch defense. He has also provided much-valued leadership in the clubhouse.

“It has made all the difference in the world,” SeaWolves manager Gabe Alvarez said.

But if he keeps this up, he probably won’t be around much longer, likely earning his long-awaited graduation to Triple-A Toledo.

“I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “I’m just worried about being the best version of myself going forward and trying to bring the same energy to the field every day.”

But yes, he still has the Majors in his sights.

“Like I said, my goal is Detroit,” he said, “and I don’t think you should be out here if it’s not. All these guys, their goal should be to get to Detroit, and I know a lot of them are. All I can do every day is make sure that I put myself in the best position possible.”

Here’s a quick look at others who stood out this past week:

• Triple-A Toledo: No. 7 prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy rebounded from a 2-for-18 series against Indianapolis with back-to-back two-hit games at Iowa, including a two-run homer Thursday.

• Double-A Erie: No. 21 prospect Brant Hurter struck out seven over five innings of three-hit, one-run ball Saturday. His 2.35 ERA is third-best in the Eastern League.

• High-A West Michigan: Reliever Trevin Michael, the Tigers’ 10th-round pick in last year’s Draft, tossed 2 1/3 innings of one-run ball with three strikeouts for the win Friday against Lansing. He has 10 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings since his promotion from Lakeland at the end of April.

• Class A Lakeland: No. 6 prospect Peyton Graham went 3-for-4 -- his first three-hit game of the season -- with a double, walk and an RBI in the Flying Tigers’ 7-6 win at Bradenton on Tuesday. The second-round pick from last year’s Draft is digging out from a slow start.