This top catching prospect has gained trust of Tigers

March 12th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Talk to most Tigers pitching prospects who have come through the system over the past couple of years, and they’ll likely rave about working with catcher Dillon Dingler.

“I like him as a catcher,” Tigers No. 10 prospect Wilmer Flores said. “He knows the pitches really good. When I played in Double-A [Erie], he knew what pitch I wanted to throw, and that helped a lot.”

“We worked very well together,” said No. 9 prospect Keider Montero, who worked with Dingler at two levels. “He helped me a lot because we were together for a long time. It was comfortable for me.”

It’s not just about how Dingler calls a game. He also shuts down a running game.

“We had a couple of meetings with pitchers that specifically said, ‘Well, when Dillon got there, everything was fine with the running game,’” manager A.J. Hinch said. “The pitchers are complementing Dingler and his impact. When you ask about [pitch] usage to someone like Ty Madden or to [Jackson Jobe], they’re like, ‘We just did whatever Dillon told us to do.’ So he gains immediate trust, and that’s very helpful.”

The Tigers have been watching Dingler, their No. 14 prospect per MLB Pipeline, work behind the plate as their top catching prospect for three years. The second-round pick in the 2020 Draft has appeared in Spring Training every year since ‘21. This year, he finally got a longer look. His 11 games played and 14 at-bats were nearly as much work as he saw in his previous three Spring Trainings combined. He played in five of Detroit’s last six games, including a start in their split-squad game against the Orioles last week, before being optioned to Triple-A Toledo Tuesday morning.

While Jake Rogers and Carson Kelly have the catching duties shored up in Detroit, Dingler has an opportunity to be the next man up. The Tigers signed veteran Anthony Bemboom to a Minor League contract to add experience, but they’re ready to see Dingler take the next step.

So is Dingler. His focus, he said at the start of camp, is “taking care of everything that I can control on a day-to-day basis and making the dream come true.”

It might have taken a bit longer than expected -- partly due to injuries, partly due to offense -- but Dingler is on Detroit’s doorstep. He ended last season at Triple-A Toledo after spending parts of three seasons at Double-A Erie.

"This is the first spring where we've gotten Dillon into a routine behind the plate," Hinch said. "He's always kind of been the fourth guy in the mix either [for] injury or just the depth that we have. And so we got him a chance to catch some Major League guys. We got a chance to see him play more regularly.

"He commands the position behind the plate, and he can offer some stuff offensively, too. So he's literally a foul tip away from being an option for us if we need him. I love what he does behind the plate, commanding the position."

Dingler will get a chance to put his talent on display in Saturday’s Spring Breakout game, in which he’ll get to catch several familiar Tigers prospects against Phillies prospects at Joker Marchant Stadium. His Spring Training gave some glimpses.

Dingler was behind the plate on March 3 against the Yankees when Jahmai Jones tried to steal third base. Jones had a big lead, but Dingler unleashed a strong throw that gave third baseman Jace Jung enough time to lay down a tag and wait for Jones to slide into it.

Not bad for someone who underwent surgery in January to remove loose bodies from his throwing elbow and wasn’t cleared to catch in games until the beginning of March. That game was just the second he caught this spring; he played in four February games as a designated hitter.

The DH stint might have helped Dingler get a head start at the plate. He went 4-for-14, including a solo homer last week. He drew nearly as many walks (three) as strikeouts (four), showing off his strike-zone judgment that has improved at each level.

Dingler has become an example of how catchers can take longer to develop, a pattern the Tigers have seen in recent years with Rogers and James McCann. Still, Dingler can sense he’s close.

“If I take care of my business and string together the type of months that I think I’m capable of, I think good things will happen,” he said. “I just have to make sure that I take care of everything that I can control and put the best product of myself out there as [much as] possible.”