Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson, regarded as one of baseball’s finest infield instructors, has no idea whether Tim Beckham will open the 2018 season at shortstop, move to another position or take a seat on the bench and handle a utility role. He isn’t privy to any inside information regarding the club’s plans, which remain in the developmental stages as executive vice president Dan Duquette continues to hear from teams interested in trading for Manny Machado.
The best that Dickerson can do during the countdown to spring training is plot how he’s going to continue working with Beckham, as he did for the two months after the Orioles swung a non-waiver deadline deal with the Rays.
There are rumblings within the organization that Machado will go back to his original position if he remains with the club. Dickerson shoulders the responsibility of improving Beckham at it.
“We’re just trying to slow him down and take a little bit of the, for lack of a better word, ‘infielder’ out of him. The mechanical moves and different things that infielders do unnecessarily, especially young infielders,” Dickerson said.
“I don’t want to be naïve and say these are things he hasn’t heard before, but we just did some drills to try to slow him down and get him more focused on the process of getting people out versus the process of looking like an infielder. It’s a fine line. Circling the ball, field through the ball, all these different things. Bottom line is it’s really about just trying to find a hop to catch the ball, control it, keep your emotions in check and not let the game’s speed bother you and then throwing accurately.
“If you look at so many different things that cause bad throws, a lot of times it’s the body position after catching the ball because they’re fielding the ball versus catching the ball, and getting too heavy on the front side or not being loaded or ball transfer too late. There are so many different things. Trying to separate all the steps and make it more of a process of, ‘Once I’ve got ball control, now I just become a pitcher. Get myself balanced.’
“He looks better at times. I saw some things that were improving, but it was a short, short time there. We didn’t have a lot of time to really do ... I know spring training will be an exciting time for me with him. I’m looking forward to that.”
Beckham committed nine errors in 230 chances with the Orioles, producing a handful of gems due to his range, but exhibiting a tendency to bounce throws and bobble some balls on more routine plays. J.J. Hardy’s consistency and reliability were missed. Beckham has to work at matching him in trustworthiness, which is no small feat.
Dickerson’s instruction has produced the desired results in the past. Just check across the diamond.
“I think back to Chris Davis and I remember a conversation when I first got hired,” he said. “There were so many concerns about Chris Davis playing first base because Mark Reynolds had to move over there and play first. Some of the things I did with Chris we’re basically going to do with Beck. Slowed Chris down and he ended up making three errors and doing better and picking balls in the dirt better just by slowing some things down and becoming more task-oriented instead of just trying to look like what an infielder’s supposed to look like. Just become task-oriented.
“J.J. Hardy is the best example I can use because he looks like a robot out there. J.J. doesn’t look like a flashy infielder. When you watch a game, J.J. just moves, catches it, stands up and throws it, almost like a robot. But it’s clean. Jonathan Schoop has made dramatic changes through the years from when he was young to where he is now as a defender. That would be the process.
“I’m not going to be naïve that Beck didn’t hear these things in Tampa, but I just really feel as an infield coach that I could help him slow down and help him get a little better. If I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t be very good at my job. But I don’t know.
“The organization’s going to make a decision and I don’t know if it’s going to be Manny or Beck, or if Beck moves. If Beck moves, even if he moves to third, Manny moved to third before and we were able to change some footwork and get him better there. I welcome whatever we decide to do as an organization and I’ll be spending my time in spring training getting it done.”
Dickerson spent last winter managing in the Dominican Republic. A year later, he concentrated on obtaining his degree in general studies from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., where the Yankees selected him in the 23rd round of the 1987 draft. Buck Showalter managed him at Single-A Fort Lauderdale and Double-A Albany-Colonie.
Dickerson said he got his degree with the help of head coach Seth Thibodeaux, Dr. Bruce Murphy, Dr. Lynn Gillette, Dr. Todd Keller and David Zarague.
“I always wanted it, but what they were able to do is they were able to use a lot of my life experiences, my work after college to apply toward the program to help me get my degree. Managing in winter ball and different things they used to try to cover some of the credits,” Dickerson said.
“I was only 15 credits short, so the baseball coach there reached out to one of the vice presidents and started working with me on it and we were able to get it. When I got released by the Yankees I had a year left to graduate, so when I got released I went back for a semester and then I signed with the Orioles and pretty much every offseason since I’ve been in baseball, either winter ball or whatever.
“It’s been on my mind, being so close to it and not having it. The university was able to work with me and help me during the process of getting it. I don’t know that I have it for sure. They told me I do. I don’t have the paper yet.”
He got it. I’ve heard from one of the assistant coaches.
Dickerson already has been inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame.
“I try to go back, especially the last few years,” he said. “The baseball coach has reached out to me and pretty much got me more involved in the program. It’s been pretty good the last few years.”