By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Corey Dickerson has been playing baseball for roughly 20 years.
For all but a small portion of that span, Dickerson had great success on the field. It wasn’t until 2016, his first year with the Tampa Bay Rays, that he struggled for the first time in his life.
Dickerson learned from the adversity, and came out stronger on the other side.
“I just never had a bad average or anything since I ever picked up a baseball bat,” Dickerson said. “I grew mentally last year because I never struggled in baseball before. I feel like I grew and I’m able to adjust better and come out of slumps and not take it so serious sometimes and have a little more fun.”
The 27-year-old hit .245 in 2016 with the Rays, but still had 24 home runs with 70 RBI and 36 doubles. Dickerson hit .299 in parts of three seasons with the Colorado Rockies, and was a .321 hitter in six minor league seasons.
That growth for Dickerson didn’t just happen overnight, though.
“You start going out and looking at the best players, and ultimately, you have to be yourself,” Dickerson said. “You have to let that stuff go and just be yourself and let your ability work. That’s when success comes.”
He was hitting as low as .176 on May 15, and his average steadily rose after that. When Chad Motolla was named the Rays’ hitting coach on Sept. 6, Dickerson was batting .227. He improved nearly 20 points over his final 25 games.
Part of his early struggles can be attributed to injuries. When Tampa Bay acquired Dickerson in a trade with the Rockies in January of 2016, he was still recovering from three stints on the disabled list in 2015.
Dickerson missed time twice in 2015 with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and then landed on the DL again toward the end of the year with two fractured ribs.
Healthy this last winter for the first offseason in a while, Dickerson took a new approach, and lost 25 pounds along the way.
“I wanted to get back to where I used to be, and maximize my potential,” he said. “I didn’t want to take away from my strengths, but strengthen my weaknesses. That was part of it. Being able to move better, better range of motion and get my speed up.”
Among other training, the slimmed-down Dickerson regularly attended spin classes and did pilates to help lose weight.
The loss of weight clearly has altered his power, as he hit a home run and double – both to the opposite field – in his last two games.
“If you ever watch a lot of hitters, people are born with that kind of swing,” he said. “I think you’re blessed with that swing. Just because you have more fat on you doesn’t mean you’re going to hit the ball farther.”
While a player won’t have diminished power from losing weight, their speed will increase. And the timing of a new speedy hitter couldn’t be better for the Rays, who traded last season’s leadoff man, Logan Forsythe, in the offseason.
“We’re contemplating a lot of different batting orders,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s nothing defined, but talking to Corey, he likes leading off. He hasn’t really given the ‘I’d like to hit here,’ but I know he has expressed in the past that he enjoys leading off and it doesn’t bother him.
“Corey likes to hit and wants to go up and get as many at-bats as possible.”