It seems like all the Rays shortstop prospects fit the same profile. They’re lean, athletic, speedy players who the Rays hope can do it all. Before hoping for five tools, you better be sure to have at least 3 or 4. Derek Dietrich is the changeup. Derek Dietrich is the concession. We’ve seen first-hand how top shortstop prospects can crumble. Just look at how Hak-Ju Lee has struggled and how Tim Beckham’s character issues along with his inconsistency have turned his future into a major question. We hope that both of them will be fine long-term, but there are no guarantees. Derek Dietrich isn’t a guarantee either. But he’s a different type of player and the Rays hope that he has the ability to contribute significantly at the big league level.
In their entire history, the Rays have drafted just four college shortstops in the first 10 rounds of the MLB Draft. Derek Dietrich, a second round pick in 2010 out of Georgia Tech, is the only one they have ever drafted in the first 7 rounds and the only one they have drafted in the first 10 rounds since Matt Maniscalso in 2003. The Rays have always preferred to draft high school shortstops. They have drafted four of them in the first 10 rounds of the draft just in the past two years! But Dietrich was an exception.
Dietrich is 6’1″, 200. He’s athletic but not to the extent of a Lee (6’2″, 170) or a Beckham (6’0″, 175). Dietrich isn’t a burner. Him stealing 10 bases per season in the big leagues would be a stretch. He strikes out a little too much and doesn’t walk quite enough. He’s not a sure bet to remain at shortstop. But he’s a lefty-hitting shortstop with plus power, and pending complete disaster, that will take him to the big leagues in some capacity.
Last year, both Lee and Beckham supposedly had breakout seasons. Lee posted a .781 OPS while Beckham’s was .736. Dietrich’s OPS in 2012 is .792 and it seems like he’s having a bad year. Of course OPS isn’t everything. OPS doesn’t tell you about potential. But it’s still worth noting. In 2011, Dietrich posted a .277/.346/.502 line at Low-A Bowling Green with 34 doubles, 4 triples, 22 homers, 81 RBI, and 5 of 12 stolen bases in 127 games. He struck out 128 times while walking 38 times and getting hit by 15 pitches (which by now goes down as an unqualified skill of Dietrich’s). In 2012, Dietrich has posted a .266/.344/.448 line at High-A Charlotte with 14 doubles, 6 homers, 35 RBI, and 2 of 3 stolen bases. He has struck out 60 times while walking 21 times and getting hit by 10 pitches (it’s no fluke- he’s second in the Florida State League after ranking 6th in the Midwest League in 2011). Dietrich has hit for quite a bit less power, but keep in mind that Dietrich slammed 15 homers in July and August in 2011 after hitting 0 in June (he has 1 homer in June in 2012). And more important than his lack of some power is that he has raised his walk rate a little while cutting down somewhat on the strikeouts. Dietrich will never be an elite hitter for average, but his power and on-base skills give him a chance to be a clear above-average offensive shortstop.
Dietrich’s defense at shortstop isn’t a sure thing, but he continues to make strides at the position and while he could profile well at second or third base, his power would be special at shortstop. Dietrich isn’t fast overall but he has great reflexes and good enough range, and his arm strength is plus. His motions aren’t exactly the most fluid you have ever seen, but he continues to improve and he appears to get the job done. He will never be close to a Gold Glover but he could be passable and maybe average. But the Rays are prepared to make Dietrich into a bat-first utilityman if the move is necessitated by either Dietrich himself or Lee or Beckham panning out and becoming their starting shortstop. Dietrich has played 51 games at shortstop in 2012, but also 11 games at second base, the first time he has played there as a pro, and even a game in centerfield in an emergency, making 3 putouts without an error. Dietrich has the ability to profile well both offensively and defensively at second base, third base, and right field, and he should be able to handle left field and first base as well. Even if Dietrich is never good enough defensively at shortstop to stick there long-term, he will be able to get at least occasional starts there in a utility role.
The other thing that defines Dietrich is his character. Dietrich has been known as a vocal leader since his time at Georgia Tech and his intangibles help him get the most out of his abilities. He does everything he can to help himself and the team to succeed.
Derek Dietrich still comes with some risk of his own. He has to make enough contact and get on base, and he has to continue hitting for power. Whether he can ever be a big league starting shortstop also remains to be seen. Dietrich will turn 23 on July 18th, not old, but not super-young either, especially for a player at High-A. But he may be the best bet of him, Lee, and Beckham to be an above-average offensive player in the big leagues. Dietrich doesn’t have the upside of a Lee or a Beckham. He’s not going to be a Gold Glove defender at shortstop who hits .300 and steals 50 bases or a year-in, year-out 20-20 player. But he has the ability to be a steady above-average big league contributor and considering the Rays’ current predicament at the shortstop position in the big leagues, they’ll be more than happy to receive Dietrich’s production within a couple of years.