Name: Allan Dykstra
DOB: May 21, 1987
Medical concerns pushed Dykstra's signing until the August 15 deadline, but the Padres were able to come to an agreement in the final hour.
He was immediately assigned to High-A Lake Elsinore where he hit .292 in seven games with a homer and 10 RBIs. His lone bomb – coming in his fifth game – was a grand slam and capped a five-RBI game.
The slugger also added seven walks compared to seven strikeouts for a .469 on-base percentage.
The San Diego native hit .323 with 16 homers and 50 RBI for Wake Forest in '08. He led the team in hitting, RBI, runs scored, homers, slugging and on-base percentage, reaching base safely in all but four games.
Dykstra was assigned to Low-A Fort Wayne in 2009 where he struggled for much of the year. Given a new approach to hitting, the first baseman ended the year batting .226. At the end of July, he was batting .197 before hitting .308 over his final 33 games. Five of his 11 homers came over that stretch.
"I will tell you what – for where he was picked, there is a lot of pressure," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "He gets off to a bad start. I thought he handled that extremely well. I have seen other guys who weren't top picks go through what he has and he is above them all with his understanding and work ethic. He knows how to play this game.
"It is just trying to get the little adjustments – he shows it to you. He hit a pitch that was going away into left field for a hard line drive and then hits a double. He shows it to you. The consistency isn't there right now. He knows it. That is why it gets a little frustrating from time to time, like anyone going through it."
"There are a lot of things to clean up – there really is," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "There are some things that we probably under scouted in that swing that have come to our attention and are limiting him from putting up the kind of numbers that we thought he would put up or certainly what he wants to put up."
The San Diego native notched 36 extra-base hits across 125 games, scoring 71 runs and driving in 60. He also drew 104 walks – most in the entire minors – while striking out 103 times. Hit by 16 pitches, Dykstra notched a .397 on-base percentage. Despite the low average, he did net a 22-game on-base streak during the month of May.
"His confidence never dipped much at all," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "Even from day one. He was disappointed, of course, from what actually was happening the first half of the year, but he never really had any confidence issues whatsoever. That was one of the amazing things, because when you see somebody that's hitting .200 or .190, you would think the guy would come to the field and be down all the time and he never ever showed that. So it was always a work in progress.
"He never ever backed down from the work, and he got rewarded for it in the end. I think he ended up hitting .320 in August, .319 or .320. He hit a few home runs down the stretch and got some big key hits in the playoffs. So, you never know when you're going to find it, and he found something in August and the reason he found it is because he kept looking for it. That says a lot about that individual."
The left-handed hitter received 131 at-bats with runners in scoring position, hitting just .221.
Dykstra went on to hit .278 during the TinCaps championship run, notching four extra-base hits and posting a .462 on-base percentage.
His .276 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was amongst the lowest in the league. That kind of figure says he must have also run into some bad luck.
"I told him I don't now when it was, maybe in the beginning of July or something like that, I said, ‘Listen,' because he was getting a little disappointed about what was going on," Tornicasa began. "The second half had already started, and he was still basically doing what he did in the first half, and he was getting a little frustrated with it.
"I said, ‘Listen, you know what, we're more than halfway through the season. You're not going to hit .300. You've got too many at-bats. What you need to focus on a little more is driving the ball a little more, using some of your power. But just making sure that when the playoffs start,' because we were already in it, ‘Just make sure that you're ready when the playoffs start because we're definitely going to need you there. If we don't get you going by then, then not only you, but the whole team is going to be in trouble because we need your bat in the line up.'
"What we think he's capable of doing, he actually started showing it in August. I thought he really drove a lot of balls. He got into some bad luck too. He went through a period just before that where he was hitting a lot of balls hard, and they were either hit right at him or the wind was blowing in real hard and it held it up, and he ended up getting a double instead of a homer."
Part of the overhaul was putting Dykstra in a better position to succeed, especially on the inside pitch. He had trouble turning on balls on the inner half and that was where he was pitched. His stance changed in college and was setup to hit the off-speed pitches away.
"He's a very strong guy," roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "In college, he was a big, intimidating guy that they threw nothing but breaking balls to. He closed up his stance, he got off the plate, he dove into the play to accommodate how he was being pitched.
"When he got into pro ball, nobody was afraid of him, nobody had heard of him. He was a number one pick and completely opposite of what he had to deal with in college. Here came the fastball in, and it was presented to him that he had to make a huge adjustment real quick. It's been tough for him to make that adjustment, to clean that swing up, to work on extension, to deal with an arthritic hip that gives him problems and maybe has something to do with his swing, but he's started to figure it out."
He would also stride towards the plate instead of the pitcher, closing off his front half. Pitches coming inside would eat him alive since he could not get his hands inside the ball. He was, essentially, jamming himself.
By lengthening his base and stride, he was able to gain more plate coverage. Striding towards the pitcher put his hands in a better position to turn on the inside fastball. There were times where the base became too wide and finding a competitive balance was essential. It was an overcompensation that he had to deal with from not striding to becoming too long and cutting off his ability to incorporate his hands and body back into his swing.
"I think he made some adjustments in what he had to do and actually cut down on his stride and straightened out his approach a little bit better," Tornicasa said. "I mean the guy had a 104 walks for the year. He definitely understands the strike zone, but he just needed to shorten up a little bit and cut down on a little bit of his movement and start driving the ball the way he was capable of doing."
Another section that had to change was waiting back on off-speed pitches. He was out on his front foot too often and using his natural strength, along with the aluminum bat, to pound the ball in college. With the wood bat, he was rolling over on the pitches he offered at instead of making hard contact.
"He was a little stiff because he wasn't using his hands, and we have been trying to work with him on that," Tornicasa said.
Patience is something he has in abundance. Dykstra understands the strike zone and has a good feel for when to take and when to swing. While he is, and always will be, prone to the strikeout because of his frame and uppercut swing, the hulking first baseman knows which pitches he should be able to drive. As his mechanics come in line with his pitch selection, the power numbers should rise significantly. With the power, his innate ability to take tough pitches will give him the opportunity for even more walks.
That can be a detriment. Like a Jack Cust, Dykstra can be too patient with runners in scoring position. As a middle of the order hitter, he is expected to drive in runs. Drawing 32 walks with runners in scoring position during 2009 is not necessarily good. He needs to be more aggressive early in the count. If the pitch happens to not be there through an at-bat than the free pass is welcome. Knowing that pitchers have to get ahead to stop the bleeding, Dykstra missed opportunities with his patient approach.
"The discipline and patience he has nailed, maybe to a fault," Fuson said. "He might need to be a little more aggressive with runners on. Once we got to the second half of the season, we could see the improvement. He was letting the ball travel more, getting better at middle in and showed signs of pulling the ball with some spin. If you are going to play a corner position, you have to get yourself in position to drive the ball. It's a continuing work in progress, but we were happy at how he finished up the season."
"The one thing about him, he's got a great eye at the plate," Muser agreed. "Even though he didn't have success at what you' call homers and RBI and batting average, his on-base (percentage) was still good, and he contributed and that kept him going. That kept the morale factor going for him, and now he's starting to figure it out."
With plus power that can hit it out of any park with ease, finding his stroke will be the key to unlocking that capacity to take the ball deep. Once everything comes together, Dykstra figures to pile up the extra-base hits.
Dykstra has zero speed and is not a factor in the running game.
The 6-foot-5 behemoth is more of a fall-down defender that lacks any lateral range. He is adept at picking balls out of the dirt, saving runs with his glove work. Dykstra also offers a quality target and has improved his throwing to second base with better balance in his throwing stance. While he will not be a Gold Glove defender, Dykstra will also not be a liability in the field.
"He is a big target over there and has a good arm," roving infield coordinator Gary Jones said. "Sometimes he looks a little awkward because he is so big. We are trying to work on giving him a better base so he isn't as narrow with his feet. Sometimes, he gets so narrow he doesn't get the good push to both sides so he can improve his range a little more."
A hard worker that isn't afraid to put in the extra time, Dykstra bought into the approach and never complained about his slow start or the changes he was being asked to make. Instead, he stuck with it and seemed to turn a corner later in the year.
His makeup and character are off the charts. It was one of the reasons the Padres were so high on him in the draft. He has proven that he will go the extra mile to achieve the desired result.
"The strides he has made from the beginning to where he is now is pretty noticeable," Tornicasa said. "He is still working through the little corrections we are straightening out. I really do think that seeing it from time to time – ‘there it is' – means he will be more consistent. He works his tail off. He is not a guy who just collects his money and says, ‘Hey, I am a number one pick.' That is not him. He goes after it."
"The talent is unquestionable," Fuson said. "He can hit them as far and maybe as often as anybody."
Conclusion: Dykstra has made adjustments and has seen the benefits, albeit late in the season. There is no reason, however, to think it won't carry over into the coming year. He has plus power and on-base skills – so much so that he could be a middle of the lineup threat that contends for a home run title. If the bat continues to come around, he could jump in the rankings. His on-base and power combination is too good to keep him down for long. A first-round pick as a sleeper? Hard to imagine but that might just be the case.
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