Lancaster, California —— It takes a special type of player to check his ego at the door and embrace a utility role, especially in a community as viciously competitive as the minor leagues.
Take the San Jose Giants of the High-A California League; on a club like this, bona fide prospects like Aramis Garcia, and Bryan Reynolds, and Jalen Miller fight for their footing with fringe prospects-in-waiting like Jonah Arenado and Gio Brusa. All are on the same team, sure, but all are fighting for one of 25 spots on the only roster that matters up the road in San Francisco—and behind them, hundreds more young men are vying for their own chance at a big league role.
So imagine, in that context, a player like Dillon Dobson. A soft-spoken infielder from a small town in North Carolina, Dobson appeared in 153 games across his three-year college career at Appalachian State University. He hit .290/.340/.509 with 29 home runs and 35 doubles in that time frame, including a .317/.357/.577 clip in his junior year, pacing the Mountaineers in at-bats, games, and a host of other statistical categories.
And then Dillon Dobson got to pro ball, a 23rd round selection by the San Francisco Giants in the summer of 2015, and very quickly, it smacked him in the face: you’re no longer a star.
You’re a role player now.
The Giants stuck him at third base, and then first base. They put him at second base, too, and worked him out in the outfield. They did everything short of sticking him on the mound in an effort to figure out how to draw value out of the pop in his bat while also keeping innings open for their top organizational prospects. That’s a rude awakening, the moment you learn you aren’t the guy any more, but just another in an endless string of guys who, like you, used to be the guy at their school, too.
Call yourself a super utility player if it’ll make you feel better, but it just hides the cold, hard truth of it all.
But then a funny thing happened: Dobson thrived in the role.
“I learned that I really have to take it day by day,” the infielder told Baseball Census ahead of a recent San Jose Giants game on the road in Lancaster. “I know that’s a cliché, but I really try to show up to the park expecting to be kept on my toes every day. I like to know that I can play every position, because I know that gives me a little versatility.”
“Sure, there is a comfort level in playing at one position every day, but being able to bounce around like I do, it really keeps my head on straight,” he continued, shrugging. “It forces me to stay on my toes to put together good at-bats.”
Dobson has done that more often than not, and after a respectable rookie summer in short-season ball (.286/.335/.455/.790 in 57 games), the left-handed hitting infielder drew notice last summer in Low-A Augusta when he slugged 27 doubles and another 13 home runs in 106 games, slashing .273/.328/.465/.793 and splitting time between first and third base along the way. The Giants liked it so much, they pushed Dobson to second base in San Jose to start this year, so that Ryan Howard (third base), and Arenado (first base) could remain at their natural positions while the App State product was the one to try something new.
No ego, no expectations, no problem.
“I think it centers on me expecting to help the team, and if that’s at third, first, second, left field, whatever it is, I just want to help the team,” Dobson said about how he sees his flexible role in the organization. “And now I’m starting to get enough experience at every position where I can show up, see where I’m playing, get in that mindset, take a few groundballs or whatever, and there we go.”
All this centers on Dobson embracing this role, of course, but it’s immensely helped by what the North Carolinian can do at the plate. The old adage is as true here as it is anywhere: hit the ball hard and they’ll find a place for you to play.
The Cal League should help Dobson with that as it does for so many hitters, but he’s strong enough with quick enough hands in his own right to prove that his .465 slugging percentage last summer in the South Atlantic League was just the tip of the iceberg.
“There are times when I catch myself, and I’m sure every hitter does,” Dobson said when asked how much stock he put into hitting for power in order to maintain his value in that utility role. “It’s tough when you go up there [in the Cal League] and see the wind blowing, or you see a short porch in right. But people say home runs are mistakes, and I think that’s true. If you’re trying to hit a ball hard and you get under it, there it goes. If you stick to trying to square the ball up and hit it hard, good things will happen with that.”
That’s maybe the most interesting part of all this; nobody will confuse Dobson for a top prospect or a projectable everyday future big leaguer, but there’s a viable path forward for him very similar to the one ahead of TJ Bennett, who played this role exceptionally well last summer in San Jose. After all, as teams—especially National League clubs—focus on specialization and matchups more every year, super utility players and flexible, multi-talented guys carry greater importance on a 25-man roster.
“I look at Ben Zobrist in particular, and what he can do,” Dobson noted. “It’s kind of a unique role, and I think that’s a big asset for me, it means I can help the team. And I want to help the team win. That helps me stay focused. If I have a bad game offensively, I know I can pick them up by doing something good defensively, or vice versa. When you key on that, when you help the team win, it keeps you steady.”
Steady, indeed—just what the Giants expect from Dillon Dobson as he puts his mark on the super utility role in San Jose this summer.
For our scouting report on San Francisco Giants super utility infielder Dillon Dobson, click here.
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