Fort Myers, Fla. — Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson isn’t the kind of guy to beg for attention, because the only time you get any attention in the third base coaching box is when somebody is getting tagged out at home plate.
But Orioles infield coach Bobby Dickerson commands a lot of attention, since he’s the guy who is responsible for helping Platinum Glove third baseman Manny Machado transition back to the shortstop position and getting shortstop Tim Beckham ready to play regularly at third base.
Perhaps the reason manager Buck Showalter is so comfortable with this spring’s big infield switch is that he’s so confident in Dickerson’s proven ability to turn a shortstop into a solid third baseman, which is what he did with Machado six years ago, or turn a left-side infielder into a great second baseman, as he did with Jonathan Schoop.
“I’ve been lucky to have a couple [of great infield instructors],’’ Showalter said. “He reminds me a lot of Brian Butterfield, who is considered maybe the best in the game. Bobby’s right there with him, and it gives you a lot of confidence to make some of the moves we’ve made. Manny to third. Jonathan to second. Beckham to short. Those were moves that weren’t necessarily there at one time.”
Of course, Machado was a special case. He was projected to be a Gold Glove shortstop and adapted to third so quickly that he won the American League Platinum Glove Award – signifying the best fielder at any position -- after his first full major league season.
The Orioles aren’t expecting Dickerson to work that kind of magic with Beckham, but Dickerson is pretty bullish on the 2008 No. 1 overall draft choice who was acquired last July to be — it was believed at the time — the future of the team at shortstop.
Dickerson said recently that everyone is different, and Beckham brings a different personality and skill set to the position than Machado.
“Yeah. Beck is kind of opposite of Manny,’’ he said. “Beck’s high-strung, man. He plays the game real energetic. You can just see him. He’s fired up. He wants to do it. He’s going to make it happen.
“Manny’s more laid-back, lets the game come to him a little bit. That’s one difference in them. Beck, I always said if you give me a guy that has some work ethic, some aptitude, then you know what? We can get it done. And Beck has both. He works his tail off, he has some aptitude, so that’s the thing.”
Beckham has embraced the move, just as Machado did when he came up to the major league club in 2012 and J.J. Hardy was a fixture at shortstop. Machado was a revelation, emerging very quickly as an all-time elite third baseman, which left room to speculate that he might stay there for his entire career.
Instead, the departure of Hardy, some early defensive hiccups by Beckham at shortstop and some public lobbying by Machado persuaded Showalter to give him back his original position. That transition should be easier than Beckham’s, but Dickerson said there’s still some work to be done before Machado is a complete major league shortstop.
“Sure, he’s played there the last few years anyway and in the shift he’s always there, so Manny’s in a different situation than where Beck is, who hasn’t had many reps at third base at all,’’ Dickerson said. “Manny’s been a shortstop. He was a shortstop. Still, though, shortstop is a more taxing mental position. You can’t take a pitch off and that’s one of the things we have to stay with Manny on. You can’t take any pitches off, no matter how the bat is going.”
Dickerson has other responsibilities, of course. He’s also working individually with minor league prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who needs to settle at a position if his bat is ever going to play at the major league level. But right now, getting Beckham ready for Opening Day is job one.
He’s a terrific athlete with great reflexes, so no one doubts his ability to catch the ball, but there’s a lot more to the position than that. Dickerson has been working with him on subtle concepts like bat-angle contact, but said the main thing is getting comfortable in the context of the entire team defense.
“More than anything this early in camp, I really want to make sure we’re focused on getting responsibilities of all the team fundamentals, bunt defense, cutoff, relay type-stuff, shift defense, how we’re going to use everybody,’’ Dickerson said. Those type things are what early in camp, that’s what we’re focused on.”
Whatever the assignment and whoever the player, Showalter says Dickerson has created a level of trust that makes it easy for him to connect to his pupils and get the most out of them.
“Real sincere, pure heart, no agenda, doesn’t care if he gets any credit,’’ Showalter said. “He just wants the players to be as good as they can be.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.