SARASOTA, Fla. -- Chris Dickerson's Major League indoctrination lasted all of 31 games, but his success late last season has his confidence tank overflowing this spring.
A .260 hitter over 622 Minor League games, Dickerson batted .304 with six home runs and 15 RBIs for the Reds in 2008. He was called up on Aug. 12 to fill the vacancy left by Adam Dunn's trade to Arizona, and he made the most of it.
"Taking that experience and mind-set into this year, it's almost like having a head start," Dickerson said on Thursday. "You know what works, what approach you had and what it took to be successful at this level."
It didn't matter to Reds manager Dusty Baker that Dickerson's games came near the end of the season without the pressure of a pennant race.
"The fact that you did it, your confidence level rises," Baker said. "You think you belong here. He's always had the ability. Everybody was trying to figure out when he was going to put it together. When you look at him, you think 'What took you so long?' It doesn't matter when you get it. The key is to get it and get it in time."
Dickerson is one of several candidates vying for Cincinnati's vacancy in left field, along with Jerry Hairston Jr. and non-roster invites Jacque Jones, Jonny Gomes and Laynce Nix. There is a strong likelihood the Reds could wind up with a platoon.
Asked about his chances, the left-handed-hitting Dickerson felt they were good.
"What's the point in coming out if you don't feel like you're going to win the spot?" he said. "I don't come out here to sit on the bench."
Dickerson has long been one of the organization's best athletes, with tremendous speed and defensive ability. Yet he was merely an afterthought for roster consideration last spring and was way in the back of the line behind several established outfielders.
Attrition became his good fortune, as Norris Hopper and Ryan Freel suffered season-ending injuries and Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. were traded.
It also helped that Dickerson had a blazing month of July for Triple-A Louisville, where he batted .320 with eight homers and 20 RBIs. Once in the Majors, he started 22 of his first 23 games.
"I was basically on fire coming off the best month of my career. I felt like I wasn't intimidated," Dickerson said. "I knew what I was capable of. After I settled into the whole big league atmosphere, I took the same approach. I tried to stay within myself and do the same things I did all year. When you do that, you'll have success as long as you don't try to do too much."
Trying to over please, according to Dickerson, might have been what's held him back during six years in the Minors. He was a 16th-round Draft pick of the Reds in 2003.
"I did that for the first four years of my Minor League career," Dickerson said. "You get to points where you get really comfortable and swinging the bat well. Some hitting coach or someone wants you to do more. When you're feeling good, that's when you really try to capitalize on that and get way out of yourself and try to hit home runs all the time. I learned over time that you just stay right there and good things will happen."
This time the line to the 25-man roster is much shorter for Dickerson, but he is far from a lock. Besides the limited big league experience, there is concern about the 26-year-old's durability.
His surgery to remove a piece of bone from his left ankle that had a stress fracture wasn't the first trip Dickerson had to the operating room.
"Is that enough to make him the left fielder on what he did last year?" Baker said "It's a combination of not enough yet but on the way. You need some more [outfielders], if you're going to win. Remember at the end of last year, we only had three outfielders."
Dickerson, who has been working with instructor and Reds icon Eric Davis on his hitting, is eager for Grapefruit League games to begin so he can show the Reds he should be their choice for left field. "We have a lot of outfielders. The work groups don't mean anything," Dickerson said. "When you get into the game is what really matters. That's what I'm looking forward to. Let's get this thing under way. Let the games begin."