MARION, Iowa – A person, any person, ranging in expertise from the most dedicated, dialed-in MLB scout to the most casual observer who walked into the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex on a Saturday or Sunday over the last five or six weeks, would have been hard-pressed to not have noticed him.
He was the kid sprinting from quad to quad, field to field, dugout to dugout, doing anything to find a game and a coveted slot in the lineup. The kid looking to lay down a bunt single, drive a double to left-center, steal a bag or deliver an upper-80s fastball towards home plate.
The kid with the revving motor, a ready smile and a cheerful greeting, the one who was just as quick to offer encouragement to a new teammate as he was to sprint for an extra base.
This was Markell Dixon, the top-500 2021 right-hander/center fielder out of St. Louis, Mo., who wasted little time first introducing and then endearing himself to his coaches and teammates alike during play at the just-completed Perfect Game Iowa Spring League.
“Markell is a leader. He wants to play; he’s a competitor,” Iowa Select coach Gordy Nordgren said when asked about the dynamic Dixon. “He wants to play against the best, he wants to get better and that’s crucial. That wears off on the other players because that’s what the game’s all about: you want to get better every day...He loves baseball – he’s got the passion – and that’s good.”
The fact that Markell Dixon ever decided to commit to the PGISL in the first place speaks to that passion. He has already signed his letter of intent to continue his baseball and academic careers at Southern University, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in Baton Rouge, La., so he’s got that going for him.
Southern U is in the D-I Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), and he could have been content to play out his senior season at McCluer High School in Florissant, Mo., this spring, after all.
But that option didn’t offer the same levels of challenge or satisfaction that Dixon craved. He had played prep seasons at McCluer HS in both 2018 and 2019 and was set to join the Stars again during his junior campaign in 2020 before that season was wiped-out by the COVID-19 pandemic. He actually considered the Iowa Spring League last year, too, but that season was also cancelled.
So as he got to thinking about how to proceed this spring, he made a pretty weighty decision: He’d graduate from high school early and channel all of his efforts and energies toward the PGISL.
“I thought it would just be better for me as a player; there’s better competition here,” Dixon told PG last weekend, speaking from Prospect Meadows, the place that had become his springtime home away from home. “I thought it would just help me become a better player and pitcher facing a lot of good players, a lot of big commits versus high school where you don’t face the best players; I think this is really good for me.”
The Spring League was good for Dixon and, let’s face it, he was good for the Spring League. Instead of playing just one doubleheader every Saturday and Sunday with the Iowa Select team coached by Nordgren, he’d moved over and played games with the Iowa Select team coached by Tim Evans if, of course, there were no inherent conflicts with doing so.
As a result, he got at-bats in 15 games and made appearances on the mound in five games. He produced a slash-line of .364/.462/.545 – he had six singles and six doubles in his 33 at-bats – scored 11 runs and drove in seven and stole eight bases.
The 6-foot, 165-pound Dixon threw 20 2/3 shutout innings off the mound, allowing 11 hits while striking out 35 and walking 20 in what were, at times, nearly frigid conditions. PG National Scouting Coordinator Cade Schares made early references to Dixon’s “gap-to-gap” approach at the plate, the fact that he is a “plus runner” and has an arm that produces 89 mph fastballs and delivers 90 mph-plus from the outfield.
“I’ve played with a couple of different teams since I’ve been here...and being able to work with some of the better guys in the league, it’s always fun,” Dixon said. “Playing against better players can only make you better, and it’s been really good for me pitching against the best and playing with the best.”
Dixon’s involvement with the PG Iowa Spring League has certainly put the word “travel” front-and-center in the travel ball experience. He has been a part of small and intimate travel party that got into the routine of leaving the St. Louis area on Friday and then staying here over the weekend to get in as many games as possible; side trips were also fit in, as long as they could be done responsibly.
“It’s pretty fun, actually; I love it,” he said with what seems like an ever-present smile. “We went down to Iowa City (home of the University of Iowa) this weekend for the first time and had a good time there, so it’s been pretty fun.”
At the same time, the PGISL setting at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex did test Dixon’s ability to adapt and adjust, although that wasn’t evident in his production.
PMSC arose out of the middle of unprotected farm fields where visitors can usually count on persistent, day-long winds, and cold temperatures during the month of April often made for less than pleasant playing conditions. None of that, of course, was a distraction for the results-driven Dixon.
And it’s not as if he was a stranger to Prospect Meadows coming in, having played with Gamers Baseball at both the 2020 PG WWBA Upperclass Midwest Labor Day Classic and the PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship here last fall.
Those are just two of the more than a dozen PG events Dixon has been a part of in the last couple of years. He’s also performed on the PG showcase circuit, earning Top Prospect List recognition at both the 2019 Central Prospect Showcase in Kansas City (he ran a 6.71-second 60 at the event) and the 2020 National Indoor Showcase in Lake St. Louis, Mo.
“I love Perfect Game,” Dixon said. “They do a great job of organizing everything...and I think they do great job with the rankings and the grades; I think all of it is really good.”
As a young man who obviously drifts toward a lifestyle with an emphasis on perpetual motion, it should come as no surprise that Markell Dixon plans to stay busy before it becomes time to head to Baton Rouge. Still a month shy of his 18th birthday, Dixon is eligible to play at the 17u level so he’ll try to get in as many games as possible with Matt Whiteside and the Gamers.
He’s also looking to play in the St. Louis-based CarShield Collegiate League which plays its games at CarShield Field in O’Fallon, Mo. The league was created in 2020 after COVID-19 forced the Prospect League to shut down.
The four teams playing in the CCL in 2021 will be called the Rubber Chickens, Toasted Raviolis, Shredded Cheese and Adidas Athletics, and while three of those monikers might sound like the league shouldn’t be taken seriously, it will, in fact, feature some top collegiate players from around the St. Louis area.
“There’s really good talent; a lot of good kids play there,” Dixon said. “And with Gamers Baseball – I’ll flip-flop between the two – I’ll help coach the younger players, too, and just have a little fun this summer.”
He signed-up for the PGISL because he wanted a sturdy springboard into the next season: “I’m looking to get at-bats; I’m trying to get as good as I can for this summer and it seems like I’ve had so many more at-bats under my belt; really great coaches, too, by the way. Tim (Evans) and Gordy (Nordgren) are really great guys and they do a great job of coaching and teaching and making sure the players have fun.”
Dixon was recruited to Southern University by former head coach Kerrick Jackson, who stepped aside last year to become the first president of the new MLB Draft League. Jackson, who is from St. Louis, had ties to the coaching staff at Gamers Baseball, and is being replaced by interim head coach Chris Crenshaw, who also had a hand in Dixon’s recruitment.
“Southern is just a great program,” Dixon said. “I’ve always wanted to go to an HBCU and Southern was (perfect).It’s there in Louisiana with nice weather; just a great place. It’s 10 minutes from LSU and they play a really tough schedule against a lot of good schools. I think that just put me in a better position...
“I look to play two-way in college, hopefully,” he added. “I feel like I’ve got some talent and it’s up to me to see how well I can do, but I think for sure I can be a two-way guy.”
Perfect Game actually considers Dixon a right-handed pitcher in its position rankings but that doesn’t effect his top-500 overall national ranking. When it comes to his college position, Nordgren, who played collegiately and who has coached at the high school level, takes a pretty firm stand.
“Once again, you want to keep improving; I just hope they don’t take the bat out of his hand,” Nordgren said. “A lot of times in college you’re either going to be a pitcher or a hitter; it’s very rare you’re going to be a two-way guy. I don’t know how many two-way guys they have but hopefully they don’t shove him one way or the other.”
As the calendar readies to flip into May, the national college baseball season is reaching an exciting crescendo while any noise surrounding the MLB Amateur Draft – pushed back until July 11 this year – is not as loud as in years past. That doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s just a little more muffled compared to the months of May we’ve all experienced before.
Markell Dixon doesn’t consider himself a draft prospect this year, telling PG that if he does hear his name called he would probably reply with a simple “Thank you” and then start studying his options.
His dream is, of course, to play professionally some day and if he’s given an opportunity in July to pursue that dream, he’ll pounce with very little hesitation. “I don’t want to push my dream back,” he said, “I want to live my dream.”
And with that, he bid a fond farewell to his PG Iowa Spring League experience. It’s possible he could spring-up on a Gamers Baseball roster sometime in June, but if this really is the end, well, it’s been one swell ride.
He genuinely feels like he’s become a better player and a better person through his association with PG and the weekend days and nights he’s spent hunkered down amongst the farm fields of northeast Iowa will stay with him and be a part of his being for years to come.
“I think this definitely helped me; it was much better than me playing high school [ball] in St. Louis,” Dixon said. “I played with some great players and I got to meet a lot of new people that I never knew before here in Iowa.
“I had fun; I loved playing here,” he concluded. “Great coaches, players, teammates, all those guys; nice facility, as well.” Not bad, Markell, not bad at all.