David Dahl is one of the prized position players in the Rockies system, an outfielder with strong promise and tools that speak for themselves. While he is still a few years removed from being a member of the Rockies, it’s easy to see what the big league club sees in the young prospect as well as what scouts and other baseball personnel get so excited about.
It was a bit fortunate for the Rockies that Dahl was available at the number ten pick in the 2012 draft, given the Pittsburgh Pirates had reached a deal with him, but then reversed direction and selected pitcher Mark Appel, who chose not to sign. The rest is history, as they say, and Dahl signed with the Rockies for 2.6 million dollars as an 18 year old out of Birmingham, Alabama. Dahl was the first high school position player taken in the first round for the club since Chris Nelson eight years prior.
The initial scouting reports on Dahl read that he was a phenomenal hitter, with great hand eye coordination and a rarely seen ability to make adjustments, especially for such a young hitter. It was projected he would hit for some power. Baseball America predicted 15-20 home runs and with some improvement to route running, suggested Gold Glove caliber defense in the 2013 Prospect Handbook.
Dahl would spend his debut 2012 season with Grand Junction, en route to earning league MVP honors. It was a well-deserved honor, seeing as Dahl led the Pioneer League in average, slugging, hits, total bases and extra base hits. In 67 games, the young outfielder slashed .379/.423/.625 with nine home runs and twelve stolen bases.
The 2013 season wasn’t as favorable to Dahl. After playing one game with Asheville, Dahl was sent back to extended spring training for what was determined to be a disciplinary measure for missing a flight. After it was deemed three weeks in baseball purgatory had punished Dahl enough, he got in nine more games with the Tourists before a hamstring issued resulted in pulling the plug with so-so results at the plate in those games. The injury and maturity concerns led to Dahl falling down the prospect lists entering 2014, taking him from the second ranked prospect to sixth in Baseball America’s eyes. At this point, MLB.com has him as the organization’s third ranked prospect. A big portion of that fall came from the question marks regarding the maturity, if Dahl had grown up from the experience like he had suggested in a tweet following the demotion. Secondly, the legs that Dahl relies on for speed on the base paths and on defense may have been jeopardized by the hamstring injury which caused Dahl’s 2013 season to end in May. Outside of those question marks resulting in a bit more risk, the actual baseball scouting report on Dahl remained much the same as evaluators hadn’t had the chance to see him in action.
That all said, we turn the calendar to 2014, with Dahl returning to Asheville. This season has been much more in line with what is expected of Dahl, and the results have been erasing some of the question marks he had entering the year. Through 88 games, Dahl has hit .305/.345/.501, flashed some power with ten round-trippers. The hamstring seems healed, as indicated by the 18 stolen bases racked up so far. Now, as with any member of the Rockies organization, they have to answer the age-old question of how much have they benefited from the friendly confines of their own ballpark. For Dahl, playing in Grand Junction and Asheville suggests we should take his numbers with a grain of salt, as both parks are considered hitter friendly. In the context of the Pioneer league however, Grand Junction is fairly middle of the road, as explained here. Even though Dahl may have been given a boost in his numbers in 2012, it wasn’t off base from the same boost given the rest of the league, so we can put more stock in that set than if that ballpark had been an outlier in terms of hitter success. Now, as we have discussed before, Asheville is one of those outliers, with McCormick Field considered the most hitter friendly park in the league. Dahl is a left handed hitter, and can benefit from the short distance to the wall in right field, even if it is slightly elevated. My colleague Ryan Hammon detailed this in his write-up on Ryan McMahon back in May. A look at the below heat map, courtesy of MLBfarm.com, offers some evidence that the close dimensions aren’t the primary factor in success.
The map basically shows that outside of the groundballs hit to the right side, Dahl is spreading the ball just about as equally as possible. Now saying that, the below spray chart (again, from MLBfarm.com) indicates the majority of his home runs have been hit to right-center, but in the grand scheme of significance, the heat map is more representative of where Dahl is putting the ball.
Looking more at the statistics, we see that Dahl is currently parading around the SALLY league with a BABIP of .344, significantly higher than the widely accepted average of around .300. As is the case with talents that have strong hit tools and decent speed such as Dahl, that number should push higher than average. Factor in some level of benefit just for the sake of skepticism, and a number in the .340 range isn’t crazy to expect from a front of the line talent such as Dahl. While it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that number could fall slightly, it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see that stay right where it is as the rest of the season plays out.
Another bit of evidence suggesting we should not be scoffing at the numbers being posted is his age. Dahl played the 2012 season in Grand Junction at 18, nearly three years younger than league average and is playing this year at 20, 1.4 years below league average. At nearly a year and a half younger than his peers, Dahl is setting himself apart statistically from those with more experience, maturity, and so forth.
Moving forward is where the next question marks are going to be for David Dahl. With a pending promotion to Modesto, it’ll be interesting to see how Dahl adjusts to pitching at higher levels. Looking at a conservative time table, Dahl could get his high-A cup of coffee now and be ready to start 2015 at Modesto again, looking forward to a call-up to Double A mid-season. On the aggressive side, he could spend the rest of the year in Modesto, knock the ball around the park and carry that momentum into Double A Tulsa to start 2015. As the Rockies outfield stands now, some logjams will require slight sorting out, but it is hard to speculate on what those moves may be this far away. Going forward into 2015, it seems likely that Dahl may climb a little higher in those prospect rankings, probably sitting just behind Jon Gray in my eyes, especially given the time missed by Eddie Butler this season.
Dahl will likely stay as a center fielder, given his speed and defensive proficiency, but has manned the corner spots a handful of times this season in Asheville. It is likely he’ll continue to climb the ladder with him in center and the plus arm of Raimel Tapia seeing action in right field.
Undoubtedly, the Rockies have a very high end talent with David Dahl. If he continues to hit like he has thus far in his career, we could see him in Colorado in a couple years with sky is the limit potential. Given the question marks around him coming into 2014 and the success he has had, a significant portion of the concerns have been erased and anything further will likely be caused by the normal growing pains players go through on a daily basis. As it stands today, the Rockies have a good one in David Dahl.