Outfielder David Dahl’s (dahl?) ascent to the major leagues, at which level he debuted last night for Colorado, has been relatively swift considering he missed just about all of 2013 with a hamstring injury and a huge chunk of 2015 with a ruptured spleen. That missed development time — in concert with Colorado’s unenviable affiliate situation — has made Dahl difficult to evaluate and project. In four pro seasons, Dahl has spent time with clubs in Grand Junction, CO; Asheville, NC; Modesto, CA; Boise, ID; New Britain, CT; Hartford, CT (but not actually in Hartford because that club doesn’t actually currently possess a home park); and Albuquerque, NM.
Pro scouts with area- or league-based coverage had a difficult time getting in-depth looks at Dahl because of the unusually nomadic nature of his career. His tools haven’t been difficult to evaluate (and they’re impressive), but what has been hard to grasp are Dahl’s secondary skills. He came into this season with a career walk rate around 5%, but Dahl has doubled that this season and it’s hard to discern if those improvements are real.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument and in effort to discern his floor, that Dahl’s newfound plate discipline is a mirage. Steamer has him regressing to a walk rate just shy of 6%. We’re still talking about a plus runner with a plus arm (his throw to nail Josh Naylor at the plate in the Futures Game was particularly impressive) who projects as a plus defender in center field. Impact defense at a premium position is often sufficient to justify playing everyday, even if the bat is light. Punchless though they may be, black-hole center fielders like Ender Inciarte (.242/.309/.319), Billy Hamilton (.251/.299/.351) and Kevin Pillar (.259/.390/.382) are all comfortably above replacement level this season. Dahl’s defense, though not on the elite level of Hamilton and Pillar, is strong enough that the offensive bar he’ll need to clear to play every day is relatively low.
Dahl sports plus bat speed and good bat control, but his ability to hit is undermined by some of the effort in his swing and inconsistent pitch-tracking. His swing can get long at times because of how early he extends his hands, which causes some tardiness. I’ve also gotten some reports that question Dahl’s ability to hit anything on the outer half with authority, though he’s adept at taking those pitches to the opposite field and his bat path aids in that. There’s above-average pull power here — and it will undoubtedly play up in Denver. It just remains to be seen how much of it Dahl will get to if I’m correct about his swing-and-miss issues.
Though Dahl’s ruptured spleen was the result of a freak incident, there are some who are concerned that he’ll be injury prone. He’s slight of build and, in addition to the hamstring injury in 2013, dealt with patella tendinitis in August of last year and was shut down for the remainder of the season. He was held out of his Fall League assignment due that injury as well.
The average center fielder in 2016 is slashing .256/.323/.404. Dahl is slated to come up and spend most of his time in left field, but he’s projected below as a center fielder. He might be starting there by the deadline if the Rockies unload Charlie Blackmon and/or Carlos Gonzalez. Injuries aside, the worst-case scenario here is that Dahl’s improved walk rate is unsustainable and he has moderate contact issues throughout his career. Even if that’s the case, I think the power and defensive profile are enough to carry him. Dahl’s bat speed and barrel control are special and I’m willing to bet we see some improvement in his ability to make contact throughout his career, though I’m skeptical about that walk rate.
Raw Power: 55/55
Game Power: 50/55
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.
He showed off his arm last night and nearly gunned down Schoop at second from the wall in left center.