Scottsdale, Ariz. -- In a purple collared shirt with a soft-spoken and approachable confidence, Colorado Rockies outfield prospect (and PuRP No. 2) David Dahl stood outside the clubhouse, deftly and entertainingly answering questions from this bearded writer.
His eyes hold an inescapable truth: this is a mature and ambitious player who has left any concern about his make-up in the past. He is bound and determined to prove true something I wrote in December of 2013:
The reports that Nolan Arenado wouldn't be a great MLB defender were much more founded than any reports that David Dahl is anything less than a class act ... I believe both will end up being equally accurate.
Two years later, David Dahl is basking in the experience of playing alongside -- and, more importantly, against -- major league level competition at spring training. The key to this being a learning experience rather than an overwhelming one is that David actually has more than five tools. His work ethic and attitude (praised by every coach and teammate who was asked) extend the toolset to at least six-and-a-half.
If you ask David (and I did) if he is looking to add a little more power or on-base ability; if you ask him if he wants to work on his glove, arm, or baserunning; if you ask him if he wants to improve his conditioning or any other conceivable area of improvement in his game, his answer is "yes."
"I got out [to Scottsdale] six weeks early and have just been trying to work on all the parts of my game."
Each aspect of baseball, to Dahl, is vital to his success as a player.
And the 20-year-old outfielder has gotten "an invaluable opportunity" to test and showcase those skills against the highest level of competition in the world at spring training this year. He entered late into three games and was hitting the ball hard in each of his first three at-bats. But he had to wait until his fourth to record his first hit -- he jumped all over a first-pitch fastball and smoked a ground ball easily through the right side of the infield.
The hit came against 28-year old Nick Vincent of the San Diego Padres. Vincent is not a veteran, but he is a big leaguer. He's pitched 127.2 innings in the major leagues and sports an impressive 2.68 ERA, a 9.80 K/9 rate, and 3.21 FIP.
"I want to to go out there and be aggressive when I'm at at the big league level. They have really good stuff and if you get behind up there it's hard to battle back. I just try to go up there and hit something hard -- y'know, line-drive up the middle somewhere and see what happens."
Walt Weiss likes the approach but marvels more at the mechanics of the swing itself. "It's an exciting, dynamic, swing," he states, "with a ton of bat speed. It's a special tool."
Prior to this spring, Dahl's most recent live action baseball came last September when he returned to an incredibly tight-knit group of teammates and friends to help the Asheville Tourists be crowned champions of the South Atlantic League. En route to the championship, Dahl put up a .309/.347/.500 line with 10 HR, 18 SB, and a 133 wRC+. He even managed to smack four home runs in only 29 games at High-A Modesto, which is home to a park almost as famous for suppressing power as San Diego's Petco Park.
As competitive as that series and season was, jumping from A-Ball competition to seeing MLB pitching is no small change.
"Guys know what they want to do [at the MLB level.] Some of the pitchers I've faced have been here for a little while and they just attack you, they try to get ahead, and they can command their off-speed pitches in any count. I noticed that when I moved up from Asheville to Modesto. Pitchers were more able to throw off-speed stuff in hitters counts."
But there is more to experiencing the MLB level than just getting a look and a shot against the best of the best.
"It's been a really good experience for me and all the other guys going up just to see how it is. The atmosphere is probably even crazier in the regular season. But just to see a bunch of fans there and be in a stadium, balls carry a little more, stuff like that, it's just good getting some reps."
Outside the chalk, the half of the game that is 90 percent mental is perhaps where Dahl has been growing with the most ferocity. And he has made a smart choice in seeking out a mentor.
"I've been talking to Dickerson a lot. Y'know he's a really good hitter. He knows certain pitchers, what they're throwing and he'll base how he swings and his his leg kick on stuff like that. I've watched how his leg kick changes so I talk to him about all that stuff."
He comments that the scouting and video tools at the MLB level are "awesome" and going over them with experienced MLB players not too far removed from where he is now has been of invaluable.
"I don't go overboard with [video], though," he says, "I try to watch my good swings."
Just like at the plate, Dahl isn't intimidated in a big league locker room, though it sounds like there isn't much reason to be.
"I've been hanging out with guys like Arenado and picking their brains. I've been talking to all of ‘em, they're all nice, they all come up to us and help us out with whatever we need so it's been a great experience."
"Us." David Dahl makes a habit of seeing himself as a member of a team.
He will soon be reunited full-time with his minor league family (stay tuned to Purple Row for much more on this) to make another run at another championship in another league. And David has a clear picture of what he would like to accomplish this season.
"The main thing is to try to stay healthy and play in as many games as I can, try to prepare the right way and stay on the field. Put together good at-bats, get better every day. I know it's a process and I can't control where I go, all I can control is how I go about my business every day, how I try to get better and help the team that I'm with win games."