PuRP No. 2: David Dahl (1,060 points, 37 ballots) | Winter 2014 Ranking: 2 | High Ballot 1 (4), Mode Ballot 2
When the Colorado Rockies jumped David Dahl up to Double-A New Britain after only 125 plate appearances at High-A, it was clear that the team thought the lefty outfielder was on the fast track to the Show. The 21-year-old Dahl was back on the path he seemed certain to follow given his first round pedigree and phenomenal debut season, when he won Pioneer League MVP honors at the age of 18 in 2012 with a .379/.423/.625 (161 wRC+) line. That led to national prospect writers ensconcing Dahl firmly in their top 60.
Unfortunately, Dahl was limited to only 10 games in 2013 when he tore his hamstring, which led to a drop in prospect lists and seemingly delayed his MLB ETA by a year. Despite the setback, Dahl set out to prove this assumption wrong. In 2014 he played well at both full-season Class A levels, finishing with a combined .299/.335/.492 line, 63 extra base hits, and 21 steals against older pitchers. This not only restored the shine to his prospect status (he was the preseason No. 22 prospect for Baseball America and No. 24 for Baseball Prospectus), it also convinced the Rockies to put him back on the plan he had been on before the hamstring injury.
In New Britain, Dahl was on his way to another season of holding his own against advanced pitching with a .269/.296/.372 line in 182 at-bats over 40 games when baseball took a back seat to his health. In a late-May game, Dahl was hospitalized after a scary on-field collision with one of his teammates that lacerated his spleen. It was thought that this collision would end Dahl's season and that he would have to be very careful with the spleen for the rest of his career and life in general, but Dahl ultimately made the decision to have his spleen removed entirely, which of course carries its own complications.
The upshot of that decision was that Dahl was back on the field for a rehab assignment in Short-Season A Boise in early July. He struggled in his brief cameo, but the fact he was back on the field at all was the most important development. Dahl returned to the New Britain lineup later in July and hit well enough to raise his total Double-A line to .278/.304/.417 (106 wRC+) in 302 plate appearances.
That batting line will be Dahl's final one for the 2015; the toolsy outfielder was recently shelved for the rest of the regular season with patella tendinitis, a source told Purple Row. The good news is that the actual injury is relatively minor, and that the organization's shutting down of its top position project has more to do with the fact that he hasn't fully regained the strength he lost after recovering from the splenectomy.
Depending on how he progresses during his resting period, Dahl has a good chance to be one of the Rockies' representatives in the Arizona Fall League this October, according to the source.
In all, it's been a challenging campaign for Dahl. John Sickels summed it up well in his top 20 system in review article last week:
"The numbers aren't terrific but they aren't terrible and he earns a mulligan given the circumstances."
This kind of a season does present a dilemma for the Rockies in terms of what to do with Dahl. Do they start him next year back in Double-A for the Hartford Yard Goats or do they move him up the ladder right away to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes? I'm guessing the former, if only to give the Rockies more of a sample size to evaluate his progress after the injury at a lower level.
From a scouting perspective, Dahl still grades out highly on midseason prospect lists despite the injuries. He placed in the midseason top prospect lists of Baseball Prospectus (26), Baseball America (27), Minor League Ball (44), and MLB.com (56). When the next round of prospect lists are released, I would expect Dahl to stay roughly in that range, maybe falling a few slots because most of the aforementioned lists don't include 2015 draftees.
MLB.com, which placed Dahl third in the system in its midseason update, had this to say:
Players can deal with adversity, especially at the outset of their pro careers, in one of two ways. They can fold, or they can learn from it and get better. Dahl chose the second path, putting a disastrous first full season in 2013 behind him and starting to live up to expectations in 2014. He was forced to deal with adversity again in 2015, when he suffered a ruptured spleen after a collision with infielder Juan Ciriaco, requiring surgery.
Dahl can really hit, showing the ability to use a middle of the field approach from the left side of the plate. He can spray line drives to all fields. There's more power to come from the 2012 first-rounder and many of the 41 doubles he hit in 2014 will start turning into home runs as he matures. Even with the extra-base pop, Dahl does not strike out a lot. An above-average runner, he'll pick his spots to run and is an effective basestealer. That speed serves him well in center field, where he should be able to stay long-term. His strong and accurate arm just adds to his overall defensive package.
Here's what Baseball Prospectus commented on about Dahl in their midseason list:
With another season marred by serious injury, Dahl's stock may be taking an unfair hit among fans, but his potential as a middle-of-the-order hitter and middle-of-the-diamond defender has not changed. Dahl is a gifted natural hitter with an improving approach and projection for average to slightly above-average power. His glove will play in center field and when the entire package is put together, Dahl has a good chance at becoming an impact player.
Combine that with this profile of Dahl BP had before the season:
Strengths: Easy barrel delivery with extended pitch plane overlap; regular hard contact and comfort spraying line to line; good athleticism boosts the aggregate skillset; run is legit plus, showing up on the grass and rounding the bases; glove could play to plus at maturity with continued improvement in reads off the bat; already shows understanding of how to let power manifest naturally; arm plays across the outfield with carry and solid accuracy.
Weaknesses: Lacks leverage in swing so power will be reliant on ability to barrel ball and might be limited to pull; routes are improving, but still limit full utilization of natural speed; can get aggressive, particularly early in count when hunting fastballs; advanced arms will work to expose with spin.
The Alabama prep product's true five-tool potential alone provides enough reason for evaluators to lock in, but it's the combination of athleticism and baseball acumen characteristic of impact major leaguers that could see the profile emerge as one of the elite talents in the game ... There is work to be done smoothing out the reads and routes in the outfield, and the approach at the plate will need to be focused, but most of these potential issues reside in developmental areas commonly addressed through reps.
In that evaluation, Dahl was given average or above-average tools across the board, which seems to be a pretty consistent evaluation given what I've seen nationally. My personal evaluation is that Dahl, who was third on my list, is a five-tool talent who projects to be plus in center field defensively and comfortably projects as a MLB regular with the potential for much more. That's obviously an exciting profile, and it's a testament to the abilities of Jon Gray (spoiler alert) that Dahl hasn't topped this list since the fall 2012 list.
We'll see what the Rockies do with Dahl next year, but I wouldn't rule out a potential September cameo if Dahl reacts well to higher level pitching.
Contract Status: 2012 first round, not Rule 5 eligible (2016), three options remaining
MLB ETA: Late 2016/2017