On May 28, 2015, David Dahl’s immediate baseball future was in question. After three years climbing the minor league ladder and battling injuries, Dahl was starting to hit well in Double-A when he was involved in an outfield collision with second basemen Juan Ciriaco that resulted in a lacerated spleen. Three days later he had the spleen removed.
On July 25, 2016, after hitting .278/.367/.500 in 76 Double-A games and .484/.529/.887 (!) in 16 Triple-A games, David Dahl made his Major League debut. He went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts against the Baltimore Orioles.
On August 12, Dahl went 0-for-4 with a run scored in a 10-6 loss in Philadelphia. After 17 career games he finally finished a game without a hit. He tied a 66-year-old record for hit streak to begin a career. His career line at that point: .338/.373/.563 with three home runs.
To the person who has overseen Dahl’s development during the last few seasons, the immediate success was no surprise.
“He has the personality, passion and drive to where I knew when that third deck showed up, he was going to take it to another level,” Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson told Purple Row in a recent conversation. “He stepped up and took full advantage from that very first game he played in Baltimore and as he went through that hitting streak. That’s one of many things that makes David special — he wants the focus. He wants to be in the spotlight.”
On Aug. 24 against the Milwaukee Brewers, Dahl failed to reach base or score a run for the first time in his career. His line dropped to .316/.366/.518 in 29 career games. He finished the season .315/.359/.500 in 63 games played.
We could keep going but you get the idea. Considering his performance and first-round pedigree it's easy to think that David Dahl’s success was somewhat inevitable, but that would underestimate the massive amount of work (and good fortune with his injury recoveries) that went into him getting to this point.
“In April, he was striking out a bunch and not walking at all,” Wilson recollected. “To his credit — and to the credit of Jeff Salazar, the [Double-A] hitting coach — [Dahl] started to understand what remaining patient while still being the aggressive hitter he is and how to balance that out really means.”
At the end of the day, Dahl was more or less what we expected him to be — and, for the most part, that’s a great thing. He struck out in 24.9 percent of his plate appearances, a bit above the league average (21.1 percent), while walking just 6.3 percent of the time (league average was 8.2 percent). He provided some pop (12 doubles and seven home runs) while showing some speed (four triples and five stolen bases, and he was never caught). His contact was almost exactly league average (21.5 percent LD, 45.4 percent GB, 33.1 percent FB). He was above average at the plate (111 wRC+) and at least competent in the field (0.4 UZR, which is pretty good for playing half of one’s games in Coors). The numbers aren’t what’s surprising; the surprising part is just how quickly he adjusted to playing in the Major League Baseball. There’s little evidence that he encountered any typical rookie struggles. Even when you dig into his splits, there’s nothing so egregious as to make you say, “Well, he clearly ... ”
The batting average on balls in play (BABIP) figures do run a little high, and he didn’t hit for much power off lefties but that it about as sticky of a complaint you can put on the guy. For a 22-year-old rookie, that’s not lame.
Overall, David Dahl’s rookie season was a lot more Starling Marte than Gregory Polanco, in terms of pure production. There’s a growing theory that rookies come up more or less as finished products, with little room to improve before they settle into a decline. Obviously less than half a season’s worth of plate appearances aren’t enough to judge Dahl’s future, but for now we can say the present looks excellent.
“I think the sky is the limit for David,” Wilson said. “Most people would say that. He just keeps getting better and better, and one of the things I knew about him coming into the season was that we hadn’t seen the best of him.
“Quite frankly, we still haven’t seen the best of him, even in Double-A and Triple-A this year,“ Wilson added.
David Dahl enters 2017 as the Rockies everyday right fielder, likely slotting into the 5-hole in the lineup. The only major red-flag from his debut season was his .404 BABIP, which means that there is likely going to be a bit of regression to the mean for Dahl, who already strikes out in a quarter of his plate appearances. This past season he swung more (52.9 percent) and made less contact (71.9 percent) than the average major leaguer (78.2 percent and 46.5 percent, respectively), which looks to be about what to expect from him.
Entering his age-23 season, he has plenty of time to improve on these facets of his game, but don’t be surprised if he struggles a bit doing it next year. Still, even if he does, we should know that it won’t last. A couple of severe freak injuries? No problem. Jumping two levels — including to the majors -- at age 22? Big whoop.
“That’s who he is internally,” Wilson said. “I expect that to continue to show its face as the years go by.”