#ThatAwkwardMomentWhen you think you're not all that high on a prospect, only to realize that you're the most optimistic one in the room and have to defend your ranking of him. That's kind of how this profile came into being. You'll see where Dahl is ranked on our Consensus Outfield Prospect Rankings, and a large part of that was at my insistence. Which scares the hell out of me. It can be difficult to boldly stake a claim on someone whom you previously thought you were low on, but that's what I did when it came to Dahl, the Colorado Rockies first round selection in the 2012 rule IV draft. The counterpoint to that is that it's not all that difficult to boldly stake a claim on a first round (and top ten pick, at that), and it's a point well made - though prospecting is always a risky endeavor. An advantage to the new CBA moving the signing deadline up a month is that teams are able to get the late signees onto the playing field for a brief look, instead of waiting til next year to see what they invested in. This is both a boon and a potential pitfall for prospect lovers, however. Getting an early look at recent draftees is helpful and can spark a love eternal, but it can also give us a false sense of security. Despite my affections for Addison Russell as a prospect, he and his classmates (including Dahl) racked up less than a season's worth of at-bats at the lowest levels of the minors. What excites us, concerns us, intrigues us or confuses us is little more than a blip in terms of what we will know by the end of next season. This is of course the case with prospects at all times, but even more so with such young players, at such low levels of competition, in such few at-bats. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's analyze the hell out of the potentially meaningless stats Dahl did accrue, shall we?
Dahl shines brighter than a keychain flashlight directly to the cornea on the stat sheet. The fourth youngest regular in the rookie level Pioneer League, Dahl introduced himself authoritatively. He recorded a .379/.423/.625 slash line, with 41 extra base hits (9 HR) in just 280 at-bats. He led the league in average, extra base hit, total bases, slugging and OPS. Quite precocious. Dahl's production wasn't entirely flukish either. Yes, his BABIP was an inordinately inflated .420 and he will be due some serious regression in that department. But we're talking about one of the younger players in the league leaving everyone in the dust, and doing it with real skill. His strikeout rate was under 14%, a great number for someone hitting for such power and his walk rate was just a hair under 7%. That's not anything to write home about and is an indicator for how contact oriented Dahl's approach is, sure, but it's not unacceptable. Though he didn't lead the league in stolen bases, speed is a part of Dahl's package as he stole 12 bases in 19 attempts. The rate isn't pretty and he will have to refine his technique if he's going to steal any worthwhile number of bases going forward, but it's an aspect to his game that could make him more valuable down the line, than he even appears to be right now.
Perhaps it was foolish of me to fight for Dahl over someone significantly more established like Christian Yelich, especially since I view them as similar players in terms of offensive profile. Both have strong hit tools, earning 70 ratings on the 20-80 scouting scale. Both have solid pop that comes with questions as to it's in-game utility. So what made me give Dahl the edge? Perhaps I fell for the newer, shinier toy (a subject to be discussed in this weeks prospect comparison), but I'd like to think I can make a case for him anyway. I think he's a true centerfielder, which is irrelevant in most leagues, but some still use the LF/CF/RF lineup. It also matters because there is less competition in general at the position and a clearer path to playing time. Additionally, it has mostly abated, but there was some talk of Yelich as a first baseman early in his career, and while we'd like to think that's all behind him, it can't be ignored entirely. Don't believe me? Here's an excerpt from Baseball America's draft report:
Tall (6-foot-3), angular and projectable and possessing a sweet lefthanded swing, Yelich is far more athletic than the usual lumbering first-base prospect, with above-average speed. He consistently runs a 6.75-second 60-yard dash in showcase events, and shows both range and a nifty glove around the bag. That kind of athleticism usually signals a position change, but Yelich has a below-average throwing arm that limits him to first.
Understandably, the situation has changed for Yelich as he's played a lot of centerfield thus far, but when we're splitting hairs, sometimes that stuff comes into play. But enough about Yelich, as this is a profile on Dahl and what he brings to the table. He's got the plus-plus hit tool with great bat control that allows to to barrel the ball consistently. He has a short, left-handed swing with a simple path to the ball, that generates power to all fields. Pair all of that with plus bat speed and you're looking at a potentially special hitter that's going to play in the league's premium hitting environment when he reaches the highest level. There are concerns on Dahl's power given the short, simple swing, and how much in-game utility he'll derive from it. Even in a down scenario, Dahl would be a prolific doubles hitter with moderate over the fence power - picture an Alex Gordon who can play center field. No, if there's a true knock on Dahl it is in his low energy appearance while on the field. This is a tough one to navigate, as we are predisposed to preferring the type of player who exhibits a ton of effort, though there have been plenty of players who are wildly successful despite low energy appearances (J.D. Drew, Adrian Gonzalez just to name a couple). And appearance is the key word there; oftentimes highly talented individuals make very difficult things look easy. Sometimes that is lauded and other times they are derided for the apparent lack of effort. I choose to give Dahl the benefit of the doubt for several reasons:
1) He may be so sublimely talented he doesn't have to try that hard
2) He may not have had to push himself just yet
3) It might only look low effort and we cannot tell
I'm sure there are many more reasons not to cast doubt upon a player like Dahl at this stage, but those 3 (especially #3) are more than enough for me. Beyond that Dahl offers plus speed, though it plays down in game situations, playing into fears about his "low energy demeanor". He should be able to refine his base stealing though, and mature into a 20 stolen base threat at a minimum. What I love most about Dahl is that he has an advanced approach to the game. Yes, this includes patience at the plate (of which he has more than the raw numbers show) that is advanced relative to his age, but it also extends to his mental approach.
After Dahl's remarkable debut, I assumed that my natural cynicism would leave me the low man on the totem pole when it came to ranking him. It turns out I was just the opposite - an unsettling event to say the least. But with each passing day, I feel more at ease. I love his hit tool and think his power potential might be undersold given his future home park. Even with suboptimal power, I think he's Alex Gordon, a valuable player in any league. Dahl's mental maturity is a big mark in his favor and coupled with his plus tools, gives him top 5 prospect status amongst outfielders.
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