Last night as the Colorado Rockies were travelling to Baltimore, news broke that their team would look different by the time they started their series Monday. David Dahl has been deemed big-league ready by the Rockies, but how will his MLB debut affect him and the organization?
Life can move pretty quickly sometimes when you’re a top prospect. When July started, Dahl was a Hartford Yard Goat in Double-A. Less than four weeks later, Dahl has advanced two levels and will return to the East Coast, only this time it’s to play the Baltimore Orioles instead of the Bowie Baysox.
Since being drafted 10th overall in 2012, people have labeled Dahl as Colorado’s future starting center fielder. When scouts talk about a “five-tool player,” they’re referring to someone who’s strong at hitting for average, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. It’s a term that’s thrown around frequently, and it’s usually misused. Dahl, however, truly is a five-tool player.
Baseball America uses a traditional “20-80” grading system for prospects (in which 20 is awful and 80 is a future Hall of Famer). BA has ranked Dahl a 55 or 60 in all five categories for the last three years. That’s an extremely encouraging sign, because Carlos Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Starling Marte and Jason Heyward all had similar grades as prospects over a three-year span.
Obviously, there are no guarantees that Dahl will turn into an All-Star like those outfielders have. But generally, players that do everything well in the minors tend to stick at the MLB level because they have multiple skills they can use as a fallback if they’re struggling in one area. Heyward, for instance, hasn’t developed into the hitter many thought he’d be, but his defense made him one of the premier free agents of last offseason.
In the immediate future, Dahl will probably play left field, which has been a glaring weakness for the Rockies this season. Gerardo Parra was underwhelming both offensively and defensively before he hurt his ankle back in June, so if Dahl makes a strong first impression, Parra could easily find himself as the fourth outfielder.
An outfield of Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, and Gonzalez could be among the best in baseball. However, it will be interesting to see if the Rockies consider using Dahl in center field.
Dahl is a better athlete than Blackmon, and he’s probably a superior defensive player. But Blackmon has earned a reputation as one of the better all-around center fielders in the game, and it’s fair to wonder if moving him for a rookie could cause some friction in the clubhouse.
This potential logjam has led many to speculate about Blackmon being traded to open a spot in center field. That’s still a possibility for now, but with the deadline now just a week away, it’s looking less likely by the day.
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As Ken Rosenthal mentioned last week, GM Jeff Bridich’s contract is up at the end of the 2017 season, and it may be in his best interest to keep Blackmon and Gonzalez in an effort to compete now, rather than trade them away to build on 2018 and beyond.
That’s not to suggest that Bridich is being selfish; he absolutely shouldn’t move Blackmon or Gonzalez unless he gets a great offer for them. Both players are still just 30 years old and have reasonable contracts (especially Blackmon). It won’t be a disaster if the Rockies end up playing Dahl in left field full-time, it just may not be the most efficient use of resources.
Now, the final question … what should we expect from Dahl for the rest of 2016? It’s probably fair to say he won’t hit .484 like he did in 16 Triple-A games, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he finds early success. If Dahl takes over a starter for the rest of the season, a reasonable projection would probably be a .270 average with eight homers and eight stolen bases over about 200 at-bats.
Those numbers might sound somewhat tame, especially when Trevor Story is on pace to hit 48 home runs this year, but they’d be a large improvement on what the Rockies’ left fielders have given them so far.
This hopeful future star is just 22 years old, something Colorado fans should remind themselves when he inevitably falls into his first slump. But when David Dahl steps in to a MLB batter’s box for the first time, most likely tonight, it will be hard not to be excited about both his future and the future of the Rockies.