Dahl, Rox have confidence in 2019 breakout

Left-handed-hitting slugger has dealt with injuries early in MLB career

February 16th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfielder spent last September showing off his home runs by confidently sashaying his way around the bases. He did it then, he'll do it again in 2019.

"There's a natural smile that happens, in dugouts or when he's greeting the guys after doing something great," Colorado manager Bud Black said. "It's sort of like, 'Hey, what do you expect? That's what I do. You shouldn't be surprised.'"

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Dahl, who turns 25 on April 1, has to shake a freakish and frustrating injury history. If he can, his preparation, production and panache scream "I'm next" to a club that has introduced a lineage of top Rockies hitters.

Dahl's 63-game debut campaign in 2016 and 77 games in '18 produced a .293/.341/.518 slash line, 23 home runs and 72 RBIs. The rub is his early career was interrupted by injuries -- rib and back issues that cost him all of '17 and early '18, and a broken right foot that sidelined him in June and July of last year.

But compare his first 140 games to those of others who became stars in purple pinstripes:

• Todd Helton -- .291/.349/.511, .860 OPS with 23 HRs and 70 RBIs

-- .295/.351/.494, .854 OPS, 14 HR, 71 RBIs

-- .258/.303/.425,.728 OPS, 12 HR, 45 RBIs

-- .278/.349/.399, .748 OPS, 16 HR, 71 RBIs

-- .253/.332/.472, .804 OPS, 35 HR, 92 RBIs

-- .265/.298/.409, .707 OPS, 12 HR, 58 RBIs

-- .277/.308/.394 SLG, .702 OPS, 7 HR, 34 RBIs

Story, who fulfilled a similar rise to stardom last year, answered the same question about Dahl with, "I don't see why not."

Dahl's 2017 injury was a factor in the Rockies re-signing Gonzalez last spring. Gonzalez, a three-time All-Star, is a free agent again, but the Rockies are planning on Dahl grabbing the right-field torch.

"I can, but I'm not really thinking about that," Dahl said. "I'm thinking about performing and helping the team win, because at the end of the day, we want to get back to the playoffs and win a World Series. If I play to my potential, I think we have a good shot for that."

In September, the Rockies won nine of their last 10 games to make the postseason. Dahl homered in five straight, and six of the final seven games of that streak. According to Statcast™, Dahl had a 16.3-degree launch angle, and the nine homers brought a 100.6 mph average exit speed.

To poke analytical holes, his expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) in September, which is based on contact measurements, was a less-than-elite .306. His actual wOBA was .404, which mathematically suggests luck was a factor in his late-season success.

Having none of that, veteran catcher said, "It doesn't matter what Statcast™ says. … [It's] just that natural swing, being able to hit with power to all fields, being able to hit pitches anywhere -- up, down, in, out,"

Blackmon, who sat beside Dahl on team flights last year and gave advice about health and maintenance, noted Dahl is 20 pounds more muscular than when he was drafted (10th overall in 2012) and is "addressing some of the issues that were holding him back in the past."

Dahl overcame Minor League injuries like a severe hamstring injury in 2013 and a freak spleen rupture in 2015, and he arrived in the Majors with complete baseball skills. No wonder he moves confidently.

"Those are good character builders in terms of hopefully being a Major League regular and being counted on to help this team get back into the playoffs and get further in the playoffs than the last two years," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said.

Opposing scouts wondered at times last year if Dahl held back defensively because of the injury history. Dahl said he didn't want to take risks in big games. But after Black encouraged him not to cut loose, by September the sashay was back to stay.

"I need to show it every day," he said.