Who's up first? This year, it could be Dahl

Rockies are considering moving Blackmon out of leadoff spot

March 10th, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Is the Rockies hitter who will prevent from rising back to the top of the batting order?

Blackmon has a strong argument as the Majors’ best leadoff hitter since taking the spot in 2014. But Blackmon was so adept at run production in 2017 -- Colorado's first year under manager Bud Black -- that Black has been toying with dropping Blackmon to third, a traditional RBI spot. DJ LeMahieu in 2018 and Trevor Story briefly last season topped the list of potential leadoff replacements.

But this experiment may take. Dahl has batted leadoff every game this spring, including Tuesday against the Reds. Blackmon, who hit third Tuesday, has not hit No. 1 since his first two appearances.

Of course, Black spent much of last Spring Training batting Nolan Arenado second. But in the regular season Arenado had just two plate appearances in that spot. That, however, was a bigger leap. Arenado was not as keen on the No. 2 spot as Dahl is on leading off, which he did often in the Minors.

“I’ve had some talks with the coaches, talked to Bud a little bit and it’s looking like we might do that,” Dahl said. “They basically said be myself, don’t change who I am as a hitter.”

Black said the decision could come in seven to 10 days, but, “We’re thinking about it strongly.”

Let’s walk through the idea …

Is Dahl the right guy?
Without nuanced thinking, it could be dismissed by comparing Dahl’s .346 career on-base percentage to Blackmon’s .360. But Dahl’s strike zone improvement last year, in a career-high 100 games before a right high ankle sprain on Aug. 2 ended his season, brings the idea to life.

Here’s Dahl’s All-Star '19 in two parts, before and after a May 21 video and batting cage session that led him to change his hand positioning so he could catch up to the high fastball:

Through May 21: .342 OBP in 147 plate appearances, 50 strikeouts in 133 at-bats.

May 22-Aug. 2: .361 OBP in 267 plate appearances, 60 strikeouts in 242 at-bats. He also had 12 of his 15 home runs, so discipline and power are linked.

That’s a good stretch of leadoff-like performance.

The running component
Dahl, 25, runs better than Blackmon, 33, but has never displayed the stolen-base aggression that Blackmon did in 2015 when he stole 43. However, Dahl and expected No. 2 hitter Story want to steal more. More importantly, Dahl’s Statcast average bolt last season was 28.1 feet per second, and Story’s was 29.2, both close to elite.

Guys with that sort of speed could enhance RBI opportunities for Blackmon and cleanup hitter Arenado.

“[Dahl has] got power,” Black said. “He’s got speed. We think that getting that extra at-bat like guys at the top of the order do -- you want them for your better hitters.”

How much can Blackmon help?
“I think it’s harder for someone else to transition into a leadoff role than it would be for me to transition out of it,” said Blackmon, who in the following tweet was coy when asked if he’s still a leadoff hitter.

Dahl has listened to all he can handle.

“He’s a great baseball mind -- you can learn a lot from him,” Dahl said. “Really, I can’t think as much as he can. He’s very good with the numbers. I’m not great with that. I’m more like, 'See ball and hit it.'”

How’s it working?
Dahl entered Tuesday hitting .214, but the underlying principles seem in line. Among his six hits were two home runs and two doubles. Of his eight strikeouts in 28 at-bats, three occurred in one game, and reducing his chase rate is a goal.

“I asked Jonesy [video coordinator Brian Jones] and he’s saying I’m averaging 97-98 [mph] exit velo, so I’m hitting the ball pretty hard,” Dahl said. “I’ve lined out a lot. I’m not too worried about numbers in Spring Training, but we’re all competitors. We want hits.”