Dahl's Big League Chance On Hold But He's Ready
SCOTTSDALE – Carlos Gonzalez was in the Rockies starting lineup Thursday afternoon.
David Dahl wasn’t.
It was Gonzalez spring debut after being trapped in free-agent limbo, and then finally agreeing to terms to return to the Rockies last weekend.
It was only the fourth time this spring Dahl hadn’t been in the starting outfield, although he did come into the game as a defensive replacement in the fifth inning, the same inning in which Gonzalez departed.
Could be a subtle message.
Gonzalez’s arrival puts Dahl in limbo.
“He’s a great player,” said Dahl. “He is a great teammate. He is a great clubhouse guy. Obviously, it’s a good thing that he came back (to the Rockies).”
Don’t, however, be naïve. Dahl may not have the big-league track record of Gonzalez, but he has all the ability that before long there will be a young prospect coming along in the Rockies organization who will be singing the same praise for Dahl that Dahl now speaks about Gonzalez.
Some day. Not necessarily today.
It seems likely the Rockies will open the season with a veteran outfield: Gerardo Parra in left, Charlie Blackmon in center, and Gonzalez in right. And that could mean a return to the minor leagues for Dahl, who is the most promising of all the young players in the organization given his complete set of skills.
“It’s not something I think about,” said Dahl. “I just get myself ready for wherever I am going to play.”
Eighteen months ago, where Dahl might play was not open for debate. He was being penciled into the big-league lineup as a long-range staple. The 10th player taken overall in the 2012 draft Dahl made his major-league debut in July of 2016 and by season’s end it was apparent he was a keeper.
A plus defensive outfielder, he hit .315 in 63 games after his call-up in 2016 with 12 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 24 RBI. He started at all three outfield positions.
And then the real world intruded in the dream that Dahl was living. Last spring, he suffered a “stress reaction” in his rib cage, near his spine. On the surface it didn’t sound like that big of a deal. But it was.
Dahl played in only 19 professional baseball games last year, none in the big leagues. He went 3-for-7 in two starts at High-A Lancaster and hit .243 in 17 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, playing in his final game on July 31, and not even picking up a bat again until mid-January.
“It was a matter of resting and letting it heal,” he said. “I couldn’t really work out. I tried to play through it (in the minor leagues) but it didn’t work. I was still hurt.”
By the end of January, the pain had subsided, and finally Dahl started taking batting practice again. He wanted to be ready for spring training. After all, with Gonzalez on the free agent market he was considered the favorite in the battle for the Rockies open outfield spot.
But then, Gonzalez received a one-year offer from the Rockies, and suddenly that outfield opening was closed.
“I’m trying to get at-bats and be ready for where ever I am (to open the season),” said Dahl. “We have a lot of good players competing for spots. It’s something that is in the back of my mind but it’s something I try not to think about.”
A sign of Dahl’s maturing is that in this spring in which he wanted to make an impact he was hitless in his first 15 at-bats. He, however, never lost the focus of what he was working to accomplish, and after coming off the bench on Thursday he delivered his team-high fifth home run of the spring, all of them coming in his last 33 at-bats.
What Dahl knows is his future his up to him.
Because of those two months he spent in the big leagues no longer has rookie status but given the absence of a year and his youth, he is still considered the best prospect on the horizon in the Rockies system.
There’s an irony to that.
He is so highly regarded that there is a strong school of thought that even though he might be the best of the young players in camp the Rockies would be better served to keep one of the others, and send Dahl to Albuquerque so he can get his regular playing time, and be ready to step in at the big league level when the need arrives.
Dahl has heard that. He’s thought about that. He’s not worried about that.
The decision will be made by others.
What he controls is a lot less complicated.
“I need to be healthy,” he said. “And I need to be ready for whatever I am asked to do.”
After all, his time in the big leagues is coming, and when he gets back again he will be around for a long time – health permitting.