David Dahl? yes, that’s right. David Dahl.
This Major League Baseball offseason brought us “big” signings like Trevor Bauer going to the Dodgers, JT Realmuto agreeing to terms with the Phillies, and George Springer landing in Chicago’s southside.
The Texas Rangers weren’t in the mix for these “big” players, which is fine with me. The Rangers signed some new players, but their offseason activity flew under the radar for the most part. In the most underrated signing this offseason, the Rangers acquired David Dahl for 1-year, $2.7mm. Bauer will earn 10x what Dahl makes in 2021, but David Dahl should get the Texas faithful excited. He has all-star level talent, which is not hyperbole. He just comes with an injury-laden history, which explains the bargain price for the all-star.
Even with the injury history, I am here to argue with great conviction that the potential in Dahl is well worth the $2.7mm investment, especially if a healthy 2021 performance from Dahl secures a longer term (longer as in 2-3 years) deal to stay in Arlington.
WHO IS DAVID DAHL? WHERE DID HE COME FROM?
The Rockies drafted Dahl out of high school with the 10th overall pick in 2012. Dahl immediately joined Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado atop the Rockies prospect list. That is all-star, potentially Hall-of-Famer (Arenado) company that flanked the newly drafted Alabama native. David Dahl would have graced the top prospect spot for many MLB clubs in 2012.
Dahl was (and still is) very “toolsy.” Scouts drooled over Dahl’s five-tool arsenal, meaning he could:
(2) hit for power
(3) run fast
(4) play great defense
(5) keep runners in-check with his “plus” arm
Minor league scouts and gurus “comp’d” Dahl to Jim Edmonds and Grady Sizemore.
For anyone unfamiliar with those names, they were absolute monster players in their primes. In 2008, Sizemore put up an eye-popping line of .268/.374/.502 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) with 33 home runs and 38 stolen bases. For the record, the comparisons aren’t supposed to equate to actual performance. The comp to Sizemore doesn’t mean that Dahl was ever projected to steal 40 bases. Dahl’s projections were closer to 20 home runs / 20 stolen bases. The comps are mostly meant to compare the prospect’s skills, potential, and progression against those of recognizable and established major league talent. Still, these were optimistic comparisons back in 2012. If Rafael Belliard was the comp, then we should be worried about Dahl.
Dahl climbed league-wide prospect rankings and garnered the attention of baseball scouts and writers. Keith Law, the minor league prospect expert at ESPN, called Dahl an “elite” prospect. Baseball Prospectus ranked Dahl as the #40 overall MLB prospect going into the 2013 season. Two years later, Dahl ascended to #24 and received the call-up to the Rockies about halfway through the 2016 season. Yet as Baseball Prospectus reminds us all too often, prospects will break your heart. Many top prospects never live up to expectations or projections.
Look at some of Dahl’s fellow 2012 draftees. The top two overall picks went to Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. Correa, in part because of injuries, has not lived up to expectations as the #1 overall. Back in 2012, I remember one scout invoking Willie Mays to set Byron Buxton’s ceiling. Of all the players in that draft, I still think Byron Buxton had/has the most talent and the biggest upside. Still, he has not lived up to expectations, at least from an offensive standpoint. Kevin Gausman out of LSU was the first pitcher taken at #4. He has a career ERA of 4.26, and hovered around 6.00 for several seasons.
My point is this: there is a cost-benefit to these players. They, including Dahl, have not lived up to expectations….yet. But what price are you willing to pay for potential, based on past performance? Gausman is set to make $18mm for the Giants this year. Dahl’s problem has been injuries, but he has shown glimpses of greatness. $2.7mm is worth the gamble…the common theme here, as you will see, if not already.
MINOR LEAGUE SNAPSHOT
- A hamstring injury – and a disciplinary issue – reduced Dahl’s initial minor league season to a handful of games.
- In 2014, Dahl posted a solid .309/.347/.500 line for Low-A Asheville in the hitter-friendly South Atlantic (Sally) League. After 90 games at Asheville, Dahl got the call to High-A, where he only played about 20 games before the season ended.
- Dahl made his Double A debut in 2015, a season ravaged (again) by injury, in this case a ruptured spleen.
- But 2016 was the year for Dahl. He finally stayed healthy enough to show-off his five-tool capabilities, jumping from Double A to Triple A and then to the majors. When he got called up to the Rockies in June, Dahl was hitting an insane .484/.529/.887 at Triple A.
MAJOR LEAGUE SNAPSHOT
2016 – He played in 63 games for the Rockies in 2016, hitting.315/.359/.500. After that promising major league debut, injuries came back to haunt Dahl, but he still managed to post really good numbers when he did play
2017 – Did Not Play – Rib and back injuries
2018 – .273/.325/.534, which included 16 HRs (only 77 games) – fractured his ankle after fouling a pitch off his foot
2019 – .302/.353/.524, which included 15 HRs (only 100 games) – made the All Star team – a high ankle sprain in August ruined his all-star season
After the impressive, albeit injury-shortened 2019, the Rockies fanbase believed 2020 would be the year Dahl would finally shine, meaning an injury-free season. Well, that didn’t happen….
2020 – .183/.222/.247 (24 games) – shoulder and oblique injuries. Dahl attributes his subpar performance to those injuries. He played 24 games through apparently all sorts of pain.
THE VALUE IS IN THE WOBA
Some of you may see these injury-ravaged seasons as a natural barrier to my argument that Dahl is an underrated signing. But for 2.7mm, it is worth taking a chance. Also, it’s not as if the Rangers are taking a chance on a 35-year-old whose best years are behind him. Dahl will turn 27 when the regular season begins in April. Ok, age is great and all, but what else can we briefly and unprofessionally analyze to underscore this underrated signing for the Rangers?
Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), according to FanGraphs, is considered a “better representation of offensive value than other categories like batting average, RBI, or OPS.” So where does Dahl rank it terms of wOBA compared with some of the “big” free agent signings this offseason?
Dahl’s wOBA during his 2016, 2018, and 2019 campaigns averages out to about .360. This generally translates to somewhere around an above average to great wOBA. Yes, I know I am cherry-picking his best years in the majors. But again, for $2.7mm, I’m in. For comparison, George Springer’s average wOBA the last three years was .373. He just signed a contract that pays him $25mm per year. J.T. Realmuto’s average wOBA the last three years was .351. His contract averages $23mm per year.
If he does produce this year, and stays healthy, and the Rangers can sign him to an extension, they will have a really good, relatively young player locked in for a few years.
As Rangers fans, we are always looking for that slim chance that something positive might happen. The team has never won a World Series, and players always seem to hit their stride after leaving the Rangers.
Elvis Andrus, who definitely had some great years with the Rangers, is about to play Hall of Fame baseball in Oakland.
I am confident Dahl will reverse this trend. He will put up all-star numbers again, likely (hopefully) batting from either the 2-hole or 3-hole. Dahl can put up 20-25 home runs and an OPS in the mid .800s (league average OPS over the last 3 years is .742). He has proven that when healthy, he produces. Say it over and over Rangers fans: David Dahl WILL be healthy all year. David Dahl WILL be healthy all year……