Just as the weather’s heated up, so have the Asheville Tourists. Going into Monday’s game, the T’s have an 18-8 record in June and lead the South Atlantic League (SAL) by one game over the Savannah Sand Gnats, 11 games into the season’s second half.
A big reason for that success has been outfielder David Dahl. The Birmingham, Ala. native is tied for the team lead in hits, leads the team in triples and ranks among the Tourists’ top five hitters in doubles, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, slugging percentage and OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging). Basically, that’s every offensive category.
Dahl, 20, missed most of last season with a torn hamstring, but that appears to be a temporary setback in his development. Thus far, he’s lived up to the expectations that come with being the Colorado Rockies’ first-round pick in 2012 (No. 10 overall), displaying the hitting, running and fielding talent that make him one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball.
I spoke with Dahl after he signed autographs for fans following Sunday’s 4-0 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers. He actually didn’t play in the game, as Tourists manager Fred Ocasio gave his center fielder the day off.
You hit 4-for-6 on Saturday (June 28) with three doubles, but had the day off on Sunday. Was that a bit weird for you after a game like that or did you know it would happen beforehand?
I didn’t know if I was getting one or not, but I’m fine with it. I slid into second my last at-bat and I kind of tweaked my [left wrist] again. Like I’ve had it happen a couple of times, so we’re just being a little cautious.
You played in the SAL All-Star Game a couple of weeks ago. How was that experience for you?
It was a really good experience, playing with some guys I knew, I grew up playing with and against. That level of competition was really fun.
Is there anything you learned from other players that you want to take into the rest of the season?
Just that it’s a long season. You can’t get too high or too down on yourself. You got a lot of games, a lot of at-bats left. Just stay on an even keel all year.
You’ve been really hot in June, batting .314. You’ve hit .372 in your last 10 games (I don’t know if you keep track of that). Looking at your splits, you’ve been consistent month-to-month, but hitting for a higher average recently. Is there any change that you made in your approach?
Yeah, I’ve been thinking more about hitting line drives the other way and not worrying about home runs or trying to lift balls. Instead of looking inside, I’m looking more middle of the plate and away, then just reacting to stuff in.
So I think I’m going back to my old approach that I used to have. I’m not sure why I went away from it, but I’m just trying to be consistent and hit line drives.
Since you mentioned trying to hit home runs, does your home ballpark have anything to do with that? [McCormick Field is 297 feet to right field with a 36-foot wall, 320 feet in right-center with the wall reaching 42 feet high.] Like when you first saw the dimensions here… ?
Sometimes, we’ll go on the road and I feel like my approach is really good. Then we come home and I start pulling out a little bit. But that’s just me. I just gotta be smarter and stick with thinking left-center. Then if they come in, I can just react to it.
Where do you like hitting on the road?
Hickory is probably my favorite place to hit, but we don’t go back there, unfortunately.
Do you feel like too much was made about the time you missed last year because of your injury? Was there any concern that you might have suffered some setback in your progression as a player?
I think I actually became a better player because of it. You know, it taught me how to go about my business on and off the field — stretching, eating right, getting enough sleep. Stuff like that. It really taught me to grow up, made me a better player this year.
What part of your game were you worried about picking back up this season?
Honestly, it was my hitting. Just getting at-bats and getting the timing and stuff back. But I’m 300 at-bats in, so I’m back feeling good. Everything’s good now.
Do you think that was the most difficult part of the game to get back?
Yeah — especially with the timing. I just figured out when I should start loading my swing again. That was the biggest thing.
What would you say came back the easiest, if anything?
Probably the outfield. You know, I’ve always been a pretty good outfielder so that came pretty easily.
Is there any part of your game that you’re trying to concentrate on for the rest of the year? Anything you feel you need to work on or have been told to focus on?
I need to work on stealing more bases, so I’m working on that right now. That, and keeping a consistent approach at the plate.
You mentioned how McCormick Field affects your hitting, and the difference between playing here and on the road. What about defensively? Does that right-field wall mess with you at all?
It’s different playing here at home, because in right-center, you have a lot less room to work with and you got the wall right on you. Whereas, left-center’s pretty deep [370 feet] so you can run around out there. But compared to other fields, it’s definitely different.
Is there a MLB player you tried to emulate growing up or whose game you feel kind of resembles yours?
I always say Jacoby Ellsbury [New York Yankees center fielder] is probably my favorite guy to watch.
You guys are 18-8 now in June (as of June 30). You really made a charge toward first place by the end of the season’s first half. You’re in first place right now with a one-game lead, so has the team talked about that? Obviously, the goal is to win, to make the playoffs, but do you feel like maybe it got away from you a little bit in the first half and now there’s a chance to make up for that?
No, we don’t really talk about it. You know, we’re just trying to come every day ready to play. We’re a good team and we know we’re a good team, so we can come out and compete every day with the other teams out here.
Do you have walk-up music?
Yeah, I got one the other day. Eric Church. “Outsiders.”
Is there a story behind that or is it just your favorite song?
I just like the song.
You’re on Twitter (@ddahl21), but haven’t posted in a couple of weeks or so. Is that just losing interest or did it become a distraction – anything like that?
I’ve just been focused on playing and not worrying about stuff like that anymore. I keep up with a lot of people through Twitter, especially a lot of friends back home. I’ll keep up with what they’re doing. But I don’t really have a need to post anything.
I noticed while going through your tweets that you like to watch Scandal and eat at Cook-Out. I’ve actually never been into either one of those. What am I missing out on?
Scandal, man, just keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s a really good show. Something’s always happening.
Cook-Out, we eat there a lot. After the game, it’s really late and there’s not much open, so we just stop by there.
Is there one thing you’d really like readers and fans to know about you? Like… are you secretly a great dancer or have a good singing voice?
I honestly don’t do much. All I do is lay around and watch Netflix, go to the field and play baseball.
*** The Asheville Tourists return to McCormick Field on Friday July 4 for a six-game homestand. There will be post-game fireworks on Friday and Saturday to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.
Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:40 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter.