Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.) baseball coach Brian Breeze was prepping his team for its season-opener against Tuscaloosa County (Northport, Ala.) this February when he noticed the field was a little slick.
So rather than risk getting any of his players hurt during pre-game warm-ups, Breeze decided to have the Eagles hit indoors in the cage. Shortly after the players began taking their cuts, one of the coaches of the freshman team came running over to Breeze.
“He asked me, ‘Coach, do you want me to get all of these dads away from the cage?’” recalled Breeze with a laugh.
But those roughly 40 people gathered around the cage weren’t eager fathers trying to monitor their kid's batting stances. They were Major League Baseball scouts taking in the swing of Oak Mountain’s star senior center fielder, David Dahl, a potential first-round pick this June.
The Oak Mountain freshman coach might not have been used to the attention, but Dahl certainly is. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has had scouts watching his every move for nearly a year now. And some have even made it a habit to go to Dahl’s regular BP sessions with his father, Mike.
“It’s been a lot more pressure-packed lately,” said his father of the BP. “It’s more nerve-wracking for me than for him.”
All the intrigue is justified. Rated the No. 16 overall draft prospect by ESPN Insider senior baseball analyst Keith Law and No. 2 high school outfielder by ESPNHS, Dahl has one of the smoothest swings in the country.
It’s something he’s honed since he was 7 while working in the cage, whether hitting off a tee, doing soft toss or taking live batting practice with his dad throwing.
“He stays balanced throughout his swing,” said Breeze. “It’s always the same and fluid. That’s why he’s such a tough out.”
“I just try to keep my hands inside the ball and not try to do too much,” added Dahl.
Dahl brings plenty of other skills to the table as well. He’s got a cannon for an arm (he’s been clocked at 95 mph throwing from the outfield), incredible range in center and is a terror on the basepaths. His total package of skills is similar to that of his favorite player, Boston Red Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury.
Dahl ran an official 60-yard dash time of 6.49 seconds at the Perfect Game National Showcase last June. By comparison, the average major leaguer runs the 60 in around 6.8 seconds.
He’s so fast that as of this writing he’s only been thrown out five times trying to steal in his career, none at second base. And he’s gotten even faster while training with Willie Smith, who won an Olympic gold medal on the U.S. 4x400 relay in 1984.
“This kid has a great arm and bat and defensively he’s a superstar,” said Breeze. “And he can run like that? People are surprised by it.”
Dahl hit .449 as a junior with 18 doubles, three triples, two homers and 29 RBIs and stole 16 bases in 18 attempts, though his power and speed numbers could have been higher were he not just getting over a stress fracture in his back.
He suffered the injury while squatting 425 pounds during his sophomore year and re-injured it by coming back too soon. Dahl batted .397 in 21 games that year and hit just one homer with 16 RBIs while dealing with considerable pain.
Finally, after the season was over, Dahl was told by doctors to avoid any physical activity for six months so he could let the fracture heal properly.
“That was really frustrating because all my friends were playing summer baseball and I couldn’t do anything,” he said.
Dahl was cleared to play a month prior to his junior season. And while he enjoyed a bounce-back campaign, he was beset by another ailment while trying out for the USA Baseball 18U National Team last summer.
Early in the tryouts, Dahl dealt with pounding headaches and couldn’t eat or drink. The diagnosis was mono, meaning Dahl would have to miss another five weeks of action and an opportunity to play for Team USA.
Or so he thought.
After playing in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego last August, Dahl and his family were about to board a plane home to Birmingham when his father received a call from Team USA saying they’d like Dahl to try out for one of the final roster spots.
Dahl ended up making the team and drove in 11 runs in 15 games to help the squad earn the gold medal at the Pan Am Championships in Colombia. And once Team USA recorded the final out, there was Dahl charging in from the outfield to get to the top of the dog pile.
“It was the best feeling ever,” said Dahl. “It was really satisfying with all I’ve battled through.”
“My wife and I went for the last week, and it was our proudest moment watching him,” added his father.
Now Dahl is just focusing on enjoying his senior season, even with all the distractions of the draft swirling around him and with the numerous autograph requests that get sent to the school and his house. Dahl is able to stay so even-keeled because he knows that no matter where he gets drafted, he has a nice fallback option in a scholarship to Auburn.
“I’m just trying to have fun this year and that stuff will work out in the end,” said Dahl. “I’m not stressing out about it.”
No matter how many “dads” are watching him take BP.
School: Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
Position: Center fielder
TV Show: “SportsCenter”
Athlete: Jacoby Ellsbury
School Subject: Math