Right around this time a year ago, what was supposed to be David Dahl's first full season in the Minors came to a screeching halt. After playing in only 10 games for Class A Asheville -- he missed a big chunk of that April for disciplinary reasons -- the outfielder, who had just turned 19 on April 1, tore his right hamstring. He wouldn't return to the field for the Tourists until this April.
"It's been night and day ever since," Dahl said about his return.
The description, perhaps, couldn't be more apt. What was once the darkest time of Dahl's youngest career is being followed 12 months later by a reminder why so many think he has such a bright future in the Rockies system.
Colorado's No. 3 prospect homered twice and drove in three Monday afternoon to lead the Tourists to a 5-1 win over Lakewood at Asheville's McCormick Field. The long balls were Dahl's seventh and eighth on the season, placing behind only teammate and No. 5 Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon (nine) in that category in the South Atlantic League. No other hitter in the circuit has more than five.
Dahl, who finished 2-for-4, struck out on three pitches -- each time swinging -- in both of his first two at-bats against BlueClaws right-handed starter Mark Leiter. But with a runner on second in the fifth inning, the left-handed slugger finally connected on a 3-1 fastball and sent it over the fence in right. Two innings later, he connected on a first-pitch heater -- this one from right-handed reliever Shane Martin -- and pulled that one out to right, too.
"I was trying to do my best to keep those first couple at-bats in the past," Dahl said. "I'm always looking for something middle-in when I get up there. I'm not trying to hit a homer every time, but if I get my pitch and can put a good swing on it, I'll always be happy."
Monday marked Dahl's second two-homer game with his first coming in his last game of the year on Sept. 6, 2012, with Rookie-level Grand Junction.
That's a span of about 20 months between two-homer games, but he's played in just 37 games, which allows a lot of time for reflection.
"It was really frustrating to go through missing all that time," Dahl said. "But I learned a lot, and thankfully, it happened at a young age, so hopefully it's all stuff I can carry with me throughout my career. ... How to go about your business, stretching, eating healthy, working out, staying strong so you don't get hurt -- that's all stuff I take more seriously now."
Through 28 games this season, the 6-foot-2 center fielder owns a .276/.317/.552 slash line with eight homers, one triple, six doubles, 16 RBIs and nine steals.
Those numbers, especially on the power and speed sides, look good for MLB.com's No. 66 overall prospect, and they fall in line with the type of player who received 60 grades for his hit, power and run tools from MLB.com. But even he admits there could be even better performances to come. After not playing in a meaningful Minor League game since May 7, 2013, Dahl believed his swing was "rusty" in the first few weeks of the Sally League calendar and that it'll come around soon -- a scary prospect for opposing pitchers.
"It's just getting back the feel of being out there," he said. "A big part of it, too, is being able to pick up changeups and other off-speed stuff. That takes a while to come back. I've had some games where I see it well and others where I don't.
"It's just a matter of getting the reps in, playing everyday for an extended period of time and going from there. Soon, it'll all be settled in."
Tourists right-handed starter Antonio Senzatela allowed one run on five hits in seven innings to take the win. The game came one day after Asheville and Lakewood combined for 25 runs, 37 hits and seven home runs.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.