Expectations were high for DL (Dayton Lane) Hall when the Orioles made him the 21st overall selection in the 2017 draft. The 6’ 2” southpaw out of Valdesta High School in Georgia got nice reviews from the scouting publications and showed all the qualities of a solid first round arm. Mid 90’s fastball, repeatable and compact delivery, advanced curve ball, and nice frame are phrases that were tossed around on draft day. The O’s appeared to get a nice player in the back half of the first round.
We then got a reminder of just how tough professional baseball is. In five 2017 appearances totaling 10.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League, his ERA was 6.97. He struck out 12 but struggled with his command and walked 10. The 18-year-old experienced some growing pains in his first taste of professional ball.
Those struggles did not impact scouts’ opinion of him heading into 2018. He entered the season as the Orioles’ #5 on MLB.com’s Prospect Watch. The season he proceeded to put together was fantastic. Making all 22 of his appearances with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds, he finished with an ERA of 2.10, a WHIP of 1.17, and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The sole complaint would be about his command. He came out of high school with the reputation of having great control, especially of his fastball. But he walked four batters per nine innings this season.
Hall used three pitches to achieve these results. His fastball was recognized as a great pitch in high school and it continues to be his best offering. It sits in the 92-94 MPH range and sometimes touches 95. MLB.com grades it as a 60 on the 20-80 scale. His curveball was considered to be one of the best breaking pitches among prep pitchers in his 2017 class. It comes to home plate with a great spin rate, resulting in late and violent bite. It is a plus pitch for him and scouts say that it will translate very well to the major league level. Hall’s third pitch, a changeup, is a work in progress. But scouts project it to be average or above-average at the major league level.
Hall’s season started slowly because he had his tonsils removed just before spring training began. His innings were monitored closely; he tossed three in his first start and didn’t complete five innings until May 13. He pitched six innings only twice this season, in consecutive starts in July. As Hall started pitching more innings per game, he initially struggled. After allowing five runs in 4.2 innings on June 2, his ERA sat at 4.28. But in his final 13 starts after that, he did not allow more than one run in an outing. He strung together four straight scoreless outings from June 25 to July 11.
Getting stronger down the stretch should be taken as a very good sign. But some scouts said that he was no longer being challenged by inferior competition in the South Atlantic League. The Orioles made the decision to allow him to complete his first full professional season at Delmarva. Even though he was so dominant, he was nearly three years younger than the average player in that league. He will certainly move up to the High A Carolina League in 2019.
MLB.com’s postseason prospect rankings reflect the strong season that Hall put together. He is now the #3 prospect in the Orioles system and the top pitcher. That is impressive considering the fire sale trades and 2018 draft injected the farm with talent. Hall rising to the top of the list speaks to his raw talent and the results he achieved.
The consensus among scouts is that Hall projects as a middle of the rotation starter in the major leagues. His three pitches, clean and repeatable delivery, and control are cited by scouts when assessing his future. He seems to be more polished than is to be expected from a 20-year-old who finished his first full season of professional baseball. It is conceivable that that polish leads to a higher floor than the average first-rounder. Scott Kazmir has been floated as a comparison.
With a player as young as Hall, it is impossible to project when he’ll be in Baltimore. After all, he has only 104.2 professional innings under his belt. MLB.com’s Prospect Watch lists his ETA as 2021. If he dominates at Frederick in 2019 and moves up to Bowie in 2020, a jump to the majors from there is a possibility. But will the Orioles be competitive and need Hall’s talent in 2020? Doubtful. It is in their best interest to let Hall develop properly and not rush him. He’s the most exciting arm in the system, but he is a few years away from Baltimore.