Sept. 19, 1998 was a historic day for the Baltimore Orioles, even if nobody knew it at the time. That night, Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,632nd consecutive game, going 0-for-4 against the Yankees at Camden Yards.
We now know, of course, that it was the final day of The Streak. Cal took himself out of the lineup the next day, putting a bow on one of the most unforgettable achievements in the history of sports.
It wasn’t the only event on Sept. 19, 1998 that could prove extremely significant to the Orioles. On that same day, in Valdosta, Ga., a kid named Dayton Lane Hall was born.
Twenty-three years later, DL Hall is one of the top 100 prospects in baseball, a left-handed flamethrower with sky-high potential and ace-like stuff who could soon headline a young, homegrown O’s rotation.
“Ultra-competitive, athletic southpaws with this kind of stuff are very rare,” raved FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who ranked Hall the Birds’ third-best prospect. “Here’s the list of lefty big league starters who throw harder than Hall, who averaged 94.9 mph on his fastball in 2019: Jesús Luzardo, Blake Snell. That’s it.”
<insert Homer Simpson drooling gif>
And it’s not just the fastball that makes Hall a heralded prospect. He has a standout repertoire of pitches that has kept hitters off-balance at every level. Per MLB Pipeline, where he’s the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect and No. 70 in baseball, “His changeup can be a true out pitch, thrown in the low-80s with good fade. Hall has worked hard to separate his curve and slider and has defined the shape and speed of each pitch consistently now, with the curve flashing plus with excellent spin and bite.”
Added The Athletic’s Keith Law: “Hall is a great athlete who’ll show three above-average to plus pitches, pitching at 93-96 with a very tight, two-plane curveball and low-80s changeup; the curveball has helped him destroy left-handed batters.” Law is the high man on Hall, ranking him behind only Adley Rutschman among O’s prospects and No. 49 overall in MLB.
It was something of a coup that the Orioles landed Hall to begin with. As a standout at Valdosta High School — where Hall posted a 1.36 ERA and racked up 105 strikeouts in 51.1 innings his senior year — he was projected as a top 10-15 prospect in the 2017 draft, but fell to the Orioles with the No. 21 overall pick. The Birds weren’t even on his radar at the time; his agent had told him of five teams that were potential landing spots, none of which were Baltimore. But it was a comfortable fit for both player and club. Then-GM Dan Duquette inked Hall to a $3 million signing bonus, officially adding a huge-upside, power lefty to bolster the Orioles’ flagging farm system.
Hall threw 10 innings at rookie ball later that year, then got his first full-season professional experience in 2018. It went extremely well. Hall appeared in 22 games (20 starts) for Low-A Delmarva, compiling a tidy 2.10 ERA while averaging better than a strikeout per inning. The O’s handled him carefully; only once in his first 13 appearances did he pitch more than five innings or throw more than 80 pitches.
Once the Orioles set him loose, Hall especially thrived. In his final nine outings that year, Hall worked five or more innings in seven of them and didn’t allow more than one earned run in any. He also picked up at least four strikeouts in each game, including a career-high 10 against the West Virginia Power on July 16. His ERA during that nine-game stretch: 0.99.
Hall’s strikeout prowess improved as he moved up the ladder to then-High-A Frederick in 2019. He notched 16 more strikeouts that season (116 total) despite facing 45 fewer batters than the year before, posting an eye-popping 12.9 K/9. He did an outstanding job of keeping batters in the ballpark, too, allowing only three home runs in 80.2 innings. His hit rate, too, was the best of his young pro career, at 5.9 hits per nine.
All across the board, Hall has put up incredible minor league numbers. Well, almost all across the board, until you look at the walks column.
Control has been Hall’s biggest bugaboo thus far. He averaged six walks per nine innings in 2019, issuing at least one free pass in each of his 19 outings. Observers have cited mechanical issues as the main reason. “Because Hall’s release is inconsistent, not only did his walk rate regress in 2019, but the quality of his secondary stuff was also less consistent than it was during his very dominant mid-summer stretch in 2018,” Longenhagen wrote. Law offered, “His delivery is fine, but he rushes through it and tries to overpower guys rather than using his swing-and-miss stuff as is, which really should improve with repetitions and maturity.”
Hall worked with Orioles director of pitching Chris Holt and Double-A Bowie pitching coach Justin Ramsey at the Bowie alternate site last year to smooth out his mechanics. “The landing spot of my front foot was causing me to throw across my body, causing me to miss arm side at times. Then I’d overcorrect and yank balls to the glove side,” Hall said in an interview with FanGraphs’ David Laurila earlier this year. “That’s the main thing I’ve been working on as far as delivery goes, kind of staying over my whole foot instead of my toe.”
Ramsey noted that Hall’s high walk totals were part of the development process. To help Hall refine his secondary pitches, the Orioles instructed him to throw them in situations that might ordinarily call for a fastball. “DL has some of that going on, working on things and throwing pitches he might not normally,” Ramsey told MASN’s Steve Melewski. “The walks were a little higher but there is growth going on while that’s happening. It’s all part of the process.”
The Orioles, and most prospect pundits, seem confident that Hall’s command issues are something that can be smoothed out with more experience. “Hall has at least No. 2 starter stuff, and I’m betting on the athleticism and delivery to get him to average control, although that’s not going to improve until we get minor league games,” wrote Law. Longenhagen opined that Hall “has All-Star upside if he starts locating better, which may not come until after he has a couple big league seasons under his belt.” He suggested Hall might initially fit best in a multi-inning relief role to “provide him with enough in-game reps to try to hone starter’s control.”
Hall was ticketed to begin 2020 for the Double-A Bowie Baysox before the minor league season was canceled, and that’s almost certainly where he’ll start 2021. It’s a good bet that he’ll be on the mound for the Baysox season opener next Tuesday at Altoona. Given Mike Elias’ preference for giving prospects ample experience at each level, Hall could stick with Bowie for most or all of the season, especially given his need to harness his control. But look for him to arrive in the majors by 2022. And then things get really fun.