Name: Christopher M. Rahl
Draft: 5th Round, 2005
Position: Center Fielder
Weight: 185 lbs
History: Take a look at the numbers Chris Rahl posted in his sophomore season at William and Mary. Numbers like those will get a player noticed in a hurry, even if he doesn't attend a big-name university.
The Arizona Diamondbacks took enough notice to snare Rahl in the 5th round of the 2005 draft, even though Rahl put up more realistic numbers his junior year. Rahl then struggled in his professional debut, but put together a monster 2006 season in which he led the California League in total bases, hits, and extra base hits while representing the runner-up in doubles and batting average.
In 2007, Rahl advanced from a fantastic hitter's ballpark and league to the notoriously difficult Southern League. Understandably, he struggled at times.
"I knew coming in it was going to be a big step for me," confided Rahl. "A lot of the coaches told us that going into Double-A would be the most difficult step for us; to adjust to the pitching. Going into it, I knew it was going to be kind of a grind of a season. It was kind of a roller coaster season for me: good week and then bad week."
Rahl did end the year on a high note, collecting eight hits in his final 11 at bats.
"I think coming down the stretch, I felt more comfortable than I did going into the season," continued Rahl. "So I think in that respect, it wasn't that big of a letdown. It's just part of the process you have to go through to get to the next level."
Although the final results weren't terribly impressive, the Diamondbacks liked Rahl's process enough to invite him to big league camp this spring.
"I was kind of following all the trades that we made in the offseason, and didn't know whether I had a chance to do it or not, so I just wanted to make sure that I was prepared physically if I was invited. That way I wouldn't be caught off-guard throwing-wise and hitting-wise."
Rahl will report of February 20th with the rest of the full squad. We normally wouldn't think that he would have a shot at making the club, but Rahl has shown the ability to dominate in bursts. If he looks like the Rahl of 2004 or 2006 next week, the Diamondbacks might consider him for the role of fifth outfielder. Most likely, Rahl will need to prove himself at Triple-A this season before earning a callup.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
Batting and Power: Rahl displays a beautiful right-handed swing. He got into trouble this year when he over-analyzed instead of just reacting.
"Coming into a higher level, I probably put undue pressure on myself," Rahl surmised.
At lower levels, Rahl could sit on the fastball, as few pitchers in Single-A can consistently throw their secondary pitches for strikes. He explained that this wasn't the case in the Southern League.
"There's always a couple of guys that have command over a couple of different good pitches," Rahl said of amateur and low-pro levels. "But it seemed like last year, guys could throw two or three really good pitches in any count and throw it for strikes. I think that makes a big difference."
Rahl profiles as a line-drive hitter. His small frame doesn't allow the generation of truly plus-power. For the most part, his past home run totals have been tallied either with an aluminum bat or in a bandbox. Rahl needs to cut down on his strikeouts and increase his walk totals by improving his pitch recognition and decision-making process at the plate.
Base Running and Speed: Rahl swiped an unbelievable 42 bases in 46 tries during that mammoth 2004 season. The stolen base hasn't been a primary weapon for him since, although he's certainly fast enough and smart enough to pilfer bases here and there. He'll also take an extra base on a gapper with good instincts and an ability to read the opposing outfielders.
Defense: Rahl primarily played second base in high school, and both second base and outfield in college, but was drafted as a right fielder, and has played more centerfield than anywhere else with the Diamondbacks.
"I think the most difficult position in the outfield has always been left for some reason," revealed Rahl. "I think it's just the way the ball comes off the bat. Definitely, I would say that I'm most comfortable in center, but I'm getting more comfortable in all three spots."
Brett Butler provides part of the reason he has been able to get more acclimated to the outfield pastures. Brett served as Rahl's manager both at Lancaster and at Mobile, and owns the third highest fielding percentage all time among outfielders.
"The past couple of years, it's been really good for me to play under Brett, pick his brain, and learn what made him such a great outfielder," said Rahl.
Rahl projects to have both solid range and a solid arm in the outfield. There are concerns that he is a 'tweener, however, who doesn't have the bat to be a corner outfielder nor the speed to play center.
Major League Clone: Jay Payton
Prediction: Rahl will break into the major leagues as a reserve outfielder. That might prove difficult in Arizona, as each of the club's three primary outfielders is right-handed, like Rahl. On the other hand, Rahl has shown a good ability to take advantage of hitter's parks, and Chase Field certainly qualifies as such. There is a possibility that Rahl's major league debut could come during one of his hot streaks - much like ex-teammate Mark Reynolds' debut last season - and propel him into a starting role.
ETA: The Diamondbacks can afford to be patient with Rahl, as 2008 will represent only his fourth minor league season. His major league debut may not occur until late 2009. Ultimately, that scenario would probably aid his development the most.
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