PASCO, Wash. — The Padres made a pair of high school pitchers a key focus of their 2016 draft, giving Reggie Lawson and Mason Thompson – high-profile righties from baseball hotbeds of Texas and Southern California – well over-slot deals.
Lefty Dan Dallas, whose career had drawn less attention in the remote baseball outpost of Buffalo, New York, was more of an afterthought when the club took a chance on him in the seventh round.
He, like the other high school picks, received limited exposure in 2016, and then missed much of the 2017 season with shoulder and back issues. Once he finally got back on the field for 10 innings at the end of the year, he racked up strikeouts, but also walked more than five hitters per nine innings and yielded a 9.00 ERA.
Dallas came back to Peoria in 2018 bigger, stronger, and healthy. Now 20, he worked through extended spring training as the club focused him on working as a reliever.
He hit the ground running in the Northwest League once Tri-City got underway, giving up just one run in June while striking out 17 in 10.2 innings. While he’s been hit a bit more in the second half of the season, he’s struck out 44% of the batters he’s faced on the year, relying on a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a big curve and an emerging change-up that has become a weapon in the last year.
We caught up with Dallas before a recent game.
MadFriars: How are you feeling about the season so far?
Dan Dallas: I’m feeling really good. I had a pretty good extended, so leading into this season, I felt pretty confident. I think going out there with confidence and attacking the strike zone is the biggest thing. If I can stick with that, I’ll have a pretty successful season. I’m feeling really good, I just want to keep it going.
After you missed so much time last year, have there been any concerns about the injuries that sidelined you?
Dan Dallas: Everything feels great. I haven’t felt a tweak or anything all season, so hopefully, I’ll keep that up.
Is the new fast tempo approach something you started on your own or was there someone encouraging you to do it from the coaching staff?
Dan Dallas: It really came from Pete Zamora, my pitching coach last year. He always said the definition of pitching is messing up the hitter’s timing. I kind of took it upon myself to get on the hitters as quick as I could and mess with their timing. If it frustrates them a little bit, that’s a step ahead and I can just attack and get ahead soon and finish them later. It’s just a little thing I tried to implement and it’s been working, so I’m just going to keep going.
It seems like there are two different pieces in how you’re dealing with tempo. You’re really quick between getting the ball back and throwing, but also have a quick stab-step delivery as well. Did it take a while to get the feel on that mechanically?
Dan Dallas: Yeah, I tried it out early on, where I wanted to get over my back leg as quickly as I could so I could gather and get my arm out in front. It just brought it upon itself. If felt good when I first did it, and I’d been struggling for a bit, so if it keeps working, I might as well keep going with it.
Did you go home this winter, or stay at the complex to keep working?
Dan Dallas: I was out at the complex for about five or six weeks, and then home for the rest. I went out for the strength camp and agility camp and all that and it was good to be out there with the guys. Then I came home and finished up and got ready for spring training.
Did you go back to the same development program you’d had in Buffalo?
Dan Dallas: Yeah, Full Circuit Athletics. I went back there and had a good offseason. It was all good coming into the season.
As somebody who’s grown and has a very different body than when you signed, have there been elements where you’ve had to feel through and figure out, at this size, this works better for me and this doesn’t?
Dan Dallas: Yeah. I think my first year, I put a lot of weight on quick, where it wasn’t necessarily great weight. It was more eating. Now I take the weight room really seriously and take pride in my eating. I’m starting to put itself together. I’m starting to get into my body and build the frame I want. I’ve still got room for improvement, but I like the direction it’s going.
You threw a change-up that was the best one I’ve seen out of your hand. Has that been a new development for you?
Dan Dallas: It’s a thing that’s just taken off in the last year. I was mostly fastball/curveball guy, but the changeup’s been feeling really good. I like to throw it off my fastball. If I can keep it in the same arm slot, same arm speed, same delivery, it’s one of the most deadly pitches in baseball. I like to throw it a lot and keep working with it.
There’s so much depth of lefties with great changeups in the organization, it’s fun to look at from the outside. Is there anyone you’ve traded notes with or worked with on developing that pitch?
Dan Dallas: Not really. I pick brains a lot. I talked to [Joey] Lucchesi, but he’s kind of different with that churve. We were talking when he was down rehabbing with us. But as far as grips and things like that, I just worked on a bunch of different things and I finally found one that’s comfortable and I can throw off my fastball arm slot and throw it as hard as I can and get some movement with it.
Are you using a Vulcan grip?
Dan Dallas: More of a circle, but I spread the two fingers a bit, so it’s a little mixture of both.
This roster has a really different feel than the group you were with in the desert last summer. What do you see your role with this group of players?
Dan Dallas: I’m kind of a long man right now. I’ll come in in different situations if we need a shutdown inning. They’ll always ask if I’m ready to go. I’ll do any role they ask of me. Longman role, I can go two-plus innings, but whatever role they ask me, I’ll do it. I’m not a huge velocity guy, so I don’t think I’ll be a late-inning guy.
Between Pete Zamora last year and Gorm Heimueller as a roving instructor, you’ve had a chance to work with a few fellow lefties. Does that make a difference for you?
Dan Dallas: I think so. Gorm and I, I think, have a lot in common. We’re not really softer-throwing lefties, but we’re not going to blow it by anyone and we’ve got to rely on throwing strikes and commanding the offspeed. I think in the mindset aspect of things, he and I really connect on things and he’s really helpful. When you’re in a slump, he can tell you some queues that will really get you out of it. As far as Zamora and those guys, he’s one of the better pitching coaches I’ve had. He was always that guy who was very laid back, but when it came down to doing business, or there was something you needed to do, he was right there.
How do you try to integrate the stuff that Jason Amorosa and Seiichiro Nakagaki bring into how you prepare on a daily basis?
Dan Dallas: Amo, he’s great. The mental side of the game is huge. It takes a special player to implement everything he brings, so I think you’ve got to pick and choose what exactly works for you. Just staying within yourself, staying composed through the good and bad, and not getting too high or low is what I take from him.
As far as Nak goes, that guy’s unreal. The stuff he brings into the game – you ask any pitcher in the organization who works with him – it’s a bunch of little things that you don’t think about, but it makes so much sense. As far as back leg drive, extension, I’ve worked with him all last year, all of extended, it’s been good.
I know that they’re measuring extension on pitches as part of Trackman data. Did you get a chance to see if you’re getting more?
Dan Dallas: They measured. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I feel like I’m getting out there and not cutting myself off as much. Everything feels better. I’m better than in high school, but I feel like I’m back to like in high school when everything feels more natural.
After last year was such a lost season, what goals did you set for yourself once you broke to get up here and how are you feeling against them.
Dan Dallas: The first one was being competitive – not being worried or scared. Whoever’s in that box, give ‘em your best, and you can’t really control what happens after that. The next was just have fun with it. That’s my biggest goal. If you worry about the little things too much or get on yourself too much, then the season gets really long. Last year with injury and not having much success, it was kinda frustrating. I think with confidence the rest will take care of itself.