Height 6-2, Weight 190, B/T: L/L, DOB: 7/20/1984
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #8
Danny Dorn has two things working against him in professional baseball: timing and inertia.
Timing. It's an under-appreciated component of success in life and baseball. I sometimes wonder how many potentially quality Major League careers have been wasted for want of an opportunity. It's better now because of the Rule V draft, free agency, and the greater number of teams, but in the old "reserve clause" days prospects were stacked up 3 deep at each position in the minors. Even so, good timing is undoubtedly a determining factor in a successful career.
Maybe Al Pacino's character in Any Given Sunday said it best:
"Because in either game - life or football - the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second."
Timing looms large, especially for fringe prospects. Players who could prove valuable if given the right opportunity and right role. Star players will force an organization to alter their plans, while fringe players have to find a way to fit into the existing plans of the organization. Non-elite prospects are always in need of a window of opportunity.
As for inertia, that, too, plays a significant part in organizational decision making. Picking up on the Kris Benson discussion from the Devin Mesoraco write-up, the initial opinion formed by the baseball establishment about a player and his future is difficult to shake. That works to the advantage of highly drafted players like Kris Benson and to the disadvantage of 32nd round draftees like Danny Dorn. In short, Benson will always get the benefit of the doubt when his performance differs from his draft position, while Dorn will just get the doubt.
If Dorn had been able to build off his stellar 2008 season, then he may have been able to overcome the inertia working against him to take advantage of the opportunity that timing may have afforded him. In 2009, events were unfolding that may have given Dorn a shot, as the Reds suffered through injury and inconsistent performance in the outfield. They were looking for a better outfield option than Darnell McDonald and company. Unfortunately, Dorn started out the season slowly and never performed well enough to be considered.
At this point, it's not difficult to conclude that Dorn's window of opportunity slammed completely shut during the 2009 season. Unfortunately, it can happen just that fast.
Dorn entered the 2009 season coming off the best season of his professional career. In 2008, he was producing at the kind of level of which I always suspected he was capable, lighting up double-A pitching to the tune of .277/.367/.539/.906 with 21 doubles, 21 homers, and a 84/42 K/BB ratio. His overall numbers were better in his first season with the rookie league Billings Mustangs, but given the level of competition it's hard to top his 2008 season.
Unfortunately, he simply couldn't carry that level of performance into the 2009 season. It's not at all surprising, as Dorn has proven to be something of an atrocious early season hitter over the past few seasons. In 2009, he posted a slash line of .207/.250/.293 in April and wasn't much better in May with a .213/.288/.394. Of course, June was a different story as he got white-hot to the tune of .338/.370/.649. Of course, at that point, the damage had been done. He finished up strong with a July line of .291/.381/.418 and an August line of .362/.422/.517. When it was over, his 2009 season tallied up as follows: .275/.337/.457/.793 in 357 ABs with 21 doubles, 14 homeruns, and a 78/30 K/BB ratio.
While the jump from A-ball to double-A is widely considered the most difficult, Dorn struggled much more with the jump to triple-A. His walk rate dropped from 10.9% at double-A to 7.6% at triple-A and his homerun total dropped from 21 to 14 despite receiving 10 more plate appearances at triple-A. In 2008, he posted his lowest percentage of groundballs at 30%, which helps explain his increased homerun rate, as he was getting a bit more loft on the ball.
Dorn's defense is usually discounted, but he does a solid job out in leftfield. In both 2008 and 2009, Dorn grades out as a being a tick above average by the total zone metric. As rated by the Runs/150 stat, he was a +12 in 2008 and a +5 in 2009. So, he's not without skill out there and certainly wouldn't be a liability.
Dorn starts out with a wider than shoulder width stance, which gives him a very stable foundation. He has a quiet and calm pre-pitch approach. When the pitcher is ready to deliver the ball, Dorn takes a small stride, but one that effectively cocks his hips to create potential energy. His front hip rotates inward to allow him to load up during the swing.
His swing is compact and efficient, which allows him to be quick to the ball and handle even the best of fastballs. The shorter swing path to the ball allows him to wait a split second longer and let the ball travel a bit deeper, which enhances his ability to control the strike zone. The longer you can wait on a pitch and the deeper you can let it travel, the more time you have to identify the pitch and decide whether to swing. Ultimately, the most important part of hitting is getting a good pitch to hit.
What makes Dorn a good hitter is that his upper and lower body consistently work in perfect unison, which makes him highly efficient in imparting energy to the baseball. His good body control and the strong tempo to his swing create a strong hitting foundation and prevents him from getting out of balance.
When Dorn does fire his swing, his lower and upper body work well together and remain in sync. He keeps his head down and on the ball as he brings the bat through the hitting zone, getting good extension. On his follow through, he remains in balance and typically keeps both hands on the bat to ensure stability and bat control.
Overall, his tempo, balance, and body control give him an efficient and effective swing, which gives him a good chance to consistently drive the ball with authority. Being able to generate good power without sacrificing control is less common than one might expect, but Dorn is a player who can do just that. Ultimately, there is a great deal lot to like about both the approach at the plate and the mechanics of the swing.
You can find his MLB draft video here.
DRAG ON VALUE
As much as I like Dorn at the plate, there are some issues that work to drag down his overall value.
1. Lack of Athleticism
First, Dorn lacks athleticism. Baseball requires a highly specific skillset, which is why some tremendous athletes struggle to play the game of baseball. It's not just about great tools, but rather translating those tools into baseball specific skills. However, if you lack good tools, then you are still at a disadvantage, even if you are highly skilled at translating those tools into skills.
Dorn has a nice approach at the plate and a very fundamentally sound swing, but he is not a great athlete. His arm strength, footspeed, and power will never open any eyes. Over the years, Dorn has effectively refined his baseball skills, but he is limited by a lack of underlying tools and athleticism.
2. Lack of Positional Value
Second, Dorn's lack of athleticism limits him to the traditionally offense-first positions of leftfield and firstbase. His bat would play much better at a premier defensive position and is a bit fringy at left and first. The lack of defensive flexibility will be a big obstacle going forward, as prospects like Juan Francisco, Chris Heisey, and others will be ahead of him on the depth chart.
3. Platoon Split
Dorn, like many lefties, struggles against southpaws at the professional level. It's not unusual for a left-handed hitter to perform poorly against lefties, as they simply don't see many quality southpaws in the amateur ranks. Given time and experience, many lefties can improve their level of performance. Thus far, Dorn hasn't taken a step forward against lefties, but it's still possible that one is on the horizon. However, until it happens, it's another limiting factor to his game.
At this point, Dorn likely needs a change of scenery to have any real chance at reaching the majors. It's unclear whether the Reds ever really viewed him as a serious prospect, but, at this point, it is safe to say that they do not. He was left unprotected and went undrafted in the Rule 5 draft and recently was not given an invitation to spring training for 2010.
Dorn may ultimately be a casualty of timing, but he strikes me as a player whose bat could be an asset to a team if given a chance. As of now, his best hope may be for a change of scenery, but I'm pleased that he's still in the organization. Now all he needs is an opportunity to show what he can do. A better start to, and more consistency throughout, the 2010 season would go a long ways towards reestablishing his standing in the Reds organization.
For now, he checks in at #17 on the list.