Hello Motl: Becoming the Canaries Everyday Centerfielder
Photo Credits: Chad Phillips Photography (1), The Northern Battery (2,3)
By: Ari Ross
On April 19, 2015, Dan Motl was hit in the face by a fastball. Motl had suffered two previous injuries at Minnesota, but nothing like this.
“I had a lot of injuries in college, but that was definitely the most painful and kind of shook me up the most for sure,” Motl said, “Just cause it's tough to come back and play after that.”
Motl squared to bunt as he led off the bottom of the first inning against Penn State on that April day, but instead of laying down the bunt, the 86-mph fastball smacked him in the face.
17 days later though, Motl was back playing baseball for the Golden Gophers.
“I wanted to be back on the field because that was a big year for us and we were doing well at the time, and I was doing well at the time, so I just didn't want to call it quits.” Motl said, “I wanted to try and play the last two, three series of the year."
Motl finished his junior season at Minnesota hitting .291 with nine doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI. He followed that up with a senior season in which he was named Second Team All-Big Ten and hit .336 with 19 doubles, three triples, three home runs and 31 RBI.
Yet, 40 rounds went by in the 2016 MLB Draft without the outfielder hearing his name.
“Everyone's journey is different right,” Motl said, “So, you can't complain. You just have to deal with what…comes to you, and what adversity hits you and just take it one day at a time."
Fast-forward a year and a half, and Dan Motl is the everyday centerfielder for the Sioux Falls Canaries and right in the thick of the American Association's Rookie of the Year race.
A Chicago White Sox scout passed along Motl’s name to Ben Moore, and the rest is history.
“I contacted Dan and told him I wanted him to come play centerfield for us, and that if he won the job he was going to be our everyday centerfielder,” Mike Meyer said, “And he was on board. We brought him in, and he's been fantastic for us."
Fully healthy after a summer off, Motl has locked down the starting centerfielder role for the Birds, hitting .265/.362/.361 with nine doubles, seven triples, 36 RBI and 28 stolen bases.
Motl’s seven triples lead the American Association, while his 28 stolen bases in 31 attempts are third in the league.
But Motl didn’t start from day one for the Birds in centerfield, rather it took him some time to adjust to the American Association.
“Dan looked a little overmatched at the plate in some of his spring training at-bats and we needed him to show us that he wasn't going to be overmatched,” Meyer said.
“My timing was way off, there's no doubt about it,” Motl said, “Everyone could see it.”
Motl hadn’t seen live pitching in over a year and it was tough for him to get back into the swing of things at the plate, especially facing guys who are throwing 90+ mph as starters and have Double-A and Triple-A experience.
But, “in his last couple of days of spring training he started to get into a little bit better rhythm, had some better at-bats,” Meyer said, “And we felt like he was one of those guys that we needed to keep around to see how he progressed as a hitter, and it's worked out for us."
The Canaries have four solid outfielders in Motl, Ty Morrison, Jabari Henry and Burt Reynolds. And up until Henry’s injury, Motl was slated as the Birds’ fourth outfielder, but as his hitting progressed, it was Motl’s fielding that kept him in the lineup.
“It was pretty clear right away that this guy takes away so many runs in centerfield because he gets to everything,” Meyer said.
“Having a guy like that patrolling centerfield is a big confidence booster for your pitching staff and he's been so great defensively for us out there,” Meyer said, “It was pretty clear that…if he could hit .240 for us, he's going to be in the lineup every day just because he's that good defensively.”
Motl hasn’t just hit .240 for the Canaries, he’s been one of the Birds’ better hitters, hitting .265. And has also been one of the best, if not the best, centerfielder in the league. In the center, Motl has a 1.000 fielding percentage, 174 put-outs and five assists in 591.0 innings in center.
“That's [defense] something I worked really hard on,” Motl said, “A lot of people are thinking it really comes naturally and it does to some point, but it's something I've worked really hard on.
Sioux Falls has been an ideal start for Motl’s professional career, just a few hours away from his hometown of Burnsville, Minnesota. But the way he’s playing, the question becomes, will Motl be back in Sioux Falls next season?
“We've got a great group of guys and got a great host family, great setup, great people here within the organization,” Motl said, “And I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, to be honest, this is a great spot."
“You know obviously, selfish reasons, I'd love to have him playing centerfield for us every day next year,” Meyer said, “But honestly, I don't think he will.” “He's that level of talent, you know, strong kid can really run, he's got a good arm, he's a tremendous outfielder,” Meyer said.
A lot depends on whether Motl can continue to hit as he moves up the ladder, but his defense and speed should all translate to the upper-levels.
“I think if he can become that constant professional, I think the sky's the limit for Dan,” Meyer said, “I think that he could play in the big leagues and I think he could be a really solid fourth outfielder in the big leagues for a long time.”
“Hopefully sometime within the next couple of years, I get a chance to get into affiliated ball and pretty much play as long as I can,” Motl said, “That's the goal."