Springboarding off a couple recent quotes from camp:
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“Don’t go to sleep on Chris Davis.” – Jon Daniels, in a radio interview
Easier said than done, maybe, considering that of the eight Rangers infielders on the 40-man roster, seven are locks to make the team barring injury (Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Andres Blanco, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, Michael Young) and one is a lock not to (Davis).
And that Davis was rumored at different times this winter to be traded in something short of a headline deal (perhaps to the Cubs for catcher Robinson Chirinos, who might have then been flipped to Tampa Bay as part of a package for Matt Garza – the Rays ended up getting Chirinos from the Cubs in the eventual Garza trade).
And that the Rangers are so committed to Moreland that Davis, the club’s best defensive first baseman, has reportedly been fully transitioned back to third base.
Yet the general manager is singling Davis out as a guy to keep an eye on.
He’s still just 24, eight months younger for instance than non-roster invite Chad Tracy, a corner infielder with some possibilities and one year of AAA ball under his belt. Davis has parts of three years in the big leagues.
Where Davis distinguishes himself from, say, Jason Botts is not only in the glove and arm tool, pluses both, but also in the sustained run of big league success he’s had. In 2008, a mere two years after signing with the Rangers out of Navarro Junior College, Davis hit a robust .285/.331/.549 in 317 Texas plate appearances, with 17 big league home runs in half a season (to go along with 23 bombs in the first half between AA Frisco and AAA Oklahoma City). Compare Moreland’s .255/.364/.469 slash in his 173 plate appearances for the Rangers last summer.
Moreland’s six months older than Davis himself.
This is not to suggest that Davis should be the Rangers’ first baseman. Moreland has earned the position, at least as a job to lose. The way the roster is constructed, Davis isn’t really an ideal fit, even on the bench. Young and Napoli provide depth at first base, Young and Blanco at third.
But even if Davis never fulfills all that Ryan Howard promise at the plate, as a player with 70 raw power (conservatively) and the versatility to make plays at two corners and maybe four, he could have a lengthy big league career contributing to good teams. And there’s more to dream on, to not sleep on.
The Rangers have Davis hitting daily in a group in camp with Beltre, Josh Hamilton, and the player who should serve as his supreme inspiration.
Nelson Cruz was older than Chris Davis is now before he made his big league debut. He got to Milwaukee in 2005 but spent most of his time that year in AAA, just as he did in 2006, 2007, and 2008 (1,058 AAA plate appearances, 603 Rangers plate appearances). While Davis has one remaining option, Cruz had exhausted his in 2008 when Texas decided it nonetheless couldn’t carry him on Opening Day (opting for Botts instead), designating Cruz for assignment and succeeding in getting him through league-wide waivers, as a 27-year-old with all the tools but no real big league success.
Cruz, whether or not humbled by the 30-team neglect, was in the midst of his second straight insane Oklahoma City season in 2008 (.342/.429/.695) when Texas purchased his contract in late August, dropping Jason Ellison from the big club. Any subsequent effort to get Cruz to the minor leagues – ever – would entail not only another designation for assignment but also, if he were to slide through waivers again, a certain departure for another organization, as a player outrighted more than once in his career can refuse subsequent outrights and take immediate free agency. The August 2008 chance that Texas was giving Cruz would be his and the club’s one final shot at avoiding divorce.
He hit .330/.421/.609 over those last five weeks with the Rangers. Only one hitter in the entire American League (Shin-Soo Choo) had a higher OPS in that stretch.
The Hanshin Tigers came calling that winter, asking the Rangers if they’d be interested in selling Cruz. They weren’t, obviously, but you have to wonder how that conversation might have gone a year earlier.
Before he settled on an approach at the plate that worked and before he figured out how to adjust to big league pitching in his fourth run at them, Cruz was a 28-year-old, .316/.402/.602 AAA hitter. At the moment, fighting for a chance to make his own fourth run at big league pitchers, Davis is a 24-year-old, .328/.395/.547 AAA hitter, with an option remaining.
Davis has plenty of work to do on the approach and the adjustments, and has a third big league hitting coach in three years who will attempt to unlock all that offensive potential, but I still believe in that guy. With Beltre’s calf injury and the importance of getting Young extensive work at first base and second base in camp, Davis is going to get a good amount of third base starts early on, which is key since big league pitchers tend to work early in games at the start of the exhibition schedule, giving way to jerseys with “87” on the back in the late innings. He’s got an opportunity here to make people reevaluate what he might be.
Don’t forget what Davis was able to do against big league pitching just two years out of junior college, don’t forget how young he still is, and don’t go to sleep on him.
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“It wasn’t fun. It buckled me, actually. It’s a good pitch. I’m glad I’m on his side now. I thought he had good arm action on the slider today. Last year he would kind of slow up a little bit and give it away. I couldn’t tell any difference in the arm speed today.” – Mike Napoli, assessing the slider that Neftali Feliz froze him on down and away for strike three (and in fact had him walking back to the dugout before the umpire’s call) in a Friday intrasquad game at-bat
Everyone else has written about The Pitch, so I figured I might as well pile on.
No, the crippling back-fields pitch didn’t have quite the impact of the Feliz breaking ball that froze A-Rod and ended the Yankees’ season four months ago, and it didn’t cement a spot in the starting rotation for the 22-year-old closer. But given where the Feliz-to-starter audition ranks among the stories early in camp, and the fact that the pitch was fired past (1) a teammate, that is, someone willing to offer wordy praise to reporters afterwards and (2) someone who has faced Feliz the past couple years, the Napoli appraisal was very interesting.
If David Murphy had been the victim of the pitch, his comments would have been worth noting (as they were a week ago when he talked to reporters about the Feliz breaking ball and changeup he stood in against in live BP). If Matt Treanor talked about the progress Feliz was making with his secondary stuff, I want to hear that, too.
But to hear from a player who has hit against Feliz when it counted, and who had developed a book on how to cheat a bit on that breaking ball – suggesting it might have been an issue others in the league were in on – it carr
ies extra weight, no?
Just for fun, Napoli’s five lifetime at-bats against Feliz:
August 7, 2009 (Feliz’s third big league appearance), bottom of eighth:
Pitch 1: fastball (99 mph), called strike
Pitch 2: slider (86), ball (low and away)
Pitch 3: fastball (100), ball
Pitch 4: fastball (100), called strike
Pitch 5: fastball (101), foul
Pitch 6: slider (85), swinging strike three
September 18, 2009, top of sixth:
Pitch 1: slider (77), ball (low and away)
Pitch 2: slider (76), ball (low and away)
Pitch 3: fastball (94), called strike
Pitch 4: fastball (94), ball
Pitch 5: fastball (96), ball four
May 17, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (96), flyout to center
July 22, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (97), called strike
Pitch 2: fastball (96), flyout to center
September 30, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (96), swinging strike
Pitch 2: (after throw to first) fastball (96), swinging strike
Pitch 3: (after throw to first) fastball (94), ball
Pitch 4: slider (79), foul
Pitch 5: (after throw to first) fastball (96), foul
Pitch 2: fastball (95), swinging strike three
Now that you’ve skimmed over that waste of time (though it does illustrate that Napoli isn’t unwilling to take a bunch of pitches . . . and may also be a reminder that the punishment he tends to deliver comes off left-handed pitching), recognize that one pitch doesn’t make much difference, especially in an intrasquad game in February, but a similar one made history for Texas in October, and if Feliz truly is adding consistent location to (and confidence in) his breaking ball, and subtracting a significant tell, and if the changeup is staying down with some deception, and if he proves into mid-March that he can sustain his velocity and mix up his looks a third time through a lineup, then maybe this year’s rotation audition will end the way last spring’s C.J. Wilson trial did, and turn out just as well.
It’s a bunch of if’s, but February isn’t the time of year when a whole lot of if’s go away.