Any baseball fan who follows prospects knows will be highs and lows. Young players will struggle when promoted to a new level, or once their opponents find tendencies they can exploit. However, Brandon Magee found that Houston Astros prospect J.D. Davis has had a tale of two months that has been quite unusual when it comes to the ups and downs of a prospect’s season.
J.D. Davis was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Houston Astros. The third baseman has quickly climbed through the farm system, starting this season with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks of the Texas League. However, April was not kind to the third baseman and a demotion certainly seemed an option to all. Except J.D., as he changed perceptions quickly with a month for the ages.
After three seasons with Cal State-Fullerton, Davis joined the Tri-City ValleyCats of the New York-Penn League immediately after signing with the Astros in 2014. Davis showed no difficulties with the adjustment to wooden bats, hitting .279/.382/.495 with 13 extra-base hits in his first 30 professional games. The quick start earned him a trip to Iowa, where he batted .303/.363/.516 with the Quad Cities River Bandits in the Midwest League. Overall, Davis slugged 16 doubles and 13 home runs in a mere 266 at-bats during his first season.
His fast professional start earned J.D. a trip back to California for his first full season, joining the California League’s Lancaster JetHawks. The slugger certainly enjoyed the desert winds of the Hangar, slugging 28 doubles, 3 triples, and 26 bombs while putting up a batting line of .289/.370/.520 in 120 games. While Davis’s season was clearly fantastic, there were a couple of reasons for concern. Davis whiffed 157 times in 2015 (28.4% of his plate appearances) and only walked 54 times (9.8%). The slugger also grounded into a dozen double plays.
Still, the third baseman earned a trip to the Texas League to begin the 2016 season. However, his first 19 games in AA were rough. From the start of the season through May 1, Davis batted only .162/.293/.206 with three doubles as his only extra-base hits. While the slugger did show some growth in his patience, with 13 walks in his first 82 plate appearances, J.D. continued to show troubling strikeout rates with 22 whiffs. Davis went hitless in eleven of his first 19 games in Texas, with a 5-for-11 series against the Springfield Cardinals in mid-April bolstering his otherwise disappointing numbers.
The beginning of his revival began with a third inning double against the Frisco Rough Riders on May 2, his only base hit in five appearances. Two days later, Davis had his first multi-extra-base-hit game of the season, slugging his first home run of the season in a 3-for-4 effort against the Midland RockHounds. He would duplicate the effort two games later against the San Antonio Missions. While he wasn’t yet scorching hot, mixing hitless games in between his three hit efforts, the beast was starting to awaken.
On May 13, Davis had three hits in six at-bats against Frisco in a doubleheader. It would be the first two games of what has become a 12-game hitting streak. The highlight of the streak came on May 19. Davis started his day with a single in the second inning, and followed that up with a home run to left field in the fourth. Davis ground out in the sixth, but came back with his second dinger of the day (this time to left) in the eighth. With the Hooks batting around in the eighth inning, Davis had another at-bat in the ninth. Davis didn’t waste the opportunity, knocking another bomb to right, his third of the day.
During his current 12-game hit streak, Davis is slashing an impressive .396/.407/.830 with five doubles, six home runs, and six multi-hit games. Given his powerful hitting, it is easy to forgive him for his lack of walks (only one) and his increasing strikeout numbers (14). Over the full 19-game period that started on May 2, J.D. is batting .363/.378/.775 with nine doubles and eight home runs – six more extra-base hits than he had total hits in April.
But, which streak better represents Mr. Davis? Over the later streak, he has put up a BABIP of .389. That number is likely unsustainably high over an entire season. However, his BABIP of .234 during the first half of the season was too low for a player of his stature. Perhaps, despite the manner of arrival, his overall numbers of .263/.327/.500 with a .308 BABIP are the numbers most representative of the third baseman.
The next step, however, may be difficult to make immediately. Both third basemen for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies have had short promotions to Houston this year. 27-year-old Matt Duffy could see more time in the outfield if Davis were called up – or could even grab more time on the pine if his .214/.304/.351 line does not see improvement. However, It is difficult to imagine the Astros sitting 23-year-old Colin Moran, who put up a similar OPS (with a line of .306/.381/.459) over a full-season in AA Corpus Christi last season and has a .747 OPS thus far for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies also sport prospects A.J. Reed and Jon Singleton, so even the possibility of using Davis as a designated hitter seems remote. However, if Davis continues to hit like he has for the next month, the Astros will figure out some way to get him back to Cali.
The Bomb Squad
Davis was not the only minor leaguer to crush three home runs in the past couple of weeks.
On May 12, outfielder Brett Eibner of the AAA Omaha Storm Chasers, accomplished the feat. After grounding into a double play in the first inning, Eibner knocked his first of the day out to right-center field, a two-run shot scoring Jorge Bonifacio who had been hit by a pitch, which put Omaha up in its contest against the Memphis Redbirds. Eibner would hit another two-run shot as the third batter in the Chaser’s fifth inning, this one to left field and again plating Bonifacio who had singled. With the Chasers piling on the runs in the fifth, Eibner would come to the plate later in the inning with Bonifacio on again – having doubled – and would drive the ball out of the park to right-center field. Eibner had the chance to make it a rare four home run game in the seventh, but struck out instead.
The 27-year-old Eibner, in his third season in AAA Omaha, was called up to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday after Mike Moustakas was placed on the 15-day disabled list. It is Eibner’s debut trip to the big leagues. For the season, Brett batted .309/.411/.537 with four doubles, ten home runs, and 27 walks in 40 games for the Storm Chasers.
24-year-old Adam Walker also did the trick on Saturday against the Durham Bulls. The Rochester Red Wings outfielder knocked his first one of the day out in the 2nd inning, a two-run shot to left-center field. In the fourth, Walker duplicated the feat with another two-run shot to left-center, scoring Buck Britton for a second time. The next inning, Walker went to straight away left field for his third of the day, a solo shot. Walker would have two more shots to increase his home run total on the day, but struck out in both the sixth and the eighth.
In his first season in AAA, the Twins prospect continues to show the same tendencies he has shown since being signed in 2012. Huge power (4 doubles and 10 HRs this year – a total of 92 two-base hits and 107 taters in his minor-league career), minimal plate discipline (15 walks in 38 games), lots of strikeouts (66 this season, 608 in his career), leading to a OPS of .800 with a high SLG and a low OBP (.235/.309/.500). Given the Twins losing tendencies, would they be willing to bring up Walker to join Miguel Sano and Byung-Ho Park in an all-or-nothing Bomber unit?
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.