Back in March, Khris Davis described his power as his secret weapon. “Me being kind of small, no one looks at me and is like, ‘He’s got power,’” Davis told Brewers.com beat writer Adam McCalvy. “I do, but it’s kind of a secret.” Now that he has mashed eight homers in his first 93 big league plate appearances, it’s safe to say that his secret is out. He’s even stole the spotlight from the other Chris Davis, which is tough since the Orioles’ Davis is still humming right along. The question is, how much longer will the Brewers’ Davis get to keep sharing his secret weapon?
These days, it’s hard to sneak onto the major league radar, and maybe Brewers fans were well aware of Davis. After all, he entered this season hitting .294/.400/.513 across four minor league seasons, the last of which concluded with a very similar line in 140 plate appearances in Triple-A. Still, Davis has always had a poor defensive reputation, and that kept him from sniffing any prospect lists heading into this season. None of the major prospect outlets — Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Bullpen Banter, ESPN or here at FanGraphs even mentioned Davis in their top 10/15 prospect lists this spring. Along with the bad defense, he may have appeared a touch old for his leagues, and he also seemingly had no opportunity in a Brewers outfield with three set starters in Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki.
Davis actually made the opening day roster, but he only started two games in the first month and was optioned to the minors on May 2 in favor of utilityman Jeff Bianchi. He would come back up for a few days in July when Braun went on the bereavement list, and then for good when Braun landed on the restricted list. Still, even when he came back up for good on the 22nd, he wasn’t playing regularly. Milwaukee’s first choice for replacing Braun was Caleb Gindl, who also actually hit pretty well himself in his cup of coffee. But for some reason, when Aramis Ramirez was ready to come back, it was Gindl who was sent packing and not Davis. Perhaps Milwaukee wanted Davis’ right-handed bat on the bench, but from Braun’s last game to Aug. 13 (Gindl’s last game before being sent down) the breakdown of left-field starts was Gindl 16, Davis four and Logan Schafer three. The move seemed innocent enough, and Gindl was in fact recalled on Friday. But in that space of time — Aug. 13-23 — Davis may have just locked himself into a roster spot for good.
In that nine-game, 11-day span, Davis hit .467/.543/1.033. He swatted five homers in 30 at-bats, including two on the day Gindl returned, Friday, Aug. 23. One was off of Homer Bailey, and the two homers were the two biggest plays of the game for Milwaukee against a surging Cincy squad. His effort that night was one of just 109 hitter games this season with a WPA of >.500. It also was just the 370th time since 1916 that a player tallied a multi-homer game during one of the first 40 games of his career. Now, Davis is seemingly a fixture in the lineup. It’s the perfect result of what happens when opportunity meets talent.
Of course, it’s not likely that Davis will keep up such a robust performance for the remainder of the season, but he definitely has a mean power stroke. Since 2010, his 69 homers are tied for 70th among all minor leaguers (among a sample of more than 15,000), and that’s after time missed both this year (big league club) and last (injury). And whether or not he keeps up this pace in the majors, he’s already put himself in some select company. At 93 PA with 32 games to go, it’s unlikely that Davis will get to 250 PA for the season, so I ran a query for rookies who hit eight or more homers in 250 or fewer PA. The search yielded 124 players, though the four of them from this year — Wil Myers (236 PA), Derek Dietrich (233), Matt Adams (215) and Darin Ruf (172) — are all either good bets or locks to cross that 250 PA threshold, so we’ll call it 120 players. If Davis pops two more dingers, he’ll be one of just 49 on the list to do so. Looking at the results individually, we see a who’s-who of all-bat, no field mashers. Here’s the top five:
(Numbers on the left are for rookie season, numbers on the right career totals)
OK, so Palmeiro had defensive value in his day, but he still spent plenty of time at designated hitter. Also notable on this is Craig Wilson, Willie McCovey, Leon Wagner, Allen Craig, Mike Jacobs, Erubial Durazo, Richie Sexson, Phil Plantier, Tyler Moore, Kyle Blanks, Miguel Montero, Luke Scott, David Ross, Shane Spencer, Matt Stairs, and of course, Rob Deer (see the whole list at the bottom). You get the idea — these guys are whose bat carried them into battle. The 120 players averaged 24.98 years of age during their rookie season, so in his age-25 season Davis fits in swimmingly. The first five guys are sort of a microcosm of the whole list — the players here went on to get enough at-bats to say they had a legit shot at having a career. Most of them faded quickly and were done being a productive player (or a player at all) by their early 30’s. Some will hang on and have a pretty decent career, and a couple will have extraordinary careers. Given the fact that it took a few years more than Palmeiro or McCovey to reach the majors, I’ll go ahead and knock out the latter path right now.
The question of whether or not Davis ends up being a flash in the pan or continues to have success will likely have a lot to do with defense. With Braun and Gomez coming back in ’14 and beyond, and with Aoki having a ridiculously low $1.5 million club option, the Crew’s outfield is set for at least one more season. Davis will some action as a fourth outfielder, but Braun and Gomez both hit right-handed like he does, and for his career Aoki doesn’t really have a platoon split (101 wRC+ against lefties, 108 wRC+ against righties) so he’s not a candidate to be platooned. Juan Francisco on the other hand, is a perfect candidate to be platooned. For his career, he has a 115 wRC+ against righties but a miniscule 17 wRC+ against lefties. Since 2009, there have been 567 players to compile at least 100 PA against lefties, and only six players have a worse wRC+ than does Francisco against them. And while Francisco’s 101 PA vs. LHP is a small sample, at a certain point he’s not getting more opportunities against them for a good reason.
The problem is that Davis may not be equipped to handle either right field or first base. In that aforementioned interview, Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke labeled Davis “a left fielder, period.” Perhaps Milwaukee will revisit that stance and send him to winter ball for more seasoning after the season, but if Davis can’t even appear acceptable at other positions, this two-week stretch might end up being the highlight of his career.
It’s passé to say that every organization has a “four corners” player in the minors who are capable of coming up and mashing. It may be true, but the opportunity rarely comes from those so-called AAAA players. The opportunity has come for Davis, and he has taken full advantage. Davis’ power is no longer a secret, but whether or not he is able to consistently display it past 2013 may come down to his defense.
|11||Willie McCovey (RoY-1st)||13||219||1959||21|
|28||Phil Plantier (RoY-8th)||11||175||1991||22|