Between now and opening day I will be looking at the six players that are either brand new to the big leagues, or incredibly inexperienced at the big league level that will be on the Cincinnati Reds roster to start the season. That list will include pitchers Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, Wandy Peralta, Barrett Astin and position players Stuart Turner and Patrick Kivlehan.
Today we will start off the series by looking at Rookie Davis. He was originally drafted by the New York Yankees in the 14th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. Davis signed for $550,000, which was roughly 2nd round money at the time. He would pitch in their farm system from 2012 through the 2015 season. With the Yankees organization he topped out as their #6 prospect after the 2015 season where he split the year between Advanced-A and Double-A.
Following that season he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds as the top prospect in the deal that moved Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees. For Rookie Davis, and for the Reds, it was a disappointing 2016 season. The right hander battled a few injuries throughout the year, including a hip injury that lingered most of the season. The then 23-year-old had a good ERA in Double-A (2.94), but his strikeout rate plummeted from his past seasons, as did his fastball velocity. In five games at the Triple-A level he really struggled, posting a 7.50 ERA over 24.0 innings. He maintained a low walk rate at both levels, but the loss of velocity really kept him from missing bats.
Performance this spring
Rookie Davis didn’t seem to enter the public conversation for the rotation early on in the spring. Part of that was probably due to the fact that his 2016 season left plenty of question marks on his resume. He also only had a small amount of time in Louisville and he didn’t do well there. There were early signs though that 2017 Rookie Davis was a different guy than 2016 Rookie Davis. In his first start he was throwing 93-95 MPH, which is a range he would rarely touch in 2016.
It wasn’t just the increased velocity though. Rookie Davis also added a slider to his arsenal. The early reports on it have been outstanding. When it comes to the numbers that he put up, they stacked up well with the others that were contending for a spot in the rotation. In 15.2 innings he posted a 4.02 ERA with three walks and 17 strikeouts. He did what Bryan Price loves to see and that’s pound the strikezone.
What to expect
This is where things get tough. Rookie Davis has never truly been a top end starting pitching prospect. Prior to 2016 he had shown good fastball velocity, control of the strikezone and posted good numbers. Scouts however would note that his secondary stuff was average and that he lacked that out pitch at the next level. At the minor league level we never saw that secondary offering show up. This spring, as noted above, the newly developed slider may very well be that pitch. It certainly was in the spring, but the sample size was very small, too.
Rookie Davis is now throwing a 4-seam, 2-seam, change up, slider and curveball. The fastball velocity we touched on, but the slider and change up were both in the 86-88 MPH range and his curveball works in the low 80’s. He’s got enough offerings to keep hitters guessing, and he’s been a strike thrower for his entire career. If he can continue to throw strikes in the Major Leagues he will probably be solid at worst. If his slider truly has given him that out pitch it could be real interesting to see exactly how good he could become as a guy who could both miss bats and keep a low walk rate.