Every major league draft features some high risk/high reward type players. The kind that has the raw talent to be a superstar, but still needs to develop their game into a polished prospect with great potential. Selecting these players can be risky for organizations, as these types of players tend to take longer to develop in the minor leagues than others. But they can be worth it if the organization and player are willing to be patient with their development.
The Toronto Blue Jays are hoping they hit the high risk/high reward lottery with D.J. Davis. Currently the organization’s 9th highest ranked prospect whom was selected in the 1st round (17th overall) out of Stone County High School in Mississippi back in 2012.
What made the Davis pick high risk was the fact scouts viewed him as a five year project player with an uncertain future. What made Davis a 1st round talent was the fact he has tremendous speed, above-average defensive skills, and a bat with extra base pop in it.
Davis displayed the skills scouts saw in him back in high school, while competing for the Blue Jays full season low-A affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts this past season. In fact, Davis led the team in stolen bases with 19, while registering 28 extra base hits, which included 13 doubles, seven triples, and eight home runs. The Mississippi native also scored 56 runs and drove in another 52, while maintaining a respectable .939 fielding percentage in center.
While the 20-year old’s 167 strikeouts and .213/.268/.316 slash line doesn’t exactly jump off the page. Lansing Lugnuts hitting coach Ken Huckaby remains high on Davis, as he feels the speedy center fielder improved his game a lot in 2014.
“D.J. matured a lot this season. Especially in the last couple months of the season,” stated Huckaby. “D.J. is learning how to hit better and strikeout less. He’s really starting to turn a corner with his career.”
Jumping around the lineup all season, the Lansing Lugnuts coaching staff tried many new hitting techniques with Davis. Trying to develop him as a lead-off hitter earlier in the year, but a high number of strikeouts and low OBP made it a tough role for Davis. Moving him to the middle of the order and developing his power more towards the end of the year seemed to be a better fit for him. Reflecting on his season, as a whole, Davis discusses how he feels his time in Lansing went and what he enjoyed about his opportunity in the Midwest League.
“I feel my season went well,” stated Davis. “The coaching staff in Lansing had me working on a few new things at the plate towards the end of the year. I feel everything I was working on was going in the right direction and I will continue to work on those things in the upcoming seasons.”
“I really enjoyed the Midwest League,” he added. “The parts I really enjoyed were traveling to a lot of new places that I had never been to before and meeting a lot of new people. I made connections with a lot of new people, as well as getting reacquainted from people from my past. It was a great experience.”
“Playing in Lansing is great,” he continued. “When I first got here it just seemed cold, but I enjoyed the city. The facilities and stadium are nice. I like that the stadium in Lansing is big. It’s a stadium you can get a lot of doubles and triples in due to the dimensions of the field.”
Working on his power paid off on July 20th when Davis hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning versus the Clinton Lumberkings, which gave the Lugnuts, an exciting 4-3 victory on a sunny Sunday afternoon. With a season of ups-and-downs, hitting this home run meant a lot to Davis, who had never hit a walk off homer before this game.
“My best moment of the season was when I hit the walk off home run versus Clinton,” reflects Davis. “That was the first time I ever hit a walk off homer in my life. It felt awesome and was great having my teammates at the plate to greet me when I crossed it.”
Seeing the home run first hand from the stands former Blue Jays prospect and teammate Brent Powers describes the moment, as one of Lansing’s best in 2014. Powers and Davis became good friends playing for the Lugnuts and he was excited to see Davis turning a corner that day.
“D.J. Davis’s walk off home run was one of the greatest moments of the Lugnuts season,” stated Powers. “It was an absolute blast off the bat. Unfortunately I was in the stands that game and wasn’t able to celebrate at the plate, but it was an incredible moment to witness and really sticks out as one of the team’s top moments of 2014.”
While Davis is continuing to make a name for himself every day, he doesn’t forget where he came from as a kid playing baseball to becoming a professional. The young prospect has advice for any young player trying to make it in the sport and he prides himself on letting kids know what they need to do to get to this level.
“I tell kids to go all out,” explains Davis. “It’s important to not listen to what anybody says because people hit you when you’re down and love you when things are going well, so it’s important to not worry about what people say whether it’s good or bad just focus on yourself and have fun with it.”
Focused on a busy off-season of working out to prepare for a better 2015 season, Davis is splitting his time with two different facilities to get bigger and stronger before spring training.
”In the off-season I bounce back in forth between Atlanta and Mississippi,” explains Davis. “I do a lot of working out in both places and try to focus on what I need to get better on for the next season.”
Be sure to follow D.J. Davis in 2015, as the former 1st round pick will continue to sharpen his skills with one of the Blue Jays minor league affiliates, while continuing to chase his dream of playing in the big leagues in the near future.