Rookie Davis was selected by the Yankees in the 14th round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of Dixon High School in North Carolina. Davis, despite his decidedly unremarkable draft slot, had himself a grand time in high school. He threw not one no-hitter, not two no-hitters, but five no-hitters. It's taken Davis some time to re-capture the dominance he had as an amateur, but a strong 2015 campaign has led to both a promotion and more national attention.
Davis' strikeout rate spiked to 25.9 percent at High-A Tampa while his walk rate cratered to 4.4 percent. That strikeout rate led the Florida State League (ahead of notable prospects such as Amir Garrett and Kohl Stewart), and his walk rate was tied for the fourth lowest. Although Davis has soared up prospect lists this year, that hasn't distracted him in his pursuit of the big leagues.
"I say it a lot, and I'm a firm believer: Just go out every five days and try to win," Davis told me about staying on target. He claimed to have no specific goals for the remainder of this season or next season, only to "get stronger" and pitch as well as possible. Of course, he's already 6'3" and all 235 pounds of his body are pure muscle. He's the prototypical big power pitcher from below the Mason-Dixon line.
Yet unlike many hard-throwing prospects, Davis has control of his heater. His low walk rate from A-ball has followed him to Trenton thus far. In three outings, Davis is so far only walking an average of 1.20 batters every nine innings. Though his ERA has been inflated since being promoted (4.80 in just 15 innings while pitching in front of a poor infield defense), his 3.11 FIP shows that he's been pitching quality baseball. The lone home run he's surrendered was to power-hitting Rockies prospect David Dahl. The home run might be indicative of a propensity to put too many pitches in the strike zone, however, as he's given up 21 hits in his fifteen innings.
When I asked him about the biggest differences he's noticed at the new level, Davis quickly pointed to the zone. "It's something that's not a huge jump, but there have definitely been a couple 0-0 pitches I would think I would get [in Tampa] that I'm getting balled here for. It's a learning experience, you know, and I've been fortunate to have been around the zone a lot this year, so I've got a good idea of when I'm gonna get balled and when I'll get a strike."
That change may be prompting Davis to throw safer strikes, which the more advanced batters at Double-A are jumping on. It's a problem that will quickly be remedied, and he feels that the development of his changeup will help him. "Being here [in Double-A], I'm trying to keep guys off balance, keep their timing off, and mix that changeup in. It's a work in progress." It was the changeup that Dahl jumped on for his home run. "He's a talented player," Davis said about Dahl. "I threw some good ones to him at the beginning, got some swings and misses, but with a player like that, it's all about pitch execution and pitch selection."
Davis' ascension to Double-A was partially made possible by the rise of Luis Severino and Brady Lail to higher levels. Davis offered nothing but praise for those two pitchers and for Gary Denbo's handling of the entire farm system. Davis knows that he's not ready for higher levels just yet, but knows that he will be at some point soon. The hard-throwing righty looks up to another flamethrower with a talent for pounding the zone, Roger Clemens, and tries to capitalize on the way Clemens approached pitching as a way of honing his craft. Davis watched video of Clemens as he was growing up, and still does from time to time. He said he likes to watch how Clemens set hitters up and pits them away.
Rookie Davis is a student of the game and the art of pitching. It's taken him longer than expected to reach the upper minors, but now that he's here the prospect community is taking notice. Baseball America ranked him 10th in the system in their mid-season update, and MLB.com has him in the 12th spot. Given the impending graduations of some players above him (Luis Severino, Greg Bird), he may be higher on those lists when all is said and done. He's still just 22 years old, and may move quickly next year.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.