Scouting Snapshot: Johnny DavisOne of the more exciting prospects in the Brewers organization is Wisconsin Timber Rattlers center fielder Johnny Davis. I’ve had the chance to see him play quite a bit this season already between Spring Training games in Maryvale, Arizona and the early part of the season with Class-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League. For our latest installment of the Scouting Snapshot, I focused on four games I watched this past week in Appleton.
BACKGROUND: After not playing baseball at all in high school, Davis played one season at West Los Angeles College in 2013, but that was all Milwaukee needed to see, as they selected him in the 22nd round of the 2013 MLB draft.
Ranked the fastest player in the draft according to Baseball America, Davis made his debut in the rookie Arizona League for the Brewers last season. In 30 games, the switch-hitting Davis hit .294 and stole 17 bases in 22 attempts.
The Brewers saw enough improvement from Davis over the course of instructional league last fall, and spring training this year to skip him over Helena and have the 24-year-old from Compton, California begin the 2014 season at Low-A Wisconsin. Through his first 22 games this season, Davis is batting .317 with nine steals as the leadoff hitter for the Timber Rattlers.
GAMES WATCHED: April 30th-May 1st
April 30th Game One – Davis was batting leadoff and playing center field in both games of Wednesday night’s doubleheader. In game one, he went 3-for-5 and sparked a Timber Rattlers comeback in the seventh inning.
In his first at bat, Davis reached on an infield single. His ground ball was knocked down by a diving second baseman, but he had no chance to get the speedy Davis at first. Davis was caught stealing however as the Burlington pitcher kept a close eye on him, picking over three times. Davis picked a good pitch to run on, an 0-2 fastball that was low and away, but didn’t get a great jump and was thrown out at second.
His next time up with runners at the corners and two outs, Davis sprayed a ball to the opposite field, past the shortstop and in to left to knock in a run.
In his third at bat, Davis struck out swinging. He twice attempted to get a bunt down with Omar Garcia on first base, and then fouled off a couple of two strike pitches before finally waving through a high fastball for the punch-out.
Davis showed off his elite speed in the seventh with the Timber Rattlers trailing by two and down to their last out. He hit a slow hopper to short and the Burlington shortstop had to bare-hand the ball and rush his throw to first. He threw wildly allowing Davis to advance to second and set up the Rattlers game tying rally. I clocked Davis at an incredible 3.53 seconds from home to first on the play.
In his final at bat, Davis came close to walking Wisconsin off when he hit a line drive to right-center field which the Burlington right fielder snagged on a diving grab. Had the ball got by him, Davis would have had a legit shot at an inside-the-park homer.
Defensively, Davis made all the routine plays, going back on the ball well, and looked more comfortable in center field than when I had seen him previously. In the fifth inning, Kody Eaves of Burlington hit a ball in to the left-center gap. Davis and Garcia both appeared to have a shot to lay out for the ball, but both held up and the ball split the two of them, allowing Eaves to cruise in to second. The next batter lofted a fly ball to center that Davis did a good job of going back on. He got his momentum behind the throw but the throw was still not all that strong and the runner was able to tag and take third base.
April 30th Game Two – Davis started off the bottom of the first inning in game two with a ground out to the pitcher. After falling behind in the count, Davis did a good job of battling, fouling off several two strike pitched before finally tapping back to the pitcher.
His second time up, Davis struck out, but reached base when the pitch got by the catcher on strike three. He followed that up with a fly out to center in the fifth with a runner on third and two outs.
Davis had a couple of chances defensively in game two. In the third inning he went back nicely on a ball hit by Burlington’s leadoff batter and hauled it in. In the fifth he may have had a chance to go after the spectacular play on a line drive to center, but with one out and nobody on, he decided wisely to play it safe and kept the ball in front of him. In the sixth, the leadoff hitter crushed one to the wall in center. Davis again covered a lot of ground in getting back to the wall and almost made a highlight reel grab at the wall, but the ball was just out of his reach.
May 1st Game One – Once again in center field and batting leadoff in both games of the Rattlers twin bill on Thursday, Davis went 2-for-4 in game one. His first time up he grounded out to the catcher when he hit a little tapper out in front of the plate. The umpire ruled that the ball hit Davis when he was out of the batter’s box and called him out on the play.
His next time up, Davis grounded out to first base, but got to showcase his wheels again. I had him at 3.78 seconds to first base on the play and the Burlington first baseman barely beat him to the base on the routine grounder.
In his third at bat, Davis picked up a bunt single. With runners on second and third and two outs, Davis dragged a bunt perfectly towards second base. The second baseman had no play on Davis at first and Jose Pena was able to score from third to pull Wisconsin to within a run at 4-3.
In the bottom of the sixth with runners again at second and third, Davis lined a ball the opposite way for a base hit to left. The outfield was playing him so shallow however, that only one run was able to score on the hit.
On defense, Davis was tested a couple of times. In the top of the second, with two on and two outs, Davis raced back on a ball hit over his head, hauling it in on the warning track before crashing in to the wall. In the fifth he ranged way over in to left field on a fly ball. Garcia was right there as well, but Davis got there easily and called off Garcia to make the catch.
May 1st Game Two – In game two, Davis went 1-for-3 as Wisconsin picked up a 3-2 victory. His first time at the plate, he beat out an infield single on a chopper over the pitcher’s head. The Burlington second baseman tried to bare hand the ball, but would have had no shot at getting Davis even if he fielded it cleanly.
His second time up, Davis laid down a sacrifice bunt. With a runner on first, he dragged a bunt down the first base line. It was fielded by the first baseman who barely got the tag on Davis as he attempted to elude him.
Davis grounded out in his final two plate appearances. In the fifth he grounded to third, but with the third baseman playing in, he was able to easily throw out Davis by a couple of steps. It was much closer in the seventh when Davis grounded out to second. The second baseman made a nice backhanded play and threw to first to get Davis by a step. I clocked Davis at 3.75 from home to first on the play.
Defensively, game two was rather quiet for Davis. In the second inning there was a fly ball to right-center that dropped in for a hit. He raced over and tried to bare hand the ball, but bobbled it, allowing the runner to get second base without a play. The only other action he saw was on a couple of routine base hits to center which he fielded cleanly.
THE SCOUTING REPORT: Davis has one tool that really stands out and that is elite, game-changing speed. He’s not just fast. He’s track star fast. That speed will help him out but he’ll need to develop his other tools to advance through the Brewers system. Davis has shown an ability to put the bat on the ball and hit line drives, but teams don’t respect his power at this point, playing him to bunt quite often and playing their outfielders at softball depth against him. He does a good job of using all fields but has yet to develop much patience at the plate, drawing just three walks in 90 plate appearances this season. Defense is still a work in progress for Davis, but the improvements he’s made in such a short time are reason for optimism. He doesn’t have the strongest of arms, but he can go and get the ball in center field, and while he will stutter-step and not get a great first step from time-to-time, his raw speed helps make up for his lack of polish.
PROJECTION: Davis is difficult to project due to his lack of overall experience, but his 80 grade speed makes him a very interesting prospect to keep an eye on. Already 24-years-old, Davis’s age plays against him and he is still very raw. But the strides he’s made since joining the Brewers organization should not be overlooked. The fact that teams play him so shallow in the outfield is going to cut down on the number of balls that fall in for Davis. He’s not going to hit for much power, but if he can start driving the ball to the gaps, defenses will have to back up on him to prevent the doubles and triples. Speed is a dangerous weapon and as long as Davis stays healthy, he could find his way to the Major Leagues in a few years as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement at worst. If he can develop some of his other tools, get on base and start finding the gaps in the outfield, Davis could be an every day center fielder down the road.