Blue Jays prospect D.J. Davis facing make or break season

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder D.J. Davis at spring training camp in Dunedin, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Keegan Matheson
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder D.J. Davis at spring training camp in Dunedin, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Keegan Matheson /

The 21-year-old Blue Jays outfielder repeated a level with the single-A Lansing Lugnuts in 2015, batting .282 with 21 stolen bases

D.J. Davis has been waiting for liftoff since the Toronto Blue Jays made him the 17th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft.

Selected ahead of 2016 Opening Day starter Marcus Stroman, Davis fits the parameters of an Alex Anthopoulos outfielder alongside the likes of Dalton Pompey, Anthony Gose, or Anthony Alford. Despite owning one of the highest-graded speed tools in all of Minor League baseball, though, Davis was forced to repeat a full season with single-A Lansing in 2015.

“When they first sent me back, going back to Lansing, obviously you’ve got to do something right,” Davis said earlier this month at the Blue Jays spring training complex in Dunedin. “So I just took that year just to learn the game more. Instead of going there and just playing ball, I was learning and using the other guys that were with me.”

Davis is now entering his fifth year with the organization. As one of the youngest athletes in his draft class he remains relatively young for that amount of service time, but regardless, this will be the season that Toronto looks for him to turn his 2015 improvements into a complete and impactful season.

In Davis’ first season with the Lugnuts (2014), the bat was not cooperating. A .213 average and .583 OPS over 121 games torpedoed his prospect stock, and with only 19 stolen bases in 39 attempts, many questioned how effectively he would be able to utilize his elite speed.

With that season on the bases, Davis learned the difference between being a fast baseball player and a good base stealer.

More from Jays Journal

“You can be a fast runner but you’ve got to be smart,” Davis said. “So you just have to know the counts, and how that pitcher pitches. Know his move. Obviously you’ve got to get a good jump”

Those numbers improved in 2015 as Davis stole 21 bases in 31 attempts.

“I mainly look at his hips,” Davis said when asked about about his base-stealing strategy. “Most pitchers, they sink down when they’re going to the plate, but they stay upright when they’re looking over. I look for that.”

His performance at the plate also took off with a .282 average and .731 OPS. Strikeouts remain an issue, but seeing Davis cut down from his 2014 total of 167 to 119 last season was very encouraging. He credits this to better pitch recognition out of the pitcher’s hand, an area in which he feels he’s struggled in the past.

With the opportunity to turn 2015’s step forward into a long-awaited leap forward, Davis is expecting to open the season with Dunedin (as he should) and tells me that he is eyeing a promotion to double-A New Hampshire by the All-Star break.

Davis’ defence will be a significant part of this, which is something we discussed for this piece over at The Canadian Baseball Network

He takes a great deal of pride in his fielding, which he feels is overlooked, and continued to hone in on that craft this offseason.

“Mostly my angles,”he said, “And my throws, keeping them low so the cut-off man can get them.”

Related Story: Arnold Leon: The forgotten arm in Blue Jays bullpen picture

This will give Davis a solid base level to his value, likely higher than many realize, but he may still need the “wow” factor of that 80-grade speed to truly jump up the prospect ladder in 2016.

With 19 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs last year, there is also some quality line-drive potential remaining in his bat. As long as the ball is in play, Davis has as good a chance at beating out a single as anyone in baseball.

His game should not be limited to the scope of his base running, though, and another small advancement at the plate is all that Davis will need to legitimize that. He’s certainly taken the long road to Hi-A ball, but with all the raw talent you could ask for and signs of it coming together, Davis is a strong candidate to emerge through 2016 as an impact piece for the Blue Jays.