Arizona Diamondbacks third base prospect Matt Davidson began the 2012 season in quite an offensive groove. In April, his .330/.450/.549 slash line left the 21-year-old amongst Southern League Leaders. In fact, his 16 home runs to date is still tops amongst qualified hitters and double any player considered age appropriate for the league. However, Davidson’s numbers have been in steady decline as the weather has warmed up, leaving prospect followers questioning how well his bat will translate at the major league level.
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For me personally, prospects like Davidson are the most difficult to accurately assess. Having undersold players such as Boston Red Sox Will Middlebrooks, Atlanta Braves Freddie Freeman and fellow Arizona Diamondbacks corner infielder Paul Goldschmidt, I find myself comparing Davidson to those players in terms of tools and baseball skills as each has become a better big leaguer than I envisioned. In some areas, Davidson stacks up quite well, In others, not so much. But with a career .728 OPS player in Ryan Roberts “blocking” his path to Arizona, it’s certainly not a stretch to assume Davidson’s opportunity to contribute at the game’s highest level will come sometime next season providing another opportunity to reflect and grow as an evaluator.
At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Davidson has the potential of becoming massive. Considerable size through his hips and a barrel chest leaves me wondering if he will push 240 pounds or more at full physical maturity as his body type reminded me of San Diego Padres Carlos Quentin, a player I’ve seen from just a few feet away on rehab assignment during his time with the Chicago White Sox. Against minor league competition, Quentin’s size dwarfed younger prospects at the Single-A level. Davidson may wind up doing the same.
This, combined with what I perceived as limited athleticism leaves me wondering if third base will be a viable option over the long haul for Davidson. In general, moving to a position of lesser defensive would dings a player’s value as a prospect, but what if Davidson is a serviceable third baseman into his mid-to-late 20′s before needing to make the switch? In that case, the Diamondbacks might actually benefit by being able to utilize Davidson as its primary third baseman while Goldschmidt remains cheap, but shift him across the diamond should Arizona’s current first baseman become too expensive for the organization’s taste.
At the plate, Davidson is unlikely to ever be a high average hitter as his swing is long with plenty of swing-and-miss. Of course the same was said about Goldschmidt as well, but the Diamondbacks player development team overhauled the first baseman’s swing to shorten it significantly and create more consistent, hard contact and bring down the number of strikeouts.
For Davidson, his load includes loopy hand action as he moves into the hitting position. This slight hitch and high elbow does not allow him to bring the bat knob to his hip causes Davidson to have a shoulder heavy swing instead of one where his strong hands do more of the work. In game action, his swing path was more catered to attacking pitches low in the strike zone leaving him susceptible to fastballs up. The power was apparent and he’ll certainly run into his share of fastballs, but mechanical tweaks could free him up to handle off-speed pitches more effectively and make more consistent, solid contact.
While watching the young third baseman over the course of a couple of days in Chattanooga, a scout I was talking to made a great point when I questioned whether or not Davidson was an everyday player at the big league level due to his questionable defense and propensity to strikeout. His response was to the effect of, “The requirements to be a starting third baseman at the major league level aren’t as high as they used to be.” He was right.
Matt Davidson probably isn’t an impact player at the big league level, but is a .250/.320/.450 line with borderline defense make him one of the top-30 third baseman in the game? Probably so. With the Diamondbacks in contention, he is unlikely to be called up this season, but a second half rebound could earn Davidson a September call up when rosters expand.