Prospect Retro: Eric Davis
Per reader request, a prospect Retro for Eric Davis.
Some of you young'uns won't remember Eric Davis early in his career, but back in the ancient past of the 1980s, he was the ultimate tools player.
The Cincinnati Reds drafted Davis in the eighth round in 1980, out of Fremont High School in Los Angeles. A tremendous athlete, Davis was a childhood friend of Darryl Strawberry, the first pick in the draft that year. Davis was well-known as a basketball player as an amateur. Davis had first-round tools, but was rather raw when drafted, keeping him out of the earliest rounds. Assigned to Eugene in the Northwest League right out of high school, he hit just .219 in 33 games with a poor .274 SLG, though he did manage to steal 10 bases. He also drew 14 walks in 88 plate appearances, a solid ratio. At this point he would have rated as a Grade C prospect, mostly on the basis of his athleticism and youth. Originally a shortstop, he played poorly defensively and moved to the outfield the following season.
Davis returned to Eugene in 1981 and tore the cover off the ball, hitting .322 with a .561 SLG, hitting 11 homers in 214 at-bats, and stealing 40 bases. He also posted an excellent 57/59 BB/K ratio. Yes, he was repeating the league. But he was still just 19, and his combination of speed, patience, and developing power got him noticed. Now an outfielder, he took to center field easily and quickly emerged as a top-flight defender, with plus range and a good arm. He'd rate a Grade B or perhaps B+ prospect given his progress.
Moved up to Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League for 1982, Davis leveled out a bit, hitting .276 with a .449 SLG, with 15 homers, 51 walks, 103 strikeouts in 434 at-bats. He also stole 53 bases, and continued to demonstrate good outfield defense. Again, he would be something like a B+ prospect. Could he maintain his plate discipline at higher levels?
Davis moved up to Double-A in 1983, adjusting easily to the level, hitting .290 with a .495 SLG and 39 steals in just 89 games for Waterbury in the Eastern League. He drew 65 walks against 75 strikeouts. Promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, he continued to hit with a .299 mark and a .623 SLG, though his strikeout rate increased to over once per game and his walk rate dropped. Still, given his age he did just fine. At this point, he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball. Retrospectively, he'd rate as a Grade A or A- prospect and likely one of the top five or ten hitting prospects in the game.
Davis split 1984 between Triple-A Wichita (hitting .314 with a .629 SLG and 27 steals in just 52 games) and the majors, where he hit just .224/.320/.466 with 10 steals for the Reds. He was overmatched at times in the Show, though he was certainly exciting to watch due to his speed, power, and outfield defense. 1985 was another split season between Triple-A and the majors, but he emerged as a full time outfielder with the Reds in 1986, hitting .277/.378/.523 with 27 homers and 80 steals.
Younger fans likely remember the aging Davis from the late 1990s. But when he was young, he was possibly the most exciting player in baseball. . .blazing fast, lanky, lots of power in his bat. He'd take a walk. He also got hurt a lot, never playing more than 135 games in a full season. He was constantly hampered with muscle pulls and strains, knee problems, fractures, bruises, sprains, bone chips, etc. Look at that picture I posted of Davis, circa 1987. See any body fat on him? Perhaps 10 pounds of fat would have given him a bit extra padding. That wouldn't have helped the colon cancer that almost ended his career (and his life) in 1997, but he fought his way back.
Power, speed, patience, defense. . .Davis had it all, a complete Seven Skill player. He had Hall of Fame talent, though his inability to stay healthy likely inhibited his performance and certainly prevented him from racking up enough counting numbers to get in. If Davis had played his prime during the high-octane late 1990s, he would have put up monstrous numbers.
Comparable Players to Eric Davis
Active comps include Andruw Jones and Reggie Sanders.