Prospect Profile: Wade Davis
Here is a look at Tampa Bay rookie Wade Davis, getting a September trial with the Rays.
Wade Davis was drafted by the (then) Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the third round in 2004, out of high school in Lake Wales, Florida. He had a University of Florida scholarship, but signed quickly with a home state team and was assigned to Princeton in the Appalachian League. He performed poorly, posting a 6.09 ERA with a 38/19 K/BB ratio but 71 hits allowed in 58 innings. He was big (6-5, 220), but had inconsistent velocity, hitting 94 MPH on good days but often working in just the 88-89 range, needing to improve his mechanics to get the most out of his body. He did flash a plus curveball at times. I rated him a Grade C in the 2005 book, noting his long-term potential but also his poor early performance.
The Rays did not push Davis in '05, sending him to extended spring training to work on his mechanics and conditioning, then moving him on to Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League in June. He responded to the handling by posting a 2.72 ERA with a 97/23 K/BB in 86 innings, allowing 75 hits. Note the greatly improved strikeout rate. His velocity was up compared to rookie ball, a consistent 90-93 MPH and touching 95-97. He also improved his curveball, and also threw some sliders and changeups, though both pitches needed work. I gave him a Grade B and projected that he would emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in the game in '06.
Davis moved up to Southwest Michigan in the Midwest League in 2006, and made a nice one-two punch with lefty Jacob McGee. Davis went just 7-12 due to poor defensive and run support, but posted a 3.02 ERA with a 165/64 K/BB ratio in 146 innings, allowing 124 hits. He was throwing 95-97 MPH early in the year, but lost some velocity as the summer progressed and the innings built up. Nevertheless, I was pleased with his performance and gave him a Grade B+ in the 2007 book, ranking him as the Number 23rd pitching prospect in the game.
The Rays moved Davis up to Vero Beach in the Midwest League in 2007, where he posted a 1.84 ERA with an 88/21 K/BB in 78 innings, allowing just 54 hits. Clearly too good for this level, he moved to Double-A Montgomery at mid-season, where his ERA moved up to 3.15 with an 81/30 K/BB in 80 innings, 74 hits allowed. His stuff followed the same pattern as in '06: mid-90s early in the year, but dropping as the summer progressed as low as 88-90. I remained impressed overall and kept him at Grade B+ but bumped him up to Number Nine on my Top 50 pitcher's list.
Davis began 2008 with Double-A Montgomery, where he posted a 3.85 ERA with an 81/42 K/BB in 108 innings. Promoted to Triple-A Durham, he lowered his ERA to 2.72 with a 55/24 K/BB in 53 innings, with just 39 hits allowed. His velocity was a tad lower last year, peaking out at 95-96 rather than 96-97, but he held his stuff up in the 90s through the whole season. He also continued to refine his curveball, while his changeup and slider/cutter were also sharper. His command remained a work in progress. I continued with the B+ rating but lowered his rank slightly to 13th overall.
2009 resulted in a 10-8, 3.40 ERA with a 140/60 K/BB in 159 innings for Triple-A Durham, with 139 hits allowed. He looked great in his first major league start September 6th against the Tigers, allowing one run in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk with nine strikeouts. His second start, September 12th against the Red Sox, was more difficult: 2.2 innings, six hits, four walks, eight runs. He threw a four-hit shutout against the Orioles in his third start on September 18th. These three starts illustrate what he can do when his command is on, and what happens when it's not.
A few additional thoughts about Davis:
**I like the way the Rays have handled him, moving him up one level at a time. The only time he was promoted at mid-season was in '07, after he'd fully dominated the Florida State League for half a year and had nothing left to prove there. He got 33 starts of Double-A, and 37 in Triple-A. Yes, the fact that they had pitching depth at the upper levels gave the organization the flexibility to avoid rushing him, but it is still to his advantage.
**Davis' Major League Equivalent numbers this year come out as a 4.91 FIP with a 117/80 K/BB in 162 innings, 147 hits, which isn't too good. Last year his MLE was 5.12 FIP with a 106/94 K/BB, 150 hits. The problem in both projections is too many walks, which will hamper him at the major league level. As much as I like him, I wouldn't expect huge initial success.
**I wrote in my book this year that Davis reminded me of Gil Meche, and I could see Davis following a similar path, showing good stuff but struggling to find consistency at early in his career. Davis is two inches taller, but their stuff strikes me as similar. There is no PitchFX data for Davis yet on Fangraphs, but once we get more it will be interesting to see if that comparison with Meche has any validity beyond my mental images. I don't have the graphics resources to do a good video frame-by-frame comparison, so file that away as something to think about. Their arm slots look a bit different on crappy youtube video, so maybe that doesn't hold up.