The Chicago White Sox promoted third base prospect Matt Davidson to the major league roster today. Davidson last appeared in the majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2013 but is still a rookie with just 76 major league at-bats on his resume. Let's take a look at what to expect.
Davidson was originally drafted by the Diamondbacks in the compensation round of the 2009 draft from high school in Yucaipa, California. At the time he was viewed as an excellent power hitter with a weak glove. He reached the majors in late 2013 and hit .237/.333/.434 in his debut, then was traded to the White Sox for Addison Reed. Expected to take over as the third baseman in '14, he instead struggled badly in Triple-A for two years, hovering around the Mendoza Line with a.199/.283/.362 mark in '14 and a .203/.293/.375 slash in '15.
From the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book
Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 225 DOB: March 26, 1991
2010: Grade C+; 2011: Grade B; 2012: Grade B-; 2013: Grade B; 2014: Grade B
2015: Grade C
A few years ago, Matt Davidson was a very promising power hitter with a highly-questionable glove at third base. Funny thing: defense is now actually a strong asset: he’s cut his error rate way, way down, and better footwork has given him quality range and surprising quickness at third base. His glove has improved so much that he even played two games at shortstop last year and didn’t embarrass himself. And of course he has still has power. Unfortunately he has been utterly unable to make sufficient contact against Triple-A pitching. He tries hard, maybe too hard. He makes an effort to be selective and will draw some walks but overall there is just too much swing/miss here for the bat to be viable in the majors. Davidson is still fairly young and could be an interesting "buy low" guy for the right team. It is clear the White Sox don’t have room for him and perhaps a fresh start would help. Grade C.
The Sox have held on and he's responded with a .268/.349/.444 mark this year in Triple-A. He's still striking out a lot with 86 whiffs in 284 at-bats but he's knocked 20 doubles and 10 homers and continues to play very impressive defense. At age 25 Davidson is older than an ideal but isn't ancient and is still young enough to be regarded as a prospect rather than a minor league vet.
Reports indicate that Davidson has been taking the ball the other way a bit more often this year and isn't caught up as much in trying to pull as he's been in the past. Spray chart data from MLBfarm.com sort-of confirms this: three of his 10 homers this year were hit the opposite way, while last year only four of 23 were hit to right field; the ratio in 2014 was just one of 20. I wrote "sort of confirms this" because we really need to see it in a larger sample to know if this is a real change or just a statistical blip. Additionally, even if the adjustment against Triple-A pitching is legitimate, that is no guarantee that it will remain so against big league pitching.
Davidson's strikeout rate remains elevated at 26.4%, but that's still a lot better than the 30.4% of 2014 or the 31.7% of 2015. He's done a better job making contact, but again it remains to be seen if this will hold true in the majors.
Although the bat is still uncertain, his glove has dramatically improved over the last three seasons. In the lower minors it seemed inevitable that he would move to first base; he always had a good arm but his range, hands, and instincts were all very mediocre. He was a butcher back in the Midwest League in 2010, with poor range and a high error rate. He doesn't look like the same guy now; his footwork is hugely improved, his hands are quicker, transfers smoother, his arm strong and accurate, all these changes reflected in much better defensive statistics.
There's still room for skepticism about Davidson's ability to make consistent contact and he may struggle to hit .240 (or .220) in the majors. However, his power and defense could make him a useful role player for the right team, and he seems like the type of player who could have a performance surge in his late 20s.