Oakland Athletics outfielder Khris Davis ranks fifth in the American League with 40 homers. Two readers recently asked me for a retrospective on how Davis was viewed as a prospect. Let's do that.
Davis played college baseball at Cal State Fullerton, having a particularly strong junior season in 2009 with .328/.419/.642 mark, hitting 25 doubles, 16 homers, and stealing 17 bases in 19 attempts. Despite the strong numbers he wasn't a hot property on draft day, going in the seventh round to the Milwaukee Brewers. He got into just 10 games in the Arizona Rookie League that summer and didn't appear on most prospect lists entering 2010.
He played regularly for Low-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League in '10 and was effective, hitting .280/.398/.499 with 22 homers and 17 steals. Here's the report from the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book:
Khris Davis was drafted in the seventh round in 2009, out of Cal State Fullerton. His tools are average to a tick above, and he played well in the Midwest League last year, posting a +25 percent OPS and posting a robust .403 secondary average, displaying a broad array of offensive skills. Unfortunately, he’s a left fielder without great defensive skills. Davis was 22 last year, a hair older than ideal for the Midwest League but not awful. I like what he did, but we need to see him at higher levels. Some report that his swing is long and that his batting average will slip against better pitching. I’m not convinced that is true, but we’ll see. If he keeps producing at higher levels, he could end up being a surprise player. Grade C.
Davis moved up to the High-A Florida State League in 2011 and mashed, hitting .309/.415/.533 in 304 at-bats. Promoted to Double-A, he struggled in August with Huntsville, hitting .210/.272/.331 in 124 at-bats. The report for 2012:
A seventh round pick in 2009 from Cal State Fullerton, Khris Davis had a fine year in the Midwest League in 2010 (OPS +25) and was even better in the Florida State League in 2011 (+32). However, scouts weren’t massively impressed and warned that pitchers at higher levels would exploit the holes in his long swing. The skeptics proved correct after Davis was promoted to Double-A, as he struggled to catch up with better pitching. On the other hand, a 124 at-bat sample size is too small to draw final conclusions, and he could still make necessary adjustments. Davis isn’t much of a defensive asset, but the bat is still worth tracking. Grade C.
Injuries hampered Davis in 2012 but he made the needed adjustments and was excellent in Double-A and Triple-A, hitting well over .300 with power. The report entering 2013:
Aside from 35 games in Double-A in 2011, Khris Davis has done nothing but mash in pro ball, hitting for power and average at all levels, with good plate discipline. Despite being hampered by injuries, he continued raking last year, hitting .350/.451/.604 in 82 games after recovering from a calf injury. Davis has tightened up the long swing that scouts critiqued in college and is earning grudging respect for his bat. The rest of his tools don't stand out. His speed, arm, and defensive skills are all mediocre/fringy, but if he keeps hitting someone will find a spot for him. I don't know if those gaudy batting averages are going to hold up against better pitching, but Davis should continue to produce power at least. Grade C+.
Indeed, Davis continued hitting for power with the Brewers, hitting 11 homers in 56 games in 2013, 22 more in 2014, then 27 more in 2015.
As originally projected, Davis hasn't been much of a hitter for average, hitting .249 in 1569 career at-bats. His power has been impressive however, giving him a career wRC+ of 120. Defense isn't a positive and he hasn't been a stolen base threat in the majors, but getting this kind of power production from a seventh round pick is a win for Milwaukee's scouting and player development, as well as testament to Davis' ability to maximize his best skill.
As you know the Brewers traded him to the Athletics for prospects Jacob Nottingham and Bowdien Derby; so far that's a big win for Oakland. At age 28, 2016 is probably Davis' peak season. I don't think he is the type of player who will age particularly well, but his power will make him an above-average hitter for at least a few more seasons.