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Atlanta Braves LHP prospect Tucker Davidson flying under the radar in Rome

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Tucker Davidson started the year in the bullpen and has adjusted to life in the rotation with ease. He had yet another strong start Wednesday in Rome.

Wayne Cavadi | The Minor League Prospect Video Page

ROME, GA — Tucker Davidson is the latest Atlanta Braves pitching prospect flying under the radar.

Davidson took the hill Wednesday night against a very formidable Lexington Legends’ offense. Backed by promising prospects Khalil Lee, Emmanuel Rivera and Gabriel Cancel, the Legends offense — that leads the South Atlantic League in runs, RBI and home runs — registered just one run and a mere two hits off Davidson.

That’s seemingly what you can expect from the young southpaw.

(all videos courtesy of The Minor League Prospect Video Page)

Davidson is yet another pitcher from the 2016 MLB Draft class finding success in Rome. He joins Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Bryse Wilson and Jeremy Walker (as well as 2015 signee Alan Rangel) in arguably the best rotation in the South Atlantic League.

The 21-year-old Amarillo, Texas native was chosen in the 19th round. After playing junior college ball at Midland, he had a transfer to N.C. State in hand, but decided to sign with the Braves.

He isn’t an imposing presence on the mound, standing at just 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, but he throws one of the hardest fastballs in the Rome rotation. There isn’t reason to expect much more growth, but with some room to fill out, he could still add a tick or two and hit the upper-90s.

He began his pro career in the Gulf Coast League. Davidson made 11 appearances, 10 of which came out of the bullpen. He was very successful, foreshadowing the kind of pitcher he seems to be. He’s a strike-thrower, striking out 32 and walking just four in the first 29.2 innings of his career. He also posted a 1.52 ERA and his 2.32 FIP shows it was relatively true.

That’s how Davidson began 2017. He was an anchor in the bullpen, converting two of his three save opportunites. He allowed just eight runs in 41.2 innings of relief, striking out 47 and walking 10. He jumped into the rotation on June 27, and after allowing seven unearned runs in 1.2 innings, it has been relatively smooth sailing.

Wednesday night was his tenth start. Davidson has lasted into the sixth in six of them, and gets into the fifth with ease, often needing 70 or so pitches to get there. In his last nine starts since the 1.2 inning, tough-luck debut, he has gone 50.2 innings. The southpaw has allowed 17 runs, while striking out 42 and walking 14. The numbers aren’t out of this world, but a lot of the big marks were made early in his transition.

Davidson’s last three starts, including Wednesday, have all seen him enter the sixth inning, finishing twice. He’s allowed just four runs, striking out 17 and walking only three, landing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes as well.

In other words, Davidson is becoming a weapon as he gets comfortable.

Davidson came out of the gates hot on Wednesday. He missed on a few pitches. Some fastballs were simply landing high, and a breaking ball or two just got away from him and didn’t break. But he attacked hitters, trusting his defense and his stuff. He struck out two in the first inning, including the Legends’ Khalil Lee on three straight pitches looking. Lee has been one of the most dangerous hitters in the SAL all season.

He went up and down the Legends’ lineup two more times, perfect through three after striking out the side in the third. His defense failed him in the fourth. Kurt Hoekstra had a tough time fielding a grounder to the leadoff hitter, and the infield botched a sacrifice bunt in the next at bat, allowing the Legends first hit. A dandy of a double play started by Kevin Josephina (arguably the best play in the Rome infield this season) stranded the runners.

Davidson made it into the sixth and got a little wild. He issued his first walk and put the lone run he allowed in scoring position via wild pitch. Overall, his line was impressive, going 5.2 innings, striking out eight, walking one and allowing just one run on two hits. He landed 60 of his 87 pitches for strikes.

There isn’t much to Davidson’s delivery, which makes it very repeatable and effective. Since he seemingly isn’t afraid to attack the zone, he gets a lot of first pitch swings. His ability to throw strikes, paired with some quick at bats seem to help his pitch counts.

His fastball was touching the mid-90s with relative ease, and he held it easily through three and wavered slightly later on, but not by much. The breaking ball — which was considered one of the better sliders in his JUCO circuit — was sharp when he got it to break, but with more consistency it will become more of a weapon, especially since he takes about 25 miles per hour off his fastball when he throws it. He mixes up some off speed as well. If the three pitches mature as he does, he could become a back end of the rotation, innings eater. Still, it seems more of a swingman role may be in his future.

He wasn’t effected by fly balls that night either. He recorded seven ground outs and no fly outs, although there were two lightly hit line drives. That seems to be indicative of who he is. His batted ball profile shows 53-percent are ground balls, while just 28 percent are fly outs. With improved defense as he climbs the ladder, that could make him more effective as well.

Also of interest is that his stats suggest he feasts on lefties. They are hitting just .193 against him behind a 0.97 WHIP. Righties are hitting a more favorable .281 against Davidson, while his 1.35 WHIP shows they get aboard. Davidson actually struck out more righties Wednesday (five-to-three) and the lone hit past the pitcher’s mound, a sharp ground ball up the middle, was by a lefty.

The Braves farm system is amongst the deepest in the game. Davidson isn’t Top 20 bound any time soon, but his sudden emergence as a successful starter gives the Braves more depth. It will be interesting to see what role Davidson falls into, but his recent run suggest he should continue his development in the rotation.