The man they call “Crush” is at it again.
This time, Chris Davis ended the game not with a homerun smashed onto Eutaw Street, but a bloop single the opposite way. The Texas Leaguer was just out of reach of both Red Sox SS Stephen Drew and LF Jonny Gomes, and it allowed Nick Markakis to score, giving the Baltimore Orioles a 5-4 win over Boston in the 13th inning.
Most baseball fans have only begun to take notice of Davis this season due to his huge power numbers, but he has always possessed immense talent. Watching him put everything together has truly been a treat. To get the full perspective on Davis and his journey to the top of the baseball world, it’s necessary to start at the beginning.
The Draft Process
Davis was originally drafted by the New York Yankees with the antepenultimate pick in the 2004 MLB draft out of Longview High School in Texas, where he played shortstop. He ultimately chose not to sign with the Yankees, and instead enrolled at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas. Davis hit .370 with 16 homeruns and 71 RBI in 50 games at Navarro over two years. After his first year, Davis was taken by the Angels, but he again elected not to sign. He did end up signing with the third team who drafted him, the Texas Rangers, when they took him in the fifth round in 2006. The left-handed slugger would transition from SS to 1B in the Ranger’s system.
The Rangers organization
Davis quickly made his ascent through the Rangers’ minor league system, hitting .277 with 15 homeruns in 69 games for the Spokane Indians after signing in 2006. In 2007, Davis mashed throughout the year hitting .296 with 36 HRs and 118 RBI in 129 games combined between their A and AA teams. 2008 was a huge year for Davis, as he rose through their AA and AAA teams easily and broke through to the big leagues just more than 2 years after the Rangers drafted him.
He officially made his debut on June 26th against Houston, when he went 1/1 as a pinch hitter in a 7-2 Rangers loss. Davis stuck around the majors for quite a while, and found mild success. In 80 games at the big league level, he hit a respectable .285 with 17 HRs and 55 RBI, good enough to become the Rangers opening day starter at 1B in 2009.
But something happened to Davis at the plate in 2009 that he had never experienced for long stretches at a time: failure. He saw his batting average fall to .238 despite still hitting 21 homeruns, and struck out 150 times in 419 appearances, which is about 36% of the time. He also only walked 24 times. He was chasing pitches and trying to pull everything instead of going with the ball and hitting it to left field. He has the same problems in 2010, and hit a paltry .192 before getting sent down to the minors to work out his issues. Even though he tore up AAA pitching after his demotion, the Rangers decided to give time at 1B to Mitch Moreland instead, as they saw Davis as simply a “Quadruple-A” player who they could afford to get rid of.
Getting a chance in Baltimore
In 2011, the Rangers traded Davis and then-SP Tommy Hunter to Baltimore for RP Koji Uehara (who lasted a year and a half in Texas before the Rangers failed to resign him. Ouch.) He played sparingly down the stretch in 2011, but got his chance in 2012, playing in a platoon at 1B with Mark Reynolds. Davis hit .270 with 33 HRs and 85 RBI, with 7 of those homers coming in the final 7 games of the season. Around that time, something clicked. He gives a lot of credit to O’s hitting coach Jim Presley for having him hit off a tee instead of live pitching during practice, as it taught him to have a more consistent swing and how to hit to all fields. That late 2012 success has carried over thus far in 2013, as Davis finds himself currently hitting an astounding .338 with a league-leading 21 round-trippers and 56 RBI, second in the AL to only Miguel Cabrera (as he is in batting average). Whether it’s all thanks to hitting off of a tee or, as skipper Buck Showalter says, it’s just talent growing into itself, Crush Davis has become one of the league’s most feared batters and a legitimate MVP candidate, carrying the O’s to a 38-29 record and to the top of the Wild Card standings (and only 2.5 games behind Boston in the AL East). He has endeared himself to the Baltimore fans and media alike, as he comes off as very humble and polite even in the midst of a monstrous season such as this one.
Whether or not the gentle giant can keep up his torrid pace remains to be seen. But in the meantime, O’s fans, sit back, relax, and watch the most exciting hitter Baltimore has had in years do his thing.