J.J. Davis

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Jerry C. Davis

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Biographical Information[edit]

The 8th overall section of the 1997 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, outfielder J.J. Davis had hit .527 and slugged .986 his senior year of high school. Baseball America had rated him as the 10th-best high school prospect (a reason to presume he was picked a bit too highly). A three-sport star, Davis had a scholarship offer from the University of Southern California for basketball (he had averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds as a senior) and Oregon State University for football (he had been a quarterback). He was signed by scout Doug Takaragawa and made his pro debut that summer.

Davis was unimpressive his first two years in professional baseball. At age 18 in 1997 he hit .255/~.313/.358 for the GCL Pirates with no steals, one homer and 44 strikeouts in 165 at-bats. He was briefly with the Erie SeaWolves and hit successfully in just 1 of 13 plate appearances with that team. In 1998 he hit .270/~.338/.474 in a return to Erie, with 8 homers in 196 at-bats (but striking out 54 times) and only .198/~.220/.368 for the Augusta GreenJackets, striking out 24 times while drawing only 3 walks in 30 games. New York-Penn League managers selected him as the 7th-best prospect in the circuit for his time with Erie. His performance with Augusta, though, showed the problems of a 6' 6" man trying to play baseball, as while his size was beneficial in basketball and football, tall players are disadvantaged in baseball with a larger strike zone that makes strikeouts much more likely and reduces the odds of walking.

Davis again did well in his second crack at a level, hitting .265/~.355/.533 for the Hickory Crawdads in his second turn in the South Atlantic League and his first productive year as a pro. At age 20, he was still young for his level and was again voted the 7th-best prospect by the managers in the league. In 2000 J.J. made it to high class A with the Lynchburg Hillcats and hit .243/.319/.445 with 171 Ks in 485 at-bats; he did hit 36 doubles and 20 homers. Davis made the league All-Star team and was voted the third-best prospect around. He was fourth in the Carolina League in home runs but first in strikeouts.

In 2001 Davis spent the season in AA with the Altoona Curve, batting .250/.317/.386 with only 4 home runs in 228 at-bats, striking out 79 times and getting caught 5 times in 7 steal attempts. About the only positive was his error-free outfield play. Davis said that he had been a failure as a hitter and wanted to try to pitch, as he used to throw 96 mph in high school. Things got so bad he even played again at Rookie ball with the GCL Pirates, hitting .417/.500/.882. It appeared that his gains of the prior two years had been wiped out.

Davis bounced back in 2002. Still just 22, he hit .287/.351/.526 for Altoona, cut his strikeouts down to 101 in 348 at-bats and launched 20 home runs. He tied for seventh in the Eastern League in homers and got a cup of coffee with the Pirates as a September call-up, getting two starts and seven games off of the bench. In 2003 J.J. made his AAA debut with the Nashville Sounds and wreaked havoc on the Pacific Coast League. He batted .284/.342/.554, struck out only 85 times in 426 at-bats, homered 26 times and stole 23 bases in 29 tries as he utilized his speed as well. He tied for second in the PCL in homers and led the league in slugging. When he got called up to the Pirates at the end of the year, he rode the pine though, while a player the same age who he had outslugged, Jason Bay, got the job. There was a general feeling that the Pirates felt an obligation to Bay, whom they had acquired in the Brian Giles trade. On the other hand some fans felt the team should look at their former #1 draft pick, who had done a similar job in AAA. Lloyd McClendon cited character issues as part of his reason for playing Bay. While it is clear two years later that Bay would become a far better player in Major League Baseball, one wonders what Davis could have done if he had not rode the pine and gotten a chance to develop his skills in the majors, especially given his track record of slow development at several levels.

Davis especially withered on the bench in 2004, when the Pirates signed washed-up veteran Raul Mondesi and handed him the right field job over J.J. Davis was waived, then after being unclaimed was assigned to Nashville and hit .250/.270/.631, fanning 28 times in 84 at-bats with just 3 walks, perhaps over-pressing in an attempt to go back to the majors and prove himself yet again. He got a very limited shot at the majors then injured a finger and landed on the disabled list - he got just 119 at-bats all year long, further ruining his chances at development. Meanwhile, McClendon continued to lash out at him for a lack of discipline. When "veteran leader" Mondesi threw a temper tantrum and left the team, Craig Wilson and Rob Mackowiak split right field. Davis's troubles mounted that season when the US Olympic team, of which he was a part, was a bust, failing to make the 2004 Olympics. He also ran into trouble late in the year. Playing for Navojoa in the Mexican Pacific League, Davis failed to show up for a game in late December and was suspended. The Pirates gave up on their former #1 pick after that season.

In 2005 J.J. signed with the Washington Nationals and did a fine job in spring training, making the team. He didn't reach 50 at-bats for his fourth straight year in the major leagues, getting sent down to the New Orleans Zephyrs. He was then part of a trade that sent him to the Colorado Rockies, who assigned him to Colorado Springs Sky Sox for the rest of the year. In his two minor league stops he hit .266/.341/.506 with 15 homers and 73 strikeouts in 241 at-bats as he again was a good slugger in a AAA league.

Sources: 1998-2005 Baseball Almanacs, 2006 Baseball Guide, Pittsburgh Pirates mailing list archives, BaseballGuru.com

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