Part 8 in a season-long series projecting a hypothetical 25-man roster made up solely of prospects from the Texas Rangers minor league system.
Three years ago, it would have been inconceivable that I'd be writing this column in 2011, featuring this particular player as we go through the exercise of piecing together a future 25-man roster made up solely of players currently playing in the Texas Rangers' farm system.
That's not because this player, at age 22 and two years removed from junior college, didn't project to be a legitimate big league prospect, but instead because, in 2008, nobody would have believed he'd be a prospect at all at this point. It was a safer bet at that time that Chris Davis would be an All-Star by 2011 than a Triple-A baseball player.
Regardless of the circumstances that have led to Davis seeing time in both Triple-A and the Major Leagues for a fourth straight season, if I were choosing a first baseman from the Rangers system to build a team with, he's my pick. There's still a lot there to dream on, as the scouting crowd likes to say.
Davis, the Rangers' fifth-round pick out of Navarro Junior College in nearby Corsicana in 2006, went into 2008 on the back half of most lists of the top 100 prospects in baseball before exploding onto the scene that season, jumping from Double-A Frisco to Triple-A Oklahoma to the Rangers by the All-Star Break. The 22-year-old hit a robust .285/.331/.549 for Texas that summer, hitting 17 home runs (after going deep 23 times on the farm) and adding 23 doubles in just 295 at-bats. He also proved to be a plus defender at both infield corners.
Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
Texas had far bigger questions in 2009 than at first base. Until the season got under way.
Pitchers around the league found holes in Davis's swing, adjusting to him much more proficiently than he did to them. On July 5, a week after the anniversary of his arrival in the big leagues, he was hitting .202/.256/.415, striking out far more often than he had in 2008, and he was optioned back to Triple-A.
He punished Pacific Coast League pitching as he'd done before, earning a return to Texas for the final six weeks of the season, when it looked like maybe he'd managed to make the necessary adjustments.
But Davis jumped out to an even worse start for the Rangers in 2010, and less than three weeks into the season, he was shipped down to Triple-A once again, trading places with Justin Smoak, who by that point was viewed as the club's long-term answer at first base. Davis was hitting .188 without a home run in 48 at-bats at the time of the demotion.
Texas made the decision on July 9, 2010, to trade Smoak to Seattle as part of a package for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe. Davis, who had hit .354/.403/.555 for Oklahoma City over the three months since his return to the farm, was back in Texas, starting once again at first base.
Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland, who had been the RedHawks' everyday right fielder while Smoak and then Davis manned first base, shifted to first once Davis was summoned to Arlington.
But Davis did no more with his second 2010 chance than he had with his first, hitting .189 without power over three weeks -- and leading Texas, which was heading comfortably toward its first post-season berth in 11 years, to send him back to Triple-A once again, this time in exchange for Moreland.
Although Moreland hit just .255 over the final two months with Texas, he provided decent power and much better at-bats in general than Davis had, and while Davis did return when rosters expanded in September, the Rangers awarded Moreland and Jorge Cantu spots on the playoff roster, sending Davis home.
Moreland, of course, had the best World Series of any Rangers hitter, and he went into the winter with a job Texas didn't expect him to lose, just as Davis had two years earlier. The offseason for Davis, on the other hand, was marked by frequent trade rumors, with the Cubs and Rays mentioned most often, and he went into Spring Training this year not competing with Moreland for a job (at a position where Michael Young and Mike Napoli were also expected to get playing time), but preparing to go back to Triple-A to play third base, to be insurance at a position where Texas had just committed five guaranteed seasons to Adrian Beltre.
The easy part to forget in all of this is that Davis is only 25 years old. Moreland got to Texas two years after Davis did, but is older. Davis's teammate at Triple-A Round Rock, first baseman Chad Tracy, is older, and so is Double-A Frisco first baseman Jose Ruiz. Tracy and Ruiz are prospects, but haven't reached the big leagues. Davis has 925 Major League plate appearances.
Davis has yet to come anywhere close to the production he provided when he arrived in Texas in 2008, but he continues to punish Triple-A pitching, hitting a collective .331/.395/.576 in parts of four seasons. This year alone, he's slugging .942 for the Express, with nine home runs in 13 games, including five in the first six games he played after returning to Round Rock just over a week ago.
Some players take a few years to figure out how to translate Minor League damage or early success in the big leagues into Major League consistency. Jose Bautista. Jayson Werth. David Ortiz. In Texas, Nelson Cruz -- who didn't get to the big leagues until he was older than Davis is now -- and Marlon Byrd.
Davis will have no options remaining after 2011, and as it stands now, no obvious role in Texas. It stands to reason that his value to the Rangers might be greatest as a trade asset. He'll be 25 all season, plays premium defense at first and third base, has tremendous raw power, and, like Cruz did before establishing himself, regularly destroys Triple-A pitching while flashing production at the big league level.
Cruz didn't figure things out until he was with his second big league club, and neither did Ortiz. For Werth and Byrd, it was their third club. For Bautista, his fifth.
When Davis arrived in 2008, it appeared he was on his way to becoming the latest in a fairly lengthy line of productive Rangers first basemen. Instead, his future seems likely to be with another franchise, one hoping to reap the benefits of a change of scenery and different set of expectations for a player still remarkably young for having had so many chances to establish himself with his original club. While no longer what's conventionally thought of as a "prospect," Davis is a player on whom it's far too soon to give up.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.