ROUND ROCK, Texas -- They were separated by 40 miles and one level of professional baseball a few weeks ago, but Chris Davis and Justin Smoak are now teammates. The pair is at Dell Diamond, home of the Triple-A Round Rock Express and a stadium in the middle of a series of fields. It's a downgrade from the palatial stadiums Davis found himself playing in every night at the Major League level. As for Smoak, it's an upgrade over the smaller stadiums he saw while traveling with Double-A Frisco. Davis took his step down after the Rangers sent him to Triple-A Oklahoma City on July 5. He was hitting .202 with 114 strikeouts over 77 games at the Major League level. At the time, he appeared unfazed outwardly, but he admits he was pressing to perform with the Rangers.
"This has helped me to take pressure off," Davis said. "My confidence is higher. It's going pretty good. It's been productive. I've been making adjustments, flattened out my swing path to where it was in 2007 and 2008. I feel like I'm back to normal." Outwardly, he isn't any different. Some players may find themselves in a rut mentally after such a switch, but Davis has taken it in stride. Before Thursday's game against the Express, he checked the lineup and learned he was starting at third base, his natural position before moving to first. "Who's starting tonight," he asked no one in particular. "I'm sorry for all ground balls hit to third tonight." The joke drew a few laughs from his teammates. That's Davis being Davis. "He's a happy-go-lucky kid," said RedHawks manager Bobby Jones. Davis is hitting .395 over his first nine games with the RedHawks. He credits a return to drills that have helped him in the past. Smoak joined the RedHawks the day before Davis, a promotion that continued his rapid rise through the Rangers' farm system. He needed only 64 professional games to make it to Oklahoma City. Smoak has struggled in his short time with the RedHawks, hitting .171 over his first 11 games. This came after hitting .328 and posting a .449 on-base percentage in 50 games with Frisco. Even as the Rangers' top position-playing prospect, Smoak is reluctant to think about the possibility of playing at the Major League level this season. "You can't think about it," he said. "That's where you get into trouble. It's just my first year. I can't put a timetable on it." But if he follows Davis, Smoak could break into the Major Leagues this season. "I played with [Smoak] in Spring Training," Davis said. "He's a good player. I don't need to tell him anything. He's in the same shoes I was last year." Davis began the 2008 season with Frisco before playing for Oklahoma City and the Rangers. He hit .285 with 17 home runs over 295 at-bats with the Major League club last season. General manager Jon Daniels is hoping to avoid that situation. If Smoak were to reach the Major Leagues this season, it would mean the Rangers have had a need develop. "I don't think you'll see him just to get his feet wet," Daniels said. "It's always a combination of what's right for the player and what the big league club's needs are."
Daniel Paulling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.