Offseason Prospect Overview: Brennen Davis

Brennen Davis (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Brennen Davis (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Season Review

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It was difficult to get a read on what to expect from Brennen Davis heading into 2019. He came to the Cubs organization with huge upside as an athlete but beyond a good understanding of the strike zone and hand-eye skills he was fairly unrefined as a baseball player having spent just one injury-shortened prep season concentrating solely on the sport. His swing needed a massive overhaul and his body needed to fill out in a major way if he was to unlock his full potential.

The work began in earnest last offseaon, and we saw glimpses of the work he was putting in during instructs and spring training, but the plan remained for Davis to head to Eugene when the short season campaign opened.


Instead, he received a shot in South Bend when the team lost its entire starting outfield to injury, and he took the opportunity and ran away with it. Davis quickly established himself as the biggest threat in the lineup thanks to good patience, a willingness to drive the ball to all fields, and the ability to punish mistakes. His transformation as a ballplayer in the course of one calendar year was astonishing.

Positives

Brennan Davis is a big, powerful athlete. And he going to continue to grow. He began his pro career in 2018 with the look of a long, lean basketball player, but added significant lower body mass last offseason. His upper body is still not fully developed. Once it is, Davis likely ends up with consistent plus power.

In the meantime, Davis puts solid plate discipline, bat control and the ability to drive the ball the other way on display. He can barrel the ball in all areas of the zone.

Davis's overhauled swing mechanics engaged his lower body to a far greater extent and he no longer looked like a raw baseball player. He actually ended the year as perhaps the most polished hitter in a South Bend lineup that won the Midwest League championship.

Negatives

Davis hit a few absolute bombs in 2019 which points to his current bat speed and strength, but he is still going to get bigger yet and isn't adept at lifting the ball on a consistent basis. Once he does more home run production will follow. Becoming more aggressive early in the count will help as well. He bypassed pitches he could turn on too often, eventually having to settle for going the other way in a pitcher's count. I like his zone judgment so I don't see this as a long term concern.


I'll be honest, I don't have a great read on Davis's running ability. He doesn't have great foot speed, but his long strides cover a lot of ground. I'm not impressed with his acceleration so I don't imagine he will develop into much of a base stealing threat. There is also the fact he is not fully filled out and I would expect he loses a step as he adds weight to his upper body. I think he likely ends up more in the Kris Bryant/Jason Heyward mold as a guy who moves well 1st to 3rd once he gets going but won't be someone who consistently impacts a game with his speed.

Summation

The Cubs are beginning to refill their system with a group of solid prospects, but they are still fairly thin at the top end. There isn't a ton of star potential. Davis is an exception. He has All-Star potential and has begun tapping into those skills more quickly than anyone anticipated.

2020 Outlook

Wrigley?

Just kidding. Davis still has a lot to prove, but make no mistake, he could end up moving quickly. I wouldn't rule out a 2021 debut. The physical skills, work ethic and ability to make adjustments he's already shown point to a player who understands what it takes to excel.

As for 2020, I wouldn't expect big power numbers, as Myrtle Beach is just not a conducive environment for that. But if Davis has continued his physical development and improved his strength even more he is the type of player whose power will translate anywhere. Still, we may be a year or two away from seeing his power blossom in full. For the time being he needs to continue the consistent approach at the plate he showed in 2019. I will mostly be focused on whether he can make improvements in the field and on the basepaths. Those are the parts of his potential he hasn't tapped into in a meaningful way yet.

Comments

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  • What is your read on his arm strength? I have seen conflicting reports.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    It seemed fine for RF, but he played so much LF this year it is difficult to gauge for sure. I haven't seen him go all out on a throw from RF to 3B or home. I will also say that I feel like his upper body is going to get stronger and that may lead to an improved arm down the line.

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    How much of strike zone judgement is innate, or your just born with it? Davis has limited baseball experience, yet he has an advanced feel for the strike zone. Apparently he was "born" with it.

    Other players with a ton more baseball experience than Davis never quite get there. I'm sure we could cite alot of examples, but Brett Jackson springs to mind.

    It seems to me you can make improvements around the edges, but generally that ball doesn't move a ton. I'm sure Albert Almora has worked very hard to change, but at heart he's a hacker, and once a hacker, always a hacker.

    Am I off base?

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think part of it is innate, with personality/aggressiveness/etc playing a role. But it can be learned and improved.

  • I like that Davis is able to hit to all fields. I don't think that HRs are,as important, if he uses the whole field. Recently, it has become necessary for good hitters to this with so many shifts these days. I hope the coaches don't get to carried away with lift, because it often seems to mess with contact.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It needs to be selective. When he gets a middle in fastball, or a hanging breaking ball, he needs to be able to turn on that pitch and elevate it.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I agree with what you and slug44 are saying about ‘lift’. But Davis should fill out with time. Selective pitch judgement in his case, would be ideal. However I worry more about a guy like Roederer becoming too concerned with lift. A guy like Roederer being LH, fast, smaller built, and with the over-shifts being used today - absolutely IMO needs to use the entire field, in order to maximize his potential.

  • He sounds exciting!

    Serious question: how much value does a non “top end” prospect really have?

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    Depends on the context. In terms of trade value, it depends on their distance from the majors. For instance, a non-top end prospect in short season ball is only going to end up a 3rd/4th piece in a big trade, or as the type of player a team takes a flyer on in a contract dump (like the guys we sent for Hamels). I think the same applies to pitchers even in A ball as injury risk is still a factor given team unlikely to get production until years down the road. Once they reach AA they solidify their value. We saw examples last deadline with Lange/Richan/Hatch being used to get Castellanos and relief help. Cubs wouldn't have been able to swing those deals with those guys a year earlier in all likelihood.

    And the hope is from the group of non-top end guys you keep you get your Caratini's and Bote's and some middle relievers, etc so that you don't need to spend big money on your bench or bullpen, and then every once in a while one of those guys breaks through into a larger role (Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras, etc.)

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    That spells it out very clearly.
    Thank you!

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    You're welcome.
    Another way to think of it is like this:
    From a dozen solid prospects in short season leagues, a couple will wash out in A ball.
    From that ten in A ball a couple more will wash out/get injured by AA.
    From that seven or eight a couple will get used in trades to bolster the MLB club.
    From that five remaining a few will end up as nothing more than AAA/AAAA players.
    And then hopefully 2 end up as solid Bench/#5 SP/MIR for your club that give you a lot of excess value in their team control seasons.
    And if you are really lucky 1 of them ends up being more than a Bench/#5 SP/MIR.

  • Can't wait to see what he does as a 20 year old this year. Will he pleasantly surprise us again in 2020? He could be roaming CF in the majors in a couple years.

  • In reply to John57:

    I haven't seen enough of him in CF to gauge whether he can stick there, especially as he continues to grow. The team favored Roederer in CF, with Davis in LF despite Davis having a sizable advantage in arm strength. I think a corner OF job is more likely for Davis.

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