Cubs get kick out of Davis' bid to make bigs

Catcher, non-roster invitee keeps impressing club on and off the field

Cubs get kick out of Davis' bid to make bigs

MESA, Ariz. -- Someone needs to make a movie of Taylor Davis' life.

It no doubt will include the time the Cubs catcher came off the bench for Class A Daytona after three weeks on the disabled list and crushed the second pitch he saw off the scoreboard for a pinch-hit home run.

There has to be a scene from Davis' days playing in the Cape Cod League when Tim Wilken, then the Cubs scouting director, first saw the right-handed hitter with the high leg kick. Wilken invited Davis and his dad to breakfast. After an hour of sharing old baseball stories, Wilken finally asked how important school was to Davis, then offered a professional contract.

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Davis' first hitting coach, Brack Hardee, has to be included. Since he was 12, Davis hit with Hardee at least five days a week while growing up in Jupiter, Fla. It was Hardee who encouraged the current batting stance in which Davis lifts his left leg, pauses, and then steps and swings, most often with positive results.

When he was playing, Davis would copy every big league player's stance he could think of.

"[Hardee] said, 'I want you to act like you're going to hit the ball as hard as you possibly can right now,'" Davis said of his former coach, who died in 2013. "He said, 'I don't want you to think mechanics, just do what you would do if I told you I'd pay you $100 if you hit this ball father than you ever hit a ball.' I kind of did a little bit of the [leg kick]."

The coach was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that also claimed the life of Hall of Famer Gary Carter. Carter knew Hardee and helped him get treatment, but it couldn't save him. Hardee died at the age of 43.

"He got to watch me play in pro ball one time," Davis said. "But he couldn't get out of the car."

Davis' RBI Double

For a couple of Minor League seasons, Davis spent more time on the DL than he did in actual games. And yet, Davis was given serious consideration by some teams last December when he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. When you hit .361 at Double-A and Triple-A, which Davis did last season, and folks are calling you "Crush Davis," scouts notice.

"He's trying to become a viable Major League player, which is one of the hardest things to do, without having played much," said Minor League field coordinator Tim Cossins, who noted the reports on Davis highlighted stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. He was considered a sleeper.

"When I first got here [in 2012], I initially kind of whiffed on what those [intangibles] were and learned a valuable lesson," Cossins said.

He's not the only one. Desi Wilson was the Double-A hitting coach, saw Davis in one at-bat, and told him to stop the leg kick. A lot of people tell Davis he looks like the Dodgers' Justin Turner because both have long hair and similiar stances.

"I didn't get it from him," Davis said. "I've done it on my own. I didn't have a coach talk to me about it. I kind of made it up. It started small and I'd have a good series, and it got a little bigger and it kept going like that."

Davis did what Wilson said, abandoned the kick, and looked terrible.

"I felt bad," Wilson said. "I said, 'Taylor, go back to what you were doing.' He went back, and boom, hit a home run. After that experience, it made me realize that's his natural move."

Other Minor League coaches also tried to talk Davis out of it.

"I took it away for a couple years, and then I struggled and I decided if I was going to get released, it was going to be on my own terms," Davis said. "I was going to get released having fun. That was a big thing for me. I don't want to look back on this game and have regrets. I didn't want to look back and think, I was ticked off about that 1-for-4. I want to be, 'Hey, I'm having fun with my teammates in the dugout.'

"Everybody gets a laugh. I struck out the other day [in a Cactus League game], and the whole dugout is laughing. That's fun. Baseball's got to be fun. When it loses that, you lose everything."

Davis now finds himself at Spring Training camp as a non-roster invitee.

"He's got a chance to be a backup or platoon guy for a number of years," said Wilken, now in the D-backs organization. "He gets it."

What has impressed anyone who comes in contact with Davis is his attitude. When he was on the DL, he never complained. Davis played in 34 games in the Minors in 2013 and 53 in '14. A lot of players might have gotten frustrated and quit.

"He's almost too good to be true," Wilken said. "Everything about him is genuine, as a human being, as a ballplayer."

Cossins works with the catchers, and said Davis, 26, doesn't always look great in drills, but when it's game time, he's on. Of course, the question now is, can Davis get to the big leagues? Will the movie have a happy ending?

"It's an amazing feat, and one people hope he accomplishes, including myself," Cossins said. "He's a grinder. He's equal parts really talented player, equal parts talented clubbie, psychologist. He's one of those guys who gets along well with everybody at every level. It's really fascinating."

When Davis was promoted to Tennessee, the Daytona pitchers chipped in to get him a $500 gift card to a hunting and fishing store because they appreciated everything he did for them.

"To see him in the big league camp, it gives me goosebumps," Wilson said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.