Davis' development encouraging to Reds

Evolution of put-away pitch could propel righty prospect to MLB roster

Davis' development encouraging to Reds

LOUISVILLE -- The Reds didn't get quite the same haul as the Yankees did in their deal for closer Aroldis Chapman, which featured Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney from the Cubs. Torres was ranked as the No. 17 prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com, and McKinney is now the Yankees' No. 15 prospect. But the continued development of starting pitching prospect Rookie Davis has made that disparity a little easier to swallow.

Davis, the Reds' No. 8 prospect, was viewed by the Reds as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Chapman to New York in December 2015. Infielders Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda and reliever Caleb Cotham also went to Cincinnati.

"I think he has the makeup, he has the ability," Triple-A Louisville manager Delino DeShields said of Davis in late August. "I like his presence, his mound presence. A lot of things about Rookie that I like that I've seen, but there's still some room to grow."

In 19 starts for Double-A Pensacola, Davis posted a strong 2.94 ERA, enough to earn him an August promotion to Triple-A Louisville. In Louisville, Davis didn't find the same level of success, however, putting up a 7.50 ERA in five outings (four starts).

That learning curve isn't uncommon for players jumping from Double-A to Triple-A. For Davis, the issue was getting guys to swing at his off-speed pitches. At Pensacola, he could consistently drop his curveball out the back door and get swings on pitches in the dirt. But in Triple-A, he acknowledged that he needed to establish his offspeed stuff in the strike zone.

"I would say, honestly, guys just eliminate things here. I've struggled getting my breaking ball over for a strike," Davis said. "These guys have a better approach at the plate. My stuff plays here, I know that, it just comes down to pitch execution and sometimes pitch selection, too. These guys, they've seen it all. Mentally, I just need to do a better job of getting ahead of guys."

If there's a red flag with Davis' 2016 season, it's that the strikeouts dipped. A guy with a career strikeout rate of nearly one per inning, Davis' 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings was a career low.

For Davis to make that final jump to being Major League ready, he'll have to prove that he can consistently put hitters away, and that means developing his curveball and changeup to complement his plus fastball that touches the mid to upper 90s.

"I think there's some things he needs to improve on, his secondary pitches in particular," DeShields said. "To me, he lacks a real put-away pitch right now. He gets ahead of a lot of guys, a lot of hitters and guys foul balls and battle back in the counts where if he had a real out pitch, he could put guys away with a little more consistency."

Even so, there's no rush with the 23-year-old righty. With much of the Reds' Major League rotation filled out and a handful of additional guys vying for spots, Davis will likely have most if not all of 2017 to develop in Louisville.

But he won't let that taper his ambition.

"My goal coming into [2016] was to pitch in the big leagues this year, and I fully believed it," Davis said. "Any time you're in Double-A, you're extremely close. You see guys go from Double-A to the big leagues not a ton, but it still happens."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.