Ray of the day: Wade Davis

February 28, 2009 at 9:26 pm | Posted in My Cards, Rays, Upper Deck | Leave a comment

We all know that the results of spring training games are meaningless, and Thursday’s game between the Rays and the Yankees was no exception.  The Rays only had one regular starter in the lineup (Carl Crawford) and the team more closely resembled the 2008 Durham Bulls than the real Tampa Bay Rays.  And of course, they lost the game, 5-1.  But there are some moments in spring training games, performances by certain players, that actually are meaningful and become sources of real optimism for fans.

I remember last spring when David Price pitched an inning against the Yankees and struck out the side, generating a huge amount of excitement and foreshadowing his late season and post-season success.  And then on Thursday, another Rays pitching phenom, Wade Davis, took the mound and had an even more impressive performance.  Davis made his first start of the spring, and pitched two perfect innings against the Yankees.  While Price struck out Shelley Duncan, Jason Lane, and Wilson Betemit in his memorable outing, Davis faced the Yankees real lineup.  He struck out Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Photo credit: St. Pete Times

Photo credit: St. Pete Times

Wade Davis is a name that might not be familiar to many baseball fans, but he’s been very well known to Rays fans ever since he was the team’s 3rd round pick in 2004.  Davis has been overshadowed by David Price in the Rays organization, but he’d be the top pitching prospect for almost any other team in MLB.  Although the Rays have a very, very good starting rotation with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and Price, I expect that Wade Davis will find a spot in the rotation sometime in 2009, either because of an injury or by forcing the team to trade someone to make room for him.  At the very least, he could be a very valuable late inning reliever until a spot in the rotation opens up.

The story of Wade Davis really goes back to 2003.  That year, the (Devil) Rays took a gamble with their third round pick, taking a highly touted pitcher from a Florida high school in the third round.  They intended to offer a large enough bonus to entice him to sign instead of going to college.  That pitcher was Andrew Miller, and the Rays were unable to sign him.  He decided to go to college down the road from me in Chapel Hill, where he dominated for three years.  He was then drafted by the Tigers with the #6 overall pick in 2006, traded to the Marlins in 2007, and he became a card blog phenomenon in 2008 when Mario from Wax Heaven began collecting his cards…

Anyway, the experience with Miller in 2003 did not deter the Rays from following the same strategy in the 2004 draft.  Once again, they took a high school pitcher from Florida in the third round.  This time it was Wade Davis, and this time they were successful in convincing him to sign with the team instead of attending the University of Florida.  They did the same thing in the fifth round, grabbing Jake McGee from a Nevada high school.  Davis and McGee immediately became two of their top pitching prospects.  They pitched together in rookie league Princeton in 2004, and then they both started to dominate at short-season Single-A Hudson Valley in 2005.  Davis led the league in strikeouts.  They moved up to Single-A Southwest Michigan in 2006, and high Single-A Vero Beach in 2007.  Davis threw no-hitters in each year, and he finished second in the organization in strikeouts both years, only behind McGee.  Both of them were promoted to Double-A Montgomery in the second half of 2007.

They started 2008 together again in Montgomery, and both were among the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.  McGee was rated slightly higher on most prospect lists since he’s a lefty and Davis is a righty.  Unfortunately, McGee hurt his elbow in June, and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.  He won’t be back until late 2009 at the earliest.  Davis continued to dominate in Double-A, earning the start in the Southern League All Star game, which I attended.  I was able to get him to sign a baseball for me before the game:

p1010431

Davis was promoted to Triple-A Durham immediately after the All Star game, and he was the Bulls’ best pitcher in the second half, with a 2.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 55 strikeouts in 53 innings.  I was fortunate to be able to see him pitch a few times in Durham.  Davis is now 23, he throws a fastball that tops out at 98 MPH, a killer curveball, an improving changeup, and he’s recently added a slider to his repertoire.  He also seems to have a tough bulldog mentality on the mound, similar to Matt Garza.  He’s going to be a #1 or #2 starting pitcher in the major leagues, and I can’t wait to see his career develop.  But I won’t complain if I get to see him spend a little bit more time in Durham…

To date, Wade Davis’ only certified autograph is from 2004 Upper Deck SP Prospects, and it’s by far his most desirable card.  You can see my copy of the card, #418/600, below.  There should be quite a few more Davis autographs in Topps and Upper Deck products once he makes his major league debut.  If he has the success in the major leagues that I believe that he will, his cards will have a major impact on the hobby.

wade_davis_auto

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