It’s hard to imagine a player faster than Reds farmhand Billy Hamilton. Last year, in 135 games, Hamilton broke the century mark for stolen bases, tallying 103 at year’s end. This year he’s blowing that pace out of the water. Thus far, in 56 games, Hamilton has stolen 67 bases. So when scouting reports emerged alleging that prep outfielder D.J. Davis was faster than Hamilton, teams took notice. Davis’s speed is simply ridiculous, as he ran a 6.4 second 60 yard dash, easily giving him an 80 grade in speed. In fact, it’s possible that Davis has simply broke the scale and a grade of 90 would be more appropriate. Regardless, Davis possess one of the most exciting and game-changing tools in baseball and at an absolutely elite level to boot. That gives him massive upside, that will largely depend on how the rest of Davis’s game evolves as he grows older and progresses through a farm system. The Toronto Blue Jays decided to take that chance – that the rest of Davis’s game will come along enough that he can effectively use his speed – and drafted him with the 17th overall pick, generally around the spot most industry experts had him rated. For example, Baseball America ranked him 20th while Jonathan Mayo over at MLB.com had him one spot lower at #21. Keith Law was not nearly as enamored with Davis, bucking the trend and putting him at #65 on his list over at ESPN.com
As previously mentioned, most of Davis’s upside is predicated on one tool, his speed. That will never be a question mark, as it will give Davis the ability to wreck havoc on the bases and cover massive amounts of ground in centerfield. What is a question mark is if Davis will get on-base enough to use his already legendary speed and be worthy of a starting spot to roam centerfield. While Davis does have some rawness in his game, especially at the plate, he did impress his senior year in the offensive of department. Davis will never be a homerun threat, but he does have enough forearm strength and bat speed that he could have a solid hit tool and hit balls into gaps where he can stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples with his blazing speed. In addition, Davis has recently showed above-average polish for a high schooler, especially for a prep player coming out of Mississippi, a state notorious for raw athletes flaming out due to a lack of baseball skills. That polish has translated to a good approach at the plate, which has Davis draw walks, cut down strikeouts, and use his hit tool to consistently get on-base as he has grown older. Once on base, Davis lets his speed take over. It is also worth noting that Davis is 6’1, so he does have enough of a frame to add some power as he matures long term, although that may cost him some speed.
Defensively, Davis is an outfielder as he doesn’t have the arm for shortstop. His speed obviously profiles well in centerfield, where getting to flyballs should be no problem. Once he has them, Davis’s has a below-average arm, but it has enough strength to get the job done, especially because Davis is fairly accurate with his throws. Based on Davis’s blistering speed alone, he should be a plus defensive centerfield, and if he can polish his route-running and flyball-reading skills, he could be one of the all time greats to roam centerfield.
2012 – 95, PA, 67 AB, .373/.558/.836, 7HR, 3 3B, 4 2B, 24 SB, 1 CS
Generally, the coveted young player is the prototypical 5-tool stud, generally in the outfield or at shortstop. If most or every tool is plus or better, that player often has a good chance of being a superstar. However, that’s not the only path to stardom. Having two absolutely elite tools, complimented with below-average or average tools in the other three categories, as long as they don’t become detriments, can work just as well. That’s what could happen for D.J. Davis. He’s got one incredibly elite tool right now, his 80-grade speed, and that should stick with him for another 10 years at the minimum. In addition, Davis has the chance to refine his defensive abilities and utilize his incredible speed in a manner that gives him an 80-grade glove. On the other, one of Davis’s other tools, his arm will never be elite. That said, it is at least below-average and currently will not ruin him as a player. That leaves Davis’s power and hit tool as the two tools that will define his career. It’s doubtful that Davis will ever have more than average power, if it even makes it to that stage, but below-average power combined with a plus hit tool is a realistic possibility. Add in passable plate discipline, and that should give Davis enough of an offensive game while actually standing in the batter’s box to become an everyday player. From there, his 80 speed and 80 glove will be able to shine, making him a true superstar as a plus-plus defensive centerfielder and one of the game’s best leadoff hitters. There’s no guarantee that Davis will make it there – he is still a raw, toolsy prep player who relies mainly on his speed – and the journey will be a long one, but it’s hard to even fathom his upside. Ultimately, the question is, “will he realize it?”