2013 was a frenetic year for young third baseman Matt Davidson. He will turn 23 just before the 2014 Major League Baseball season opens and he could be on the verge of an entirely new world, playing for a new team in a new city as the favorite to be the starting third baseman of the Chicago White Sox. Traded in the offseason from the only organization he’s known, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Davidson could be a symbol of a new beginning for the White Sox, seeing as they traded their closer, Addison Reed, to Arizona for him.
Davidson was a supplemental round draft pick (35th overall) of the Diamondbacks in 2009 out of Yucaipa High School in California (where played with another Prospect on the Verge, Taijuan Walker), signing quickly for a $900,000 bonus. Despite being only 18 years old, he ended up playing in the older Northwest League, holding his own against mostly collegiate-age competition. After a regular spring training in 2010, Davidson excelled in Class-A South Bend, hitting .289 and blasting 16 home runs (and 35 doubles) before a late season call up to High-A Visalia. While his numbers in Visalia weren’t great, he returned in 2011 to hit 20 home runs for the first time, following that figure up in Double-A Mobile in 2012.
Continuing his march up the ladder, in 2013, Davidson started in Triple-A Reno and put up an .831 OPS (accounting for a 117 wRC+) in 500 plate appearances before making his major league debut on August 11 and playing the final month and a half of the season for the Diamondbacks, hitting .237/.333/.434 in 87 plate appearances.
Holding on to his rookie eligibility, Davidson has put himself in a strong position to compete for the Opening Day third base job in Chicago. Third baseman for Chicago hit 249/.294/.352 last year and Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger are the incumbents at a position where Davidson would provide a much more potent (and younger) offensive weapon.
Despite the accolades, Davidson’s biggest weakness has been his predilection to strike out. He has never struck out less than 21.9% of the time in any minor league season and the fewest number of strikeouts he has had in a full season of minor league baseball is 126. Davidson has always made good contact (as seen by his high minor league batting averages) and has shown a good understanding of the strike zone, boasting at least average walk rates. Both of these attributes will serve Davidson in good stead as he looks to improve at the major league level.
Davidson appears to have a good understanding of what he needs to do to improve against the game’s best competition with Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times quoting him as saying that he’s been working with hitting coach Todd Steverson on using the whole field, noting that he had gotten “pull happy” and had seen his average go down and strikeouts go up.
He’s also not letting expectations get to him. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes that Davidson is focusing on getting better as a player rather than on winning a job. Haugh quotes Davidson as saying, “I’m not necessarily trying to win a job because I could have a great spring, get to Chicago and was so focused on getting the job that I kind of get lost in the process.”
To cap off Davidson’s whirlwind year that involved being named the MVP in the Futures’ Game, making the majors and getting traded, he also got married this offseason to his childhood sweetheart, Jullianne. The sense of groundedness comes through in Davidson’s interviews and it looks like the White Sox could have their third baseman of the future. The question will be when that future begins.