When pitchers reported to Port Charlotte this year for Tampa Bay Rays spring training, four men showed up knowing they would be in the starting rotation when the Rays open their regular season on April 6. One man showed up to prove that he deserves to be the fifth.
That man is Wade Davis.
Unless you paid attention to last season’s September mop-up duty at Tropicana Field, or you’re a die-hard fan of the International League, this is possibly the first time that you have heard more than a mention of Davis’ name. According to Google, Davis is not even the Internet’s most famous Wade Davis. That honor would go to the Canadian anthropologist who wrote the timeless classic, “The Serpent and the Rainbow.”
Three years before David Price stepped foot into a then-Devil Rays facility, Davis was the hard-throwing prospect that fans dreamed could impact the club in some form of a positive way. Taken in the third round round of the 2004 draft, Davis became the latest minor league addition to a franchise with no hope. Four years later he found himself a stud prospect in a contending organization.
The problem? He was contending for a south division title with the Durham Bulls instead of a World Series ring in St. Petersburg. Luckily for Davis, great five-man starting rotations have the shelf life of an episode of “Sportscenter.”
In 2009, things began to fall apart on the mound for every Ray not named Matt Garza. Scott Kazmir, long a nerve-racking concern who led the Rays in pitch counts and bitten fingernails, finally became ineffective. Andy Sonnanstine wasn’t given nearly the long leash that Kazmir had been afforded. He was sent down to Triple-A and only brought back up later because the Rays finally gave up on Kazmir and traded him to the Anaheim Angels.
Needless to say, there were welcoming arms for any pitcher with a glimmer of promise when the time came for September call-ups. Davis was more than ready to be that glimmer. The pitching co-star of the previous two spring trainings along with Price, Davis made his major league debut on September 6 against the Detroit Tigers. He pitched seven innings, he gave up one run, he struck out nine batters.
No longer did Davis stand in a shadow.
Now with Grapefruit League play officially beginning, Davis is trying to capitalize on September’s momentum. According to most sources, the fifth spot in the rotation is his to lose. There is no real one-on-one battle for the spot. Sonnanstine is still around, but he appears closer to a bullpen spot than another attempt at starting.
So it will be up to Davis, with his powerful fastball and a curveball that makes scouts drool like a Yankee at Mons Venus, to fill a void.
No, Davis doesn’t have the heroic accolades that other major prospects may tout. He’s not a national darling like Jason Heyward or Stephen Strasburg (who I personally think will be a bit of a bust, just saying). Even in Port Charlotte he doesn’t quite carry the young gun persona of a Desmond Jennings.
Davis is simply a competitor looking to make a team that plays only about an hour away from his home town of Lake Wales. Big name prospects are supposed to shoot through the ranks, not work toward their major league aspirations for six years.
However, I think it can be said that if Davis lives up to his potential that towers as high as his 6-foot-5-inch frame, the Rays’ starting rotation will be as deep and solid as it has ever been.
With GM Andrew Friedman admitting that the Rays are well over the budget that they can comfortably operate on, time may be cutting short on these Rays to prove that they can recapture what they did in 2008 and more. This will almost certainly be the last year in St. Petersburg for guys like Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena for numerous financial reasons.
I have a hard time believing that they will allow their time with the Rays to pass by making 2010 another season of offensive struggles similar to 2009. “Must win now” situations can make or break a team. Here’s to hoping that 2010 holds the former for the Rays.
If he is indeed the fifth starter, Wade Davis will be a large factor in the longevity of Rays pitching this season.
What we here at SC are truly looking forward to is the possibility of a Davis-Heyward stare down when their respective teams meet in interleague play in June.
Let the spring officially begin.
DISCLAIMER: This brutal fastball strikeout was not captured at a major league facility.