Austin Davis pitched well enough in his debut season in the Gulf Coast League to allow the Phillies to send him right to Low-A Lakewood to start the 2015 season. He showed that he was ready for the move up the ladder by posting a 3.76 ERA in 33 games, 11 of which were as a starter. For much of the season, Davis was in the bullpen, with the exception of a spot start against Delmarva in mid-June. When a rotation spot opened in early July, the Phillies moved Davis into the rotation for the rest of the season and in five of those ten starts, he was able to throw at least six innings.
When all was said and done though, Davis' ERA as a reliever (2.58) was nearly two runs better than the 4.55 ERA he posted in the starting rotation.
One of the reasons for Davis' struggles as a starter is his lack of a quality third pitch to keep hitters honest. He's got a nice, lively fastball and a plus changeup, but the slider that he throws hasn't quite become the pitch that it was hoped it would. The lack of a third pitch, whether it becomes a slider or a curve, will likely be the determining factor on whether Davis is a starter or reliever.
The good news is that Davis doesn't appear to be a lefty-only type reliever. Last season with Lakewood, right-handed hitters hit just .226 against him, while left-handed hitters hit .217 on the season. The changeup is the biggest reason why he's effective against hitters from both sides. Even in his college days at Cal State University Bakersfield, the changeup was his calling card. He disguises the pitch well and hitters can't distinguish any change in arm speed or level to tip off what's coming.
Another minor flaw is in Davis' mechanics. He can sometimes get off his rhythm, especially when he starts to tire. When that happens, he leaves pitches up in the zone and loses movement on his fastball. That's a common flaw for young pitchers and Davis is already showing signs of improving the consistency in his delivery, so that shouldn't be a lingering issue for the 23-year old.
If the Phillies do plan on using Davis as a reliever this season, he's ready to step up to High-A Clearwater. If they want him to work more on being a starter, then sticking at Lakewood, at least for part of the season, would make a lot of sense.