While Chris Davis has struggled in his big league stints over the last two years, it's impossible to ignore his consistently staggering minor league numbers.
Every time Davis has been sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma City, he has picked up right where he left off. This year, the left-handed slugger appeared in 103 gamed with the RedHawks, batting .327 with 31 doubles, 14 home runs, and 80 RBI.
Davis was particularly dominant in June and July, when he was one of the most dangerous hitters in all of minor league baseball. He went 55-for-134 (.410) with 12 doubles and six round-trippers during the 35-game stretch. The streak ended with another big league call-up, as then-Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak was dealt to Seattle in exchange for Cliff Lee.
The Longview native played out the remainder of the month with the Rangers before being re-optioned to OKC when the club called up Mitch Moreland and acquired Jorge Cantu from Florida.
Upon returning to the minors, Davis––an above-average defender at first––began spending most of his time at third base while playing the occasional game at first or in left field. Though the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder doesn't have the range to be an every day player at third or in left, he does possess plus arm strength that is rarely used at first base.
Davis' issues with the major league club have been well-documented. He is only 19-for-102 (.186) with zero homers and 32 strikeouts in three separate stints with the Rangers this season.
However, that Davis continues to mash Triple-A pitching at such a staggering rate is at least partially significant. Davis is still only 24-years-old––making him among the younger players on just about any Triple-A club.
The slugger has excellent raw power, and he could be a 4-A player––or he could be a late-bloomer. Current Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz played parts of five seasons in Triple-A and didn't become a full-time big leaguer until he was 28-years-old.
Only time will tell whether Davis has a future with the Texas Rangers beyond the 2010 campaign. But one thing is for sure––every time he returns to Triple-A, he continues to crush the ball.
Honorable Mention: Engel Beltre (Bakersfield/Frisco), Davis Stoneburner (Bakersfield/Frisco/OKC), Zach Zaneski (Hickory), Jared Hoying (Spokane), Jhonny Gomez (AZL Rangers)
Pitcher of the Year: Robbie Erlin, LHP, Hickory
Robbie Erlin raised plenty of eyebrows with his surprising assignment to Single-A Hickory directly out of his first Spring Training.
The former third-round pick had impressed the Rangers' brass ever since he signed for a $425,000 bonus last summer. He pitched well late in the Arizona League, at Fall Instructional League, and then continued his dominance in camp this year.
In recent years, the best-case scenario for first-year players out of high school had been to start in Extended Spring Training before eventually joining the full-season Class-A club. Blake Beavan took that route in 2008 and Joe Wieland followed in '09.
But Erlin went straight to Hickory, and he had incredible success from the start. He surrendered only two earned runs in 34.1 innings (0.52 ERA) during the season's first two months. After starting in the bullpen, he made his first start in Kannapolis on May 18 and retired all 15 batters he faced, striking out nine.
The Santa Cruz, Calif., native ended up pitching the entire season with Hickory, posting a 6-3 record with a 2.12 earned-run average in 114.2 innings. He surrendered 89 hits while walking 17 and striking out 125.
The Rangers sent the 19-year-old straight to full-season ball largely because of his advanced mental makeup. He has an intelligent, level-headed approach to the game, both on and off the field.
Erlin succeeded with the Crawdads due to his ability to locate his arsenal within the strike zone and throw all three pitches confidently in any count. He featured an upper-80s, low-90s fastball, a big curveball, and a promising changeup with plenty of life. Erlin pitched well with both his two- and four-seam fastballs, locating them to both corners of the plate effectively.
The vast majority of high school-bred pitchers don't enter professional ball with advanced changeups. But Erlin's change––and his ability to command his fastball inside––allowed the southpaw to limit right-handed hitters to a paltry .179/.216/.279 slash line this season.
At 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, Erlin doesn't figure to add overpowering velocity and he doesn't have top-of-the-rotation projection. But his polish and three-pitch mix should allow him to fly through the minors in the coming years.
Honorable Mention: Michael Kirkman (Oklahoma City), Blake Beavan (Frisco), Mark Hamburger (Bakersfield/Frisco), Tim Stanford (Spokane), Chris Hanna (AZL Rangers/Spokane)
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