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April 20, 2010

Future Shock

Ike Davis' Promotion

by Kevin Goldstein

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Smart people with lives went out on Saturday night, but plenty of dorky baseball folks couldn't leave their couch, entranced by the marathon of comedic incompetence that was the Mets/Cardinals game. Twitter was, well... atwitter with writers both at the game and watching elsewhere cracking jokes.

In the 18th inning, facing shortstop Felipe Lopez, Mike Jacobs flied out with runners on first and second and two outs. It was arguably the worst piece of situational hitting in recent memory, and it prompted me to tweet "The Mets should cut Mike Jacobs before he gets back to the dugout."

In reality they took only a bit longer than that, designating Jacobs and his .208 batting average with one home run for assignment on Sunday. While expected first baseman Daniel Murphy is slow to recover from a sprained knee, the Mets reached down (or up, geographically) to Buffalo on Monday, promoting Ike Davis to the big leagues for the first time in his young career. He went 2-for-4 in the Mets' 6-1 victory over the Cubs on Monday nigh at Citi Field.

Here are five things to know about Ike Davis:

  1. Don't hold it against him, but he's already got a Yankee connection. Ike's father is Ron Davis, who had an 11-year big-league career, including the 1978-1981 years with the Bronx Bombers, during which time he went 27-10 with 22 saves, spending most of that time as the primary set-up man to Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage.
     
  2. The Mets actually could have used him on Saturday as, like his father, Davis can pitch. While he has drafted for the power in his bat, Davis has plenty of lightning in his arm as well. He finished his high school career at Chaparral in Scottsdale, Arizona with a perfect 23-0 record, and was a two-way star at Arizona State, pitching in the Sun Devil rotation as a freshman and closing his junior year. As a reliever, he had a 2.25 ERA in 2008, with 30 strikeouts in 24 innings against just four walks while touching 94 mph on the gun.
     
  3. Twelve months ago, many had already classified Davis as a bust. As good as Davis was on the mound, it was his bat that really attracted scouts, as he was a three-time All-Pac 10 performer who became the first freshman ever to lead the conference in RBIs, while bashing his way up draft boards as a junior with a .385/.457/.742 season that included 16 home runs in 213 at-bats. Holding the 18thpick in the 2008 draft as compensation for the loss of Tom Glavine (whose career had just 13 games left in it), the Mets tabbed Davis with their pick and signed him quickly to a deal that included a $1.575 million bonus. Sent to Brooklyn in the New York-Penn League to begin his career, Davis was expected to put on a show for the locals who would soon be seeing him in Citi Field, but instead he hit just .256. Even more alarming was a lack of power, as in 58 games and 215 at-bats, Davis hit zero (count 'em zilch) home runs. He looked tentative, if not downright lost at the plate throughout the summer, and some prematurely wrote him off, as rarely do first-round picks struggle on that level in their pro debut.
     
  4. His 2009 season was one of the bigger turnarounds in the minors. Davis began last year at High-A St. Lucie in the Florida State League with few expectations, and his power slump continued, with just one blast in his first 37 contests. But unlike his 2008 debut, Davis wasn't tinkering with his swing, and his ability to keep his batting average up and still drive balls led to good adjustments, more confidence, and more success, as he hit .333 with five home runs in his last 14 games for St. Lucie before moving up to Double-A Birmingham in June. There, despite the great challenge, Davis, if anything, got even better, hitting .309 with 13 home runs in his 55 games with the B-Mets, followed by a .341 mark in the Arizona Fall League. From whispers of bust to the best power prospect in the system in the span of about six months, that's the life of a first-round pick.
     
  5. He didn't start in the big leagues this year for a reason. Davis had a good spring training, and let's face it, Daniel Murphy is hardly the ideal solution for the Mets at first base, either now or long-term. Davis is unquestionably the future at the position, but one hole in his game needs to be addressed, which is why he began the season in the International League. Here are Davis' splits since his 2009 breakout began:

    Hand AB HR AVG SLG
    vs. LHP 139 4 .237 .381
    vs. RHP 323 18 .331 .598

    Against righties, Davis is ready; against lefties, he's an albatross. Expect to see Fernando Tatis give Davis a rest against tough lefties, but some believe the Mets will play Davis every day for the most part, as he's not going to get any better against southpaws sitting on the bench.

 Davis certainly entered the year as the club's first baseman of the future, but the plan was for that to begin in September if Davis continued to make progress at Triple-A. Injuries, poor performances, and bad signing decisions have moved that timetable up considerably. The future is certainly bright for Davis, but I wouldn't expect too much until next year. He's in the big leagues right now by need, not design.  

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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