By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
D.J. Davis is fast. He hopes to make an even faster progression to reach his big league dreams.
The 18-year-old Davis, an outfielder for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League, has plans to move forward in the Toronto system in a hurry.
“Get up to Toronto in about two years,” Davis said.
He’s serious. Davis was quoted a preseason publication that his goal was to reach Double-A this year, which would be a fast climb for anyone, even a first round draft pick. While Davis didn’t exactly remember making such a statement, it sounded good to him.
“Somebody may have put that, but that is a good goal,” said Davis, with a smile. “I will do it.”
Don’t count him out. Davis, the fourth ranked and top-rated non-pitching prospect in the Toronto minor league system, was a first round selection — and 17th overall selection — last June out of Wiggins, Miss.
Why so high?
“They probably saw potential and always getting after it and putting everything out on the line for the team,” Davis said. “I can do the little things, make the bunt, make the plays in the outfield and do whatever I can for the team.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Davis has demonstrated those abilities as the starting center fielder for the Blue Jays. He batted .340 in 12 games last summer with Bluefield, stealing six bases and driving in six runs.
He has started slow this season, hitting .217 in five games, with four RBIs, two triples and a double heading into Wednesday’s game with Burlington.
Don’t expect those struggles to last long. He knows what has to be done.
“You have just got to get consistent,” he said. “Everything you do has got to be consistent and you have to try your hardest...
“It is fun, I am enjoying every minute of it.”
He has learned from family experience. His father, Wayne Davis, played in the Toronto system from 1985-88, getting as far as High-A with the Blue Jays.
“Get higher than him and keep going,” said Davis, with a smile. “He just said it is a grind, you have just got to hold your own and go get it, go after it.”
Davis, who grew up as a Toronto fan, is a rare highly-touted product who didn’t play travel baseball during the summer. He was ‘discovered’ playing on the high school fields of Mississippi.
“I didn’t play on any travel teams,” Davis said. “I guess I just caught a scout’s eye who was looking at somebody else. I felt like I had the talent to do it, I just had to wait for my moment, it came and I just took off with it.”
It didn’t take long for Davis to realize the level of baseball in the pro ranks definitely eclipses what he saw on the prep diamonds.
“It is way better, the guys are consistent here, they don’t make too many errors, the pitching is better,” said Davis, who received a signing bonus of $1.75 million. “It is real better than high school.”
Davis had a full travel-filled experience last summer, beginning the summer playing in the Gulf Coast League in Dunedin, Fla. He hit .233 in 43 games, collecting four home runs, 12 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases, seven doubles, two triples and 30 runs scored.
Davis then advanced to Bluefield, batting .340 in 12 games. He was one of more than a dozen Blue Jays, who were promoted to the Vancouver Canadians, assisting in a Northwest League championship.
“That was quite a year, to move up like that,” said Davis, who had three hits in 18-at bats with the Canadians. “It was a blessing. It was a nice year, most guys don’t move up that quick that early, that was great.”
He was admittedly a little surprised to be back in Bluefield, but hasn’t found time to complain.
“It kind of surprised me, but I ain’t complaining,” Davis said. “I was expecting to go up a little bit higher, but it is good to be back here, the fans, they know me so that is good.
“It is a good place to live because it is quiet, you don’t have too many people out there yelling ‘hey’, it is a good place to be and play ball.”
While Davis has learned much from his dad, his trail to the big leagues will have to be through his own ability, and he’s ready to show it on the field.
“Just doing it every day, I ain’t ever played every day like this consistently,” Davis said. “Just come out and give my hardest every day, some days you might decide you don’t want to do it, but you have to get over the hump... You have got to do it.”
He did it for several months during extended spring training in Florida, an experience that Davis would probably prefer not to repeat.
“In extended there was no fans, somebody could make a big play and nobody would get excited so it was kind of hard,” Davis said. “You have got to grind it out really...It is not easy, it is tough.”
Just getting on the field can be hard enough. Davis is one of six outfielders currently on the Blue Jays so he has work to keep his spot on the field, despite being a first round draft pick.
“You have got to out-work them, when we do the outfield drills, I tell them ‘I am going to out-work ya’ll today, you have got to bring it’,” Davis said. “I just try to boost them up, have fun.”
That even goes for another D.J., — D.J. Jones — an outfielder who is also trying to get on the field.
“My roommate is an outfielder too,” Davis said. “I tell him ‘Hey, off the field we are buddies, but on the field I am going to take your job so you had better bring it.”
There is one development that could slow Davis’ drive to Toronto. The Blue Jays have spent heavily on higher-prices talent and used young players as trade bait to bring in veterans for the major league club.
Davis has noticed those moves, but isn’t concerned about the big league Blue Jays just yet.
“When I see things like that, you just need to keep doing what you are doing,” Davis said. “Grind it out, don’t worry about what Toronto is doing, worry about what you have got to do and get better.”
What Davis feels like the Blue Jays have brought to Bluefield is a team capable of not only competing for the Appalachian League title, but also regaining the Mercer Cup from the Princeton Rays.
“We have got a pretty good team, it is fun,” Davis said. “We want to win the Cup this year, that is the big thing this year. We are after it this year.”
—Contact Brian Woodson