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Is Matt Davidson destined to be a bust?

Top prospect Matt Davidson struggled mightily in 2014, hitting a paltry .199/.283/.362 en route to posting a 77wRC+ in his second go-round in Class AAA. So what does his future look like?

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Rob Tringali

It was a move that every rebuilding team should make: ship off a valuable commodity that doesn’t fit the club’s long term plans in exchange for a upper tier, near big league-ready prospect. And that’s exactly what Chicago White Sox GM Rick Hahn did December 16th of last year.

The Sox, coming off of a 63-win season, the club’s lowest win total in a full year since 1970, was loaded with aging veterans and a plethora of underperforming/underwhelming players. They did have, however, a young, 24-year-old flame-throwing closer with fantastic peripherals – a luxury for any cellar-dwelling team. (Note: one has to wonder what would have transpired if the newly-minted AL Champion Royals had dealt Joakim Soria during his peak years, or at least pushed him into the rotation.)

Anyway, Hahn correctly assessed the situation and shipped Addison Reed to Arizona for one of the better third base prospects in the game – Matt Davidson.

Davidson, a former first round pick, was coming off of his fourth consecutive solid showing in the minor leagues, hitting .280/. 359/.481 with 17 home runs in his first stint at Triple-A, at the ripe ol’ age of 22. He was knocking on the big league door and appeared to be the answer to the White Sox’s quest to a long term third baseman.

Except...Davidson tanked this season. Epically.

Since the beginning of the 2006 season, the first year of minor league data at FanGraphs, just 27 players met the following criteria:

• Class AAA
• 23-years-old or younger
• A minimum of 350 plate appearances
• A wRC+ total of 77 or lower

Of those 27, the best offensive performers at the big league level have been Matt Dominguez, owner of a career 78 wRC+, and Jose Iglesias, who’s sporting an 86 wRC+ through his first 465 plate appearances. Now to be fair there are a handful of other interesting prospects in the group, namely Max Stassi, Hak-Ju Lee and Taylor Lindsey, but even with their inclusion the set lacks anything close to a potential impact bat.

Davidson became the 28th member of the group this season.

Obviously, it’s a bit of limited data set, one that extends just eight seasons, and Davidson’s offensive prowess has extended well-beyond this season, but he would be the first player in the group to develop into anything tangible. And several other players – Eric Duncan, Joaquin Arias, and Matt Antonelli – were former top prospects that never panned out either.

So now I wanted to take a step back and see what CAL, the player classification system I developed and explained here, thinks about Davidson.

Following his wretched 2014 campaign in which he put together a triple slash line of .199/.283/.362, his top CALs, or comparable players, through the age of 23 are:

Age 23
Alex Liddi
Brandon Wood
Mat Gamel
Josh Bell
Mike Costanzo
Edward Salcedo
Joel Guzman

It’s a who’s who list of – well – a bunch of prospect busts. Wood, Gamel, Bell, and Guzman all spent time on Baseball America’s Top 100 List. Costanzo is a former second round pick. And after hitting .259/.332/.488 in the PCL at the age of 22, Liddi made his (short-lived) MLB debut.

CAL weights a player’s most recent season heavier than past production, so let’s take a look at his top comps from age 22 all the way back to his second full season in the minors (age 19):

Age 22
Alex Liddi
Will Middlebrooks
David Winfree
Edward Salcedo
Mat Gamel
Quincy Latimore
Michael Burgess

Age 21
Bobby Borchering
Michael Burgess
Matt Helm
Jovan Rosa
Lance Ray
David Winfree
Alex Liddi

Age 20
Bobby Borchering
Jovan Rosa
Matt Helm
Karexon Sanchez
Austin Gallagher
Chris Marrero
Alex Liddi

Age 19
Alex Liddi
Michael Almanzar
Drew Ward
Billy Rowell
Koby Clemens
Matt West
Dante Bichette

Even coming off of a season in which Davidson slugged .280/.350/.481 as a 22-year-old in Class AAA his top comp is still Liddi. In fact, Liddi appears as his top CAL one other time, age 19, and within the top seven at every age. And what’s even more alarming is that there isn’t one viable big league bat in the entire group. The best: Middlebrooks, who hit .288/.328/.509 as a rookie and then followed that up with a .213/.265/.364 line in his ensuing 608 plate appearances.

So, no, CAL isn’t expecting—or hasn’t at any point expected—great things from Davidson.

But why?

Well, prior to this season Davidson had a history of solid performances without truly dominating at any stop. His wRC+ totals at each stop since 2009 (at least 200 PA): 77, 139, 107, 134, 117, and 77. He’s displayed above-average power (like many of his CALs), but the hit tool has been average at best and he’s been prone to some borderline red flag strikeout rates at various stages.

At the end of the day Hahn’s plan of shipping off a replaceable cog on a rebuilding team was the right idea; he just acquired the wrong prospect.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey