After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Shohei Ohtani won’t be able to pitch until 2020. It’s a shame that we only had a scant few months of watching an actual two-way player. Baseball fans had gone nearly a century between Babe Ruth and Ohtani. If we’re lucky, we’ll only have to wait a year to see it again. If we’re extremely lucky, we’ll only have to wait until Opening Day.
On Friday, the Rangers signed Matt Davidson to a minor league contract, and the reports are that the corner infielder is going to be given a chance to pitch. The White Sox had given Davidson a similar promise, but that was right before they non-tendered him.
While that sounds like the White Sox didn’t care what Davidson did because they knew he wouldn’t be a part of the 2019 team anyway, maybe they saw this working. They did give him three different opportunities to pitch in the 2018 season, and Davidson rewarded them with three scoreless innings.
Now, it’s not that impressive that Davidson didn’t allow a run. There were 22 position players to throw at least one scoreless inning in 2018, not counting Ohtani. Hernan Perez and Alex Avila each threw two shutout innings. What is impressive is the quality of his pitches.
Davidson’s fastball sits between 90 and 92 MPH which is great for a position player, but if Davidson’s going to make it as a two-way player, he can’t be measured against position players. A 92 MPH fastball is manageable, but in an era where just about everyone is throwing 98 with movement, Davidson will need a quality secondary pitch.
Good thing for Davidson is that he has a very convincing curveball. The 2373 RPM is right around league average. It also comes with two-plane movement and an impressive amount of drop.
That’s more movement than the curveballs of his new teammates Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn. It looks impressive in action, too. Here’s Davidson striking out Giancarlo Stanton with the hook.
You don’t have to squint very hard to see Davidson being a competent reliever. Davidson probably didn’t get a ton of pitching practice in during the 2018 season beyond goofing around during warm-ups. It’s possible that with some coaching and more dedicated work his command and velocity could improve.
Even in the best-case scenario, Davidson probably won’t be seeing a ton of high-leverage situations. Regardless, having another arm on the bench to pitch in blowouts could help save the arms of the rest of the bullpen. If Davidson can eat innings while continuing to be an average hitter at the plate, he could become something more than a novelty.
The odds are stacked against him. It’s impressive enough that Davidson has done well enough to even be given a chance. If Davidson doesn’t hack it as a relief pitcher, we’ll have to wait for Ohtani’s elbow to heal to again see a two-player. Or, you know, Michael Lorenzen could just get some innings in the outfield.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.