I’m a fan of quirky things in baseball. With more innovation currently in the game than any other point in time, my fandom has been rewarded with more quirky things. Being a Royals fan, I got witness some of this with them rostering perhaps the closest thing to a modern-day designated pinch-runner in Terrance Gore. Adding that element to the later innings of critical and competitive games provided an extra drop of entertainment.
After Terrance Gore showed he could provide value on a major league roster late in the season, more teams started to follow that path, utilizing speedsters to give an extra advantage on the base paths in close games. Yesterday, the Rays joined the party.
#Rays call up the secret weapon, speedy OF Johnny Davis.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) September 11, 2019
My guess would be that most casual baseball fans do not recognize the name Johnny Davis. Before playing five games with the Rays Double-A affiliate recently, he hadn’t been in affiliated baseball since early 2018, splitting his time in-between with independent baseball’s Kansas City T-Bones and two teams in Mexico. A 22nd round draft pick by the Brewers back in 2013 and an owner of a career .688 OPS across all levels of baseball, he was never much of a prospect.
If anything was ever going to bring Davis to the major leagues, it was always going to be his speed...
“Davis is a pure 80 runner, a hitter who makes fielders uncomfortable at the plate as he is looking to bunt and get on base. He lacks the hitting skills to be a bigger threat overall. Being a below-average OF defensively doesn’t help matters as poor routes/jumps will hurt him down the road. Every organization has a Terrance Gore type floating around, the Brewers one is named Johnny Davis.”
Since Davis started playing professional baseball in 2013, his speed has been translating to results on the base paths. Out of 2,208 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances since his debut season, only 51 have more stolen bases. Among that group, he ranks in the top one percent in rate of attempting a stolen base and the top fifth in success rate among players with at least 50 stolen bases during that time.
So how will Davis factor into the Rays plans for the rest of the season? For starters, you can probably expect him to fill a pinch-running role for the month of September, particularity in the later innings, much like Terrance Gore in the past. Among Rays getting significant playing time recently, there are players like Matt Duffy (26.4 ft/s), Eric Sogard (26.2 ft/s), Ji-Man Choi (25.2 ft/s), and Mike Zunino (26.2 ft/s) with Sprint Speeds well below the major league average of 27 feet per second.
If Davis sees time for the Rays in high-leverage situations during September and all goes well, it would seem feasible that he’ll find himself a spot on a potential Rays postseason roster. In the format of the single-elimination AL, Wild Card game the Rays would be playing in, any extra advantage a team can get could end up making all the difference.