I've been beating the Wade Davis, Bullpen Candidate drum for a long time now, and I remain convinced that he's going to start the season in the bullpen. He's the weakest candidate for a rotation spot at the moment and he's more durable than Jeff Niemann, so it seems like an all-but-inevitable end result of spring training. Barring some sort of trade -- and we know how much the Rays love to deal when they have no leverage -- Davis belongs in the bullpen.
But instead of citing through stats and PITCHF/x data to make this point yet again, I want to try something new. Davis has been in the Rays farm system for a long time, and he's been a top rated prospect the entire way up the ladder. Since history has a way of illuminating the present, let's take a look at what scouts were saying about him on the way up.* Maybe it'll be informative, maybe not, but I think it'll be an interesting exercise one way or the other.
*Thanks for the inspiration, FreeZo and Reej.
To begin, let's take the Wayback Machine all the way to 2006...
Side note: I cite some Baseball America reports below that are kept behind a paywall, but I'm not including the reports in full. To read their full write-ups on Davis each year, you'll need to sign up for a Baseball America account. It's worth every penny.
Davis was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft, and he performed well in short-season ball in both 2004 and 2005. Going into 2006, he wasn't ranked in Baseball America's top 100 prospect list, but he put himself on the map this year by striking out 165 batters in only 146 innings in Single-A. This is what folks had to say about him at the time:
His season has been marred by inconsistency in velocity, command and results, but he's hit 97 mph at times with a breaking ball that has been inconsistent but plus at times. He's pitched well down the stretch, but one gets the feeling that next year in the California League will either be a breakout campaign or a complete nightmare when he visits the hitting-friendly environments of the Southern division. (Kevin Goldstein)
Davis' 2006 campaign was enough to get him some serious attention, and he started appearing on prospect lists around this time. Going into 2007, he was ranked #97 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list, and he clocked in at #7 on the Rays' top 10 list. He split time in 2007 between Advanced-A and Double-A, striking out over a batter an inning at both levels and continuing to impress scouts. His command still needed work, but most people pegged his as a power arm with great potential.
Strengths: Davis throws his 92-95 mph fastball on an excellent downhill plane and has touched 98 mph. Both his 11-to-5 curveball and his slider are tight breaking balls with sharp movement, and he also has an effective changeup.
Weaknesses: Improved command of all his pitches within the strike zone and more confidence in his changeup would help Davis take the next step. While his fastball has above-average velocity, it tends to flatten out. All these issues are related to his inability to repeat his delivery on a straight line to the plate. (Baseball America)
David did nothing but in impress in 2007, so he was rated quite highly going into 2008. Baseball America had him #17 on their top 100 prospects list, and as a 22-year-old, he was set to start the entire season in Double-A. It ended up being a mixed bag of a season for Davis; he had some inconsistent results in Double-A, but after being promoted to Triple-A toward the end of the season, he again struck out a batter an inning. The command problems weren't going away, though, and in retrospect, the bit about a "dead arm" period is interesting.
The Good: An intriguing righthander with prototypical power-pitcher build and the stuff to match, beginning with a 92-96 mph fastball that he can dial up to 98. His best breaking pitch is a power curveball, and his changeup shows flashes of being a plus pitch at times.
The Bad: Davis went through a dead-arm period in the middle of the year, dropping to 89-92 mph for about six weeks, so he needs to prove he can handle a full-season workload. He needs to become more effective against left-handed batters, who hit .284 against him last year. (Kevin Goldstein)
Davis started the 2009 season in Triple-A, although his place in the prospect rankings has slipped a little due to his mixed bag of results the previous year. The scouting reports still seemed to believe in him, though, as Baseball America had him as the #32 prospect in baseball and Kevin Goldstein ranked him at #29. While his command still needed to be worked on and his lack of strikeouts down in Double-A the previous year gave some cause for concern, his overall package still seemed very attractive.
Strengths: Davis is one of the premier power pitching prospects in the game. His four-seam fastball sits in the low to mid-90s, and he can dial it up to 95-96 mph when needed. He throws his hard 11-to-5 curveball with plus control, and it's filthy when he produces two-plane break. Davis also has a straight changeup and showed an improved cut fastball in Triple-A.
Weaknesses: Davis simply needs to refine the consistency of his overall feel and his delivery, particularly with his release point. Polishing those two aspects will improve his control and command. He'll need to pitch inside more often in the majors. (Baseball America)
This is where things really start to get interesting. Davis had made his major-league debut at the tail end of 2009 (remember the Scott Kazmir trade?), and he was highly thought of coming into 2010. He was ranked the #3 prospect in the Rays organization by both Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein, and Baseball America rated him the #34 prospect in baseball.
So the following scouting reports capture what the scouts were saying about Wade Davis when he broke into the majors. When reading them, keep this question in mind: How do those reports compare with the pitcher we know today?
Weaknesses: Davis also throws a changeup and slider, neither of which is as consistent his two plus offerings. If he can command one of those secondary pitches and throw a few more strikes, he could be dominant at the major league level.
The Future: Barring something unexpected, Davis should be a fixture in the Tampa Bay rotation for the foreseeable future. He has the upside of a No. 2 starter, and the Rays also could be tempted to make him a closer down the road as they try to figure out how to get all of their talented young pitchers on the big league staff. (Baseball America)
The Good: Davis is a pure power pitcher with a nearly perfect frame, outstanding mechanics, and two big-league plus offerings. He parks his fastball at 92-94 mph and touches 96 when he dials it up. He complements his heater with a hard curveball that features significant break and nearly identical arm action with the fastball, making it very hard to pick up. He maintains his stuff deep into games, and he pitches with a bit of a nasty streak.
The Bad: There are scouts who see Davis as potentially more dominating out of the bullpen, as beyond his two excellent offerings, his repertoire falls short. His changeup is a below-average pitch that often hangs, and he also throws a slurvy slider, which at times just looks like an overthrown curve. His command and control is no more than average. (Kevin Goldstein)
Davis was a power pitcher, but since that time, he's lost some of his velocity and he can't miss bats with his fastball. His best off-speed weapon (his curve) has deteriorated and become an average to below average offering. His secondary offerings (slider, change up) have not progressed or improved much, and his command is relatively the same as it was.
I don't know about you, but that pitcher sounds like perfect bullpen fodder. Maybe Davis will be able to capture some of his former power-pitcher self out of the 'pen, because right now, his repertoire isn't cutting it as a starter.