Mickey Callaway received criticism from fans and reporters this past Saturday morning when he revealed J.D. Davis would again be hitting cleanup, despite Davis entering the game with a .150 batting average.
Wilson Ramos, who most critics felt should bat fourth, was pushed to hitting fifth, while Michael Conforto was dropped to batting sixth.
Davis, who is said to have significant support in the front office, rewarded Callaway by hitting two solo home runs against Nationals starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, the first of which was the hardest-hit home run in MLB this season, according to StatCast.
"I was setting up too late. I wasn't in any rhythm," Davis told reporters after the game, noting that had recently worked on his swing with hitting coach Chili Davis. J.D. Davis also pointed out that his low batting average was also the result of similarly low batting average on balls put in play.
Naturally, the debate among fans after the game centered on whether Davis should continue as an everyday player and -- if so -- should he hit cleanup?
To be fair, Davis did hit for power during his minor-league career, belting 105 home runs in 507 games, which nets out to around 30 home runs spanning a 162-game season.
"He was up and down a little bit a year or two ago, but the loop in his swing that plagued him now looks to be gone. The power he's showing is more likely to be sustainable," a DC area scout familiar with Davis told me after watching him earlier this season. "He's very talented, a very good athlete, great arm and he's versatile on both sides of the ball. You can tell he prepares himself the right way."
In early January, the Mets acquired Davis from the Astros, who had considered Davis a potential big-league power hitter, evident by MLB.com ranking him Houston's fourth-best hitting prospect entering 2017.
"J.D. is a versatile offensive talent," Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said in an e-mail after acquiring Davis "He's young, had success against lefties and he'll provide depth at the corner positions."
Davis was among several recently-acquired minor leaguers specifically targeted by new front office additions Allard Baird and Adam Guttridge, who spent time this past winter jettisoning unwanted prospects that were acquired under former Mets GM Sandy Alderson.
Former Astros hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who is now Toronto's bench coach, told me he took notice of and worked with Davis during multiple spring trainings when the two were both with Houston.
Hudgens, who served four years as Mets hitting coach under Terry Collins, said Davis had quietly been adding muscle, developing more torque from his hips and improving his lift on balls up in the strike zone.
"I don't know that we projected him to be a 30 home run guy, but he's got a lot of power, he's a good hitter, pretty darn smart and I'm not surprised by what he's doing for the Mets," Hudgens said, adding, "He can pitch, too, reaching 92, 93 mph without being warm."
Multiple reports indicated the Mets intended to explore also using him as a reliever this season. I can't confirm whether or not the above happened this past spring training. However, it's quite clear pitching in relief nevertheless remains a potential weapon in Davis's developing toolbox.
"The arm is so strong he can sling it from the mound," a rival team's Texas area scout told me this past winter. "The Mets should absolutely see what he can do as a reliever because he's got legit stuff out there.
In Queens, Davis is playing nearly every day at third base mostly due to Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie both being on the Injured List, while Jeff McNeil gets most of his time in left field.
Frazier appears likely to be active and able to play during the next 7-10 days. Lowrie (knee) isn't expected to return until late April, early May.
So, at least for now, Davis should be playing. And, since it's always possible McNeil could further tweak his knee or Frazier and Lowrie could hit setbacks during their respective rehabs, it is premature to decide what to with Davis today for tomorrow. "This is a good problem to have," as people like to say when having too many options. In the meantime, despite front office support and having been studied in spring training, Davis again is essentially auditioning in real time for an everyday role.
In the view of Hudgens, Davis is a more powerful and more disciplined hitter when he's getting regular playing time. The more he sits, the more swing-and-miss he gets in his swing.
Regardless of whether he's playing every day or just once each week, he is unlikely to hit cleanup when the Mets are at full strength, which will probably mean seeing less pitches in the strike zone and another uptick in strikeouts. But, by all accounts, if allowed to continue playing each day, Davis appears to be a smart and skilled enough young man that he can adjust and right himself against the opposition.
In other words, if he gets regular playing time and more luck on balls in play, I believe the mammoth home runs will continue, after which Callaway will and should find a way to keep Davis in the lineup. The fact is, it's not like Davis is a 29-year-old journeyman, low-ranked prospect that will likely be a temporary attraction. Davis is 25 years old, playing a premium position, he was a top prospect just 18 months ago before being promoted and he's continuing to hit home runs in the big leagues at roughly the same pace he produced in the minor leagues.
The well-respected ZiPS projection system deduced Davis could hit 17 HR and produce 1.5 WAR playing 120 games this season with the Mets. These results are more than most people and projection systems expect out of Frazier, who will be paid $9 million this season before again becoming a free agent.
Van Wagenen and Callaway expect their team to be in this year's postseason. To do that, they have said, the Mets must always carry their best 25 players and field the best guy at each position.
There is every reason to believe Davis can be a potential, long-term, everyday third baseman, capable of soon producing 2.0 WAR and hitting at least 20 home runs, 20 doubles and driving in 60-80 runs in a season. I'm not saying he's a lock to be the franchise's next great third baseman, but if he's going to produce more than Frazier -- until Davis shows otherwise -- the Mets would be wise to continue giving him a chance to keep his current role.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!