Why isn't Davis on Giants roster as outfield injuries mount?


At one point in the middle innings Tuesday night, the Giants outfield consisted of three players who would tell you they're more comfortable as infielders. Mauricio Dubon has done a solid job in center, but he was a middle infielder before this season. Daniel Robertson was in left, his first foray into the outfield in two years. Darin Ruf, a below-average left fielder, moved over to play one of the more difficult right fields in the league. 

Gabe Kapler had no choice but to turn to that group for a few innings, with Mike Yastrzemski unable to run, Austin Slater unable to throw, Alex Dickerson coming off an elbow X-ray and Luis Basabe pulling up lame with a hamstring strain that ultimately ended his season. 

But it was hard not to wonder, in the middle of all of that, what happened to Jaylin Davis?

The Giants came into this year hoping Davis could be their next breakout star in the outfield, Yaz 2.0, and he made the Opening Day roster and started three of the first four games at Dodger Stadium. But Davis was optioned to the alternate site a week into the season when Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria came off the injured list, and he never returned. 

Asked about Davis on Wednesday, when the Giants recalled Steven Duggar to take Basabe's roster spot, Kapler said Davis has "progressed nicely" in Sacramento and is making more contact "and that contact has been hard." But ...

"There's still quite a bit of swing-and-miss in the strike zone at the alternate site," Kapler said. "That continues to give us pause and it's an adjustment that Jaylin needs to make if he's going to be a successful major league hitter."

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It was a relatively easy choice to go with Duggar. The Giants are facing mostly right-handers the rest of the way and Duggar is their best outfield defender. Kapler said Davis is "squarely in our mix," which technically is true. While the Giants have not yet released the names of the players who were brought to San Francisco as a taxi squad for the postseason, Davis is part of that bubble. 

Given the prioritization of others, though -- including Basabe, a lesser prospect who had not previously played above Double-A -- it seems unlikely that Davis will get any big league time in 2020 beyond those initial four games. He went 2-for-12 in that cameo with six strikeouts, giving him 17 whiffs in 54 at-bats across the last two seasons. Davis hit 35 homers in the minors in 2019, showing the power that made him such an intriguing addition when the Giants dealt Sam Dyson to the Twins, but also struck out 138 times. 

Davis still is just 26 years old, and if this season has taught us anything, it's that players can develop late. It seems that just about every position player on the roster is putting up his best numbers, and Yastrzemski, Dickerson and Slater stand out as examples of outfield breakouts after years in the minors or disjointed stints in the big leagues. 

The Giants still believe in Davis long-term, but as they stayed in contention deeper than most expected, there was no time for player development. Davis had to get his 2020 reps in at the ballpark in Sacramento, where regular reports were sent to Kapler and the big league staff by farm director Kyle Haines. Kapler said he also tracked Davis through box scores of simulated games and watched video of his at-bats.

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"Jaylin's engine is so good, he's such a talented athlete, that if he's able to make an adjustment like this he immediately becomes a successful major leaguer," Kapler said. "It's not about hitting the ball hard, it's not about speed or throwing arm or any specific tool. It's actually just very simply put about making more consistent contact. 

"We will continue to view Jaylin as an option because the tools are so strong. He's such a high-character guy, and we really do want him (to be here) and are looking for that outcome."

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