Monday, February 22, 2016

Baseball Doesn't Get Easier

Third baseman Matt Davidson was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009 in the first round—the 35th pick overall—before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in December of 2013. Playing for the AAA Charlotte Knights in 2014 and last season, Davidson made over a thousand plate appearances, but managed to hit only .199 and .203, respectively. He slugged forty three homers, but averaged a mid-.600s OPS, and last season struck out 191 times. As a top-level prospect, he's struggling.

This is hardly news. Major League baseball is littered with first-round players who failed to satisfy expectations. In a small piece in the Chicago Tribune, Davidson commented on his frustrations. "The White Sox want to produce at third base, and obviously I haven't been doing that," he said. "No hurt feelings. I would have [also traded for quality infielder Todd Frazier] if I was in their position."

After remarking that he hopes to learn from Frazier and to cut down on his strikeouts, Davidson added:
Putting the ball in play more, hitting my pitches when I get them. I fouled off a lot of pitches. I was really indecisive last year, trying to hit everything and worrying about every pitch. A lot of mental stuff that you can't do.
These precise words have been uttered by baffled players at every age; I'm struck by the common thread of frustration, humility, and veiled panic that you see in kids first playing ball right up through players in the Major Leagues. Baseball never seems to get much easier for the vast majority of players, even heralded first-round prospects who towered over their less-gifted peers in high school and college. The difficulty of playing baseball well is one of aspects of the game I most love—though it's easier to appreciate as a non-player on the outside looking in, even as it frustrates. Will Davidson produce consistently well for long enough to join a Major League team and stick? Who knows. The only guarantee is that if he does, he'll go through stretches where he mutters to himself the same exact things he did when he was in grade school, high school, college, the minors. Trudging back to the dugout after another infield pop-up or feeble strikeout, he'll look at his hitting coach and see, for a moment, the concerned face of dad.

Photo of Davidson via The Charlotte Observer.

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