Less than a month after his last game with Cal State-Fullerton, J.D. Davis was back at school.
The Houston Astros’ third-round draft pick has been learning a new position after playing most of his junior collegiate season in right field. With the New York-Penn League’s Tri-City ValleyCats, he is working on becoming an everyday third baseman.
The crash course began with eight errors in his first 11 games in the field. He committed his 10th error of the season on Friday, but had only two in his last 10 games in the field through Tuesday.
“Learn from it, move forward,” Davis said. “The very next play, you might get a ball and end up turning two, and nobody will end up thinking about the error. They’ll think about how you picked yourself up, you turned two and got out of the inning.”
That’s the mental training of sports psychologist Ken Ravizza taking over. Ravizza worked with Fullerton while Davis was there, and Davis said that’s been a big help in his first month as a pro.
Another lesson that has helped him is learning to not drag a bad day in the field with him to the plate. Davis’ hitting helped earn him the New York-Penn League’s player of the week award for last week, in which he hit .421 through six games with two doubles, two home runs, seven runs and 11 RBI. For the season, he is hitting .284 with 14 runs, 19 RBI, six doubles, one triple and four home runs. He has drawn 13 walks and struck out 19 times.
Batting is only half of what it will take to get him to the majors, though, so Saturday, he took early infield practice before batting practice, mental notebook at the ready, absorbing whatever the coaches told him.
Positioning, movement, footwork, transfer, then fire a strike across the diamond.
“I’ve been working with [ValleyCats manager] Ed Romero, timing-wise, on footwork. Getting pre-pitch ready is the biggest key,” Davis said. “Third base is called the hot corner for a reason. Reaction time is so little, and you just have to be ready. That’s what we’ve been talking about, and just taking more ground balls, really.”
Davis came to the ValleyCats with some experience at third base. He played there on occasion for Fullerton when the regular starter needed a day off. He also played third in his summers in the Cape Cod league.
After posting a .846 fielding percentage in his first 11 games in the field with Tri-City, he has gradually improved and now has a success rate of .870 with 15 putouts and 52 assists. In the last 10 games, his fielding percentage is .920 (23-for-25).
“When you have a kid who comes in and is easy to talk to, easy to work with and who will listen, that’s basically the key to success as a minor-league player,” said Romero, who manned second, shortstop and third base in his playing career. “He’s done that, and he will continue to do that. He’s got a lot of work to do, as he knows, and I told him that, so he understands. But he’s willing to put in the time and the effort, so that’s what makes him special. On top of that, he’s got great tools.”
As his infield session Saturday wrapped up, the assistant coaches offered praise and encouragement to Davis. He absorbs that, too, and has not let a rough start discourage him. He believes he can build on his recent progress and eventually carve out a spot as an everyday third baseman in the majors.
“I have the confidence to do it, I have my head on my shoulders pretty good. I keep my head low, I work hard,” Davis said. “I think I can do it. I know I can. It’s just a matter of trying to enjoy every moment and trying not to be too hard on myself, and just have fun. Even though it’s a profession, it’s a career and you’re getting paid, it’s still a kid’s game. You’ve got to have fun. You’re going to fail. Hall of Famers failed 70 percent of the time, and they’re the best in the game. You’ve got to keep that in the back of your mind, and you can’t be afraid to fail.”
“He’s going to have his ups and downs, but I’ve seen a lot of progress with him at third base,” Romero said. “I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to be a good-looking player and a pretty good third baseman. It’s a matter of time, experience and work, and I think he’s going to get it.”