Keith Law said he had one of the best swings in the 2014 draft class. John Manual of Baseball America named him the best pure hitter and best power hitter that the Braves drafted last year. SB Nation’s Matt Garrioch said that in this player, you find the rare “middle of the order impact bat.” Certainly, Braxton Davidson is an intriguing prospect. Despite being given a mid-first round grade, he slipped all the way to the 32nd overall selection of the 2014 draft. If Davidson does become the player he could be, he might go down as one of the best first rounders Frank Wren’s team selected despite being the last one.
Born June 18 in 1996, Davidson came into this world just as Jason Schmidt lost 3-2 to the Dodgers due to a pair of Mike Piazza homers. Davidson was an Asheville, NC native and would remain at home to attend T.C. Roberson High School and was committed to attend North Carolina before the Braves came calling. A pair of former T.C. Roberson players have appeared for the Braves – Cameron Maybin and Darren Holmes – but Davidson was the first player selected by the Braves out of the school since Conrad Pressley in 1972. Pressley never made it out of A-ball in his three years in the Braves system.
Davidson fell so far not because of his bat but because other teams weren’t sure if he could play outside of first base professionally. Teams generally aren’t anxious to select prep first basemen because the floor for being an elite first baseman is so high. But the Braves felt his hit and power tools were enough and rolled the dice he would retain enough foot speed to play in the outfield. After signing for $1.705M shortly after the draft, Davidson reported to the Gulf Coast League and the almost-18 year-old was ready for his first season.
He only had two hits in his first six games, but started to get it going and after a double header on August 12, Davidson was hitting .243/.400/.324 with 7 2B and a triple. He had yet to homer, but overall, the numbers were pretty good for an 18 year-old kid with no college experience. The Braves thought so much of his maturity that they promoted him to Danville to finish the year. He only had a half-dozen hits in 13 games in the Appalachian League, but also maintained a BB/K rate of 9/10 and carried a .348 OBP. Again, the power was non-existent, but the Braves confidently felt that was only a matter of time.
Davidson carried some franchise Top 10 rankings heading into the 2015 season even after the Braves retooled their minor league system. He responded by hitting just .243. It’s been a great year for him.
Wait, what? Consider these two facts:
- Davidson has walked 81 times this year in 116 games. Yes, he’s struck out 127 times, though that’s not an insane number that should scare you off. Many players succeed with a 27.4% of their PAs ending in a strikeout. On the flip-side, most who walk 17.5% of the time also succeed. Among minor leaguers, Davidson is tied for ninth in walks this season. Among players whose 2015 season is classified as their age-19 year, Braxton’s 81 walks are 23 more than the nearest competitor – Norberto Obeso of the Blue Jays. Braxton’s walk rate is 16th in the minors.
- That age of 19 is pretty important as well. He was the third youngest batter in the South Atlantic League this season who played in at least 100 games. Admittedly, that’s a little cherry-picking with the numbers because two younger players appeared in at least 98 games, including teammate Ozhaino Albies (profile), but it doesn’t make Davidson’s age any less amazing. Here’s another fancy age-related fact. Davidson has not faced one pitcher this year who is younger than he is.
- Though he’s shown a clear enough platoon split this season, he hasn’t been completely lost against lefties as his .372 OBP against them does attest to. It’s at least good enough to feel a bit excited about his chances to be more than a platoon bat.
The Braves are the polar opposite of a club like the Yankees when it comes to minor league development. The Yankees are notoriously cautious while the Braves aggressively push their prospects. The existence of three of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League (Davidson, Albies, and Ricardo Sanchez) shows just how confident the Braves are in the chances those young players become great assets. Davidson has a long road between now and getting to the majors. He needs show his power more consistently in games and buck the prevailing opinion that he’s defensively limited to first base. But there is plenty here for us, as fans, to be excited about. 19 year-olds like Davidson just don’t fall out of the sky and post a .384 OBP in low-A ball.
Here’s some first-half highlights. Forgive the awful music.