The Blue Jays released DJ Davis, their first pick (17th overall) in the 2012 draft this week.
Davis was a bit of a reach, and the Blue Jays were likely more focussed on their other 1st rounder, Duke RHP Marcus Stroman, who went 22nd overall with the pick they received for failing to reach a contractual agreement with high schooler Tyler Beede the year before. Young for his draft class, the Blue Jays were prepared to be patient and give Davis plenty of time to develop.
Slot for the 17th pick was $2 million – Davis signed for $1.75, and some of the savings the team realized from signing him went to fellow Mississippi HS OF Anthony Alford, who they drafted in the 3rd round after most teams shied away due to his college football commitment. Alford signed for about $300K over slot.
Mississippi is not exactly a hotbed of high school baseball talent, but the Blue Jays at that time were full on into their strategy of looking for players in non-traditional markets. Baseball America‘s draft report pointed out his strengths:
Davis’s pro career got off to a good start – he was ranked the GCL’s 3rd prospect after his debut season, and he moved up to #2 in the Appalachian League rankings the following year. When he reached full season ball, however, Davis’ inability to make consistent contact, or take advantage of his speed when he did get on base caused him to repeat Lansing after he struck out 167 times in less than 500 ABs in 2014.
Davis’ second go at the MWL in 2015 produced some better numbers (.282/.340/.391, 21/31 stealing), but he was very overmatched when he was promoted to Dunedin the following year, appearing in only 83 games, as he struggled to reach .200, and got on base less than 30% of the time. Pitchers could easily overpower Davis, and when he did hunt the fastball, he often got badly fooled on off speed pitches.
The club sent Davis to Australia this off-season in the hopes of giving him some further reps and extra education in pitch recognition, but the veteran pitchers in the ABL took full advantage, and Davis could produce only a .174/.252/.266 line.
Davis has an impressive toolkit starting with that speed, but he never learned to harness it effectively on either side of the ball. There was a glimmer of hope last year, when he posted a .283/.357/.369 second half and cut down on the whiffs, but his numbers returned to their former numbers this year, as he fought for playing time in his third tour with Dunedin. The strike zone management and bat speed was just not there, and his reads in the OF were not where one would think it would be for a player entering his eighth year of pro ball.
Also released along with Davis was SS J.C Cardenas, a 6th round pick in 2015. Cardenas played 78 games with Dunedin last year, but with the focus on middle infielders in the draft and IFA market, he was unable to crack a full season roster this year.