CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A skin blister – an irritation most of us can shrug off as a simple annoyance that might keep us from running an extra block during a morning jog or hinder our grip on the club while out for a leisurely round of golf – can be downright debilitating for a promising young pitching prospect.
It was a blister on one of the fingers on Alabama righty Kevin Davis’ pitching hand that limited him to just five starts this spring at T.R. Miller High School in Brewton, Ala. On Monday, he was on the mound at Perfect Game Field showing a large gathering of scouts and cross-checkers that he was back and better than ever; the occasion was the 15th annual PG Pre-Draft Showcase and Davis was one of about 50 top prospects in attendance.
June 6, the first day of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, is just a little more than three weeks away, and the draft is on every eligible prospect’s mind. Davis, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound alumnus of both the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase and the 2012 Perfect Game All-American Classic, is certainly no exception. He was here Monday eager to show the scouting community he warranted consideration. But first, some background.
Davis helped pitch the Team USA Baseball 18U national team to the World Championship in the fall, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that also caused him to miss three weeks of the football season. Davis was T.R. Miller’s starting quarterback last fall, and it’s no secret that football rules the roost in Brewton. T.R. Miller High boasts Alabama’s winningest high school football program with six state championships since 1969.
Davis returned from his USA Baseball duties to lead the Tigers to the second round of the Alabama state playoffs, and then took some time off before resuming his baseball obligations.
“Going back into (baseball) I was feeling real good,” Davis said Monday morning from PG Field. “Then that blister kind of popped up and I actually had one game when it was just raw meat and bleeding. It was pretty painful, but I thought I had a chance of still winning the ballgame and I didn’t want to scratch that start after having only five. I was going to out there and try to compete, and it was just one of those things.”
Since his recovery from the blister issue, Davis has thrown some bullpen sessions and said he felt good as he anticipated his two innings of work on Monday.
“This just gives me an opportunity to get out there in front of people and let them see me when I’m healthy and ready to go,” he said. “I definitely felt it was important for me to be here and get out there with the draft coming up in June. It’s just an opportunity to get out there in front of people and hopefully end up throwing well.”
He did just that, as his fastball reached 92 mph – tied for fifth among the event’s highest velocities – and showing that he has three pitches he can throw for strikes. He earned a PG grade of 10.0, the highest possible.
“Kevin is really interested in going to the next level and playing baseball,” Jason Davis, Kevin’s dad, said Monday. “We had a really short senior season – he had a little bit of a blister problem – so we’re just trying to get the (scouts) to get one last look at him. I thought it was important that he be here.”
The “next level” will be there for Kevin Davis; all that’s left to be determined is where exactly that level is. He has signed a letter of intent with Auburn University, following up on an offer the Tigers first made in the fall of his sophomore year. He didn’t commit immediately and took several visits before narrowing his choices to Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Florida and Florida State.
“I figured I would get the decision out of the way quick, but it didn’t quite go like that,” Davis said. “After I took all my visits and everything, I felt most at home at Auburn. It’s all about the people you’re going to play with and who’s all going to be there with you. I felt at home and when it was all said and done it really wasn’t a difficult decision to make.”
Davis’ skills have always appealed to MLB scouting directors, much as they did to coaches in the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference. Perfect Game director of cross-checker Allan Simpson ranks Davis as the No. 13 draft prospect with an Alabama connection, a ranking that puts him into a group of prospects projected to be taken in the draft’s first 10 rounds.
“I think about it but I try not to read too much about it,” Davis said. “I didn’t have the high school season that I essentially wanted to have, with the blister coming up and all of that, but I think I’m better (because of) it. It taught me how to handle different things – how to handle my body, how to handle an ailment that came up like that, what’s the quickest way to get rid of it and how to bounce back from it.
“I certainly didn’t want to have it happen during my senior season going into the draft but it was something that I learned from and I’m going to be able to bounce back from,” he continued. “Right now I’m just trying to stay working hard and go out there and compete and we’ll see what happens in June.”
Brewton, Ala., is a small town with a population right around 5,000 folks whose most famous native is probably Kevin Sumlin, the head football coach at Texas A&M University. Davis knew it was going to be a struggle to get noticed on the baseball field, despite finishing a combined 12-3 with a 0.60 ERA and 252 strikeouts in 107 innings during his sophomore and junior seasons at T.R. Miller.
He had done just enough during his freshman year to start getting noticed by some important decision-makers, including Chad Raley from Marucci Elite Baseball. Davis made his Perfect Game debut at the 2010 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in Marietta, Ga., playing with the Marucci Elite 16s as a 15-year-old.
“Chad Raley had called me and said, ‘You know, Kevin, I’ve been wanting to have you on my 16u team,’” Davis recalled. “So I had the opportunity to be playing up and I got a lot of exposure that year and got a lot of scholarship offers and things of that nature.”
He played in two more WWBA tournaments with Marucci Elite in 2010 and then came out in 2011 and played with Team Alabama where his teammates included 2011 PG All-Americans David Dahl and Jameis Winston and other top players from Alabama.
In 2012, Davis joined the East Cobb Braves 17u and was on the Braves’ teams that won the 2012 17u PG BCS Finals championship in Fort Myers, Fla., and finished as runner-up at the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series in Goodyear, Ariz.
“We won the BCS and then played in the Perfect Game (17u) World Series out in Arizona, which was extremely neat – you had the best 16 teams in the country,” Davis said. “That was a great group of guys and (the success) speaks for itself.”
Davis attended his first PG showcase as a 15-year-old when he was invited to the 2010 PG Junior National Showcase in St. Petersburg, Fla., and fired a 91 mph fastball. He was the only 2013 at the event and was surrounded by some pretty high-level 2012s.
“I remember … I was out there on the mound and I was paired-up with Lance McCullers,” Davis said of the 2012 first-round draft pick. “I was like, ‘I’m just going to just rare back and let it fly’ but it wasn’t going in there quite as hard (as McCullers’). But it felt good.
“It’s been a neat ride,” he continued. “Everything from the National Showcase to the World Wood Bat (WWBA) events, and then last summer topping it off with the All-American Game, that was something special. That was an experience that I’ll never forget.”
Kevin has a younger brother, Kyle, a 6-foot-3, 222-pound catcher/right-hander at T.R. Miller High who is ranked 66th nationally in the high school class of 2015. Kyle spent last summer playing with the East Cobb Braves 16u in four PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments, sometimes with and against players two or three years older than he is.
“This is what we do,” their father, Jason, said. “Kevin played in the Perfect Game (WWBA) when he was 15, 16 and 17 … and Kyle is starting to do the same thing. It’s been a really good experience and they’ve got a lot of good exposure, and we’ve been blessed; it’s been really good, really great.”
It’s almost more than what Kevin could have imagined while growing up in Brewton in southern Alabama, right along the border with the western Florida panhandle.
“When I was coming from this small town I never really envisioned where I could be, I just knew I wanted to work hard and give myself an opportunity to essentially be the best that I could be,” Davis said. “It’s been a real fun ride doing it all.”
Jason Davis simply feels blessed with the options his son has before him, especially now that that painful blister issue is a thing of the past. In Jason’s mind, whichever road Kevin chooses next month – and probably Kyle in two years – will be a win-win for everyone.
“I just want to do what’s best for him,” Jason said. “The Auburn guys are great and there are a lot of really good commits; I think they’ll be really good next year. It’s kind of one of those things that if it’s meant to be it will be, and we’re still trying to figure it out. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this and hopefully I’ll know a little more with my second son coming through.”