SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Arizona Diamondbacks top third base prospect Matt Davidson celebrated his 21st birthday March 26, meaning he’s only three years removed from his final season of high school baseball.
The Diamondbacks selected Davidson, a Southern California recruit, with the 35th overall pick in the first round of the 2009 MLB amateur draft out of Yucaipa (Calif.) High School. Perfect Game ranked Davidson the nation’s No. 11 overall prospect in the ’09 graduating class, and he had helped himself get recognized by college coaches and pro scouts from his participation in nine PG events in 2007-08.
But he also got noticed playing for his high school team in Yucaipa, and he doesn’t like to hear about young prospects not playing for their high school teams while they explore other opportunities. Davidson believes there’s plenty of time to do both.
“I got on the map through high school my freshman year, but I know a lot of kids aren’t even (playing high school baseball) anymore,” he said in a recent conversation with PG at the D-backs’ Salt River Fields spring training complex here.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that; I was real loyal to my high school … but we also wanted more and more,” he said. “We never got burned-out with what we were doing. We did a lot, but we never did too much where we just got burned out.”
Davidson is a perfect example of a kid who spent his spring-times playing with his high school buddies and his summers with playing with a high-profile travel ball organization, in his case, the ABD Bulldogs. It wasn’t a difficult juggling act at all.
“A lot of those (non-high school events) were on the weekends and during the summer when school was out,” Davidson said. “It was busy then right at the start (of my career) when everything kind of started filling up. Before, I knew guys in high school, older guys, who never even went to a showcase. Right when I was freshman and sophomore, that’s when it (seemed like) the whole craze kind of blew up.
“Everybody kind of grasped onto it and we’d say, ‘Oh, are you going to this one, are you going to this one?’ … and I know a lot of my buddies, we kind of traveled everywhere around Southern California.”
He also traveled to Jupiter, Fla.; Marietta, Ga., and Minneapolis, Minn.
Davidson first attended the Perfect Game Rising Juniors National Showcase at Arrowhead Credit Union Park in San Bernardino, Calif., in late July, 2007, just in front of his junior year at Yucaipa High. Just 16 at the time, a PG scout already recognized his skills, noting Davidson “has present day power and a swing that is alive. When he gets to extension, Davidson can drive the ball out of any part of the yard. He has strong hands and a swing that produces leverage at the contact point.”
Davidson went on to play in eight more PG events and his draft stock seemed to improve with each one. The whole idea, he felt, was to get in front of as many college recruiters and scouts as possible.
“We all wanted to commit to a college, obviously, and we all wanted to be here in this position,” Davidson said, referring to a big-league spring training camp. “High school (baseball) just wasn’t enough for us and we wanted more and more, and we just wanted to keep on playing, so that’s what we did.”
It was during the summer of 2008 when Davidson really hit his stride; he played in three PG WWBA events with the ABD Bulldogs and also attended four showcases. Counted among those showcase events were the two most prestigious of all: the 2008 Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the 2008 Aflac All-American Classic at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
It was when he walked out on the field at Dodger Stadium that Davidson felt like all his hard work was paying off.
“That was kind of the pinnacle of where I wanted to be,” he said. “I had a lot of older buddies who had played in that game … and I always wanted to play in that game. Going to all those showcases, committing to a college and going everywhere kind of built up to that point, and playing in that game was awesome. It’s kind of crazy thinking that one game was such a big deal because now we play so many big games, but it’s so crazy thinking back at one game, and how big that was.”
Davidson went 1-for-4 and drove in a run in his West team’s 4-2 loss to the East in that 2008 Aflac game. He definitely impressed the PG scouts:
“No player helped themselves more in this year’s Aflac All-American Game,” a post-game report stated. “All week long Davidson looked the part of a Major League third baseman. … His bat drew the most attention (and he is) arguably the top power-hitting infielder in the county at this time. … Davidson’s name is going to be high on a lot of draft lists.”
Davidson has not yet made his Major League debut, but only one prospect from the 2008 PG National Showcase and the 2008 Aflac All-American Game – right-hander Jacob Turner – has. He has spent three years of development in the D-backs’ minor league system, and last year hit .277 with 20 home runs and 106 RBI in 135 games with Visalia in the High-A California League.
He played in 16 Cactus League games with the big club through March 30 this spring, and was 6-for-25 (.240) with a two-run home run. He is expected to start this season at Mobile in the Double-A Southern League.
Perfect Game ranks Davidson as the Diamondbacks’ No. 7 overall minor league prospect. In a preseason breakdown of the D-backs top guys, David Rawnsley, PG’s National Director of Scouting, offered the following assessment:
“Davidson is a mature hitter who is immensely strong and can drive the ball out of the park to all fields when he gets his hands extended. He still strikes out more than the Diamondbacks probably would like to see (147 Ks in 2011) but isn’t just a free swinger. … The 6-3/225 Davidson isn’t likely to win any Gold Gloves at the big league level due to his range, but has easy fluid actions at the ball and a strong throwing arm.”
If Davidson has one thing going for him as he competes for a spot on the D-backs’ 40-man roster, it’s his work ethic, first instilled during those high school days in Yucaipa and during his PG participation. Nothing has changed as he prepares for his fourth professional season with an eye on one day playing his home games at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.
“I like doing a lot of work,” Davidson said. “If there’s one thing with me, I work a little too much and I get a little tired and I’ve got really watch for that. But now it’s focusing on my position, being at third base and just getting the movement laterally and forward. It’s more very specific to your body and yourself now … but it’s still all kind of similar.”