Tournaments | Story | 10/5/2012

Davidson, Dirtbags a perfect fit

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He's a North Carolina kid from Arden, and a recently turned 16-year-old junior at TC Roberson High School in Asheville. He's already made a commitment to play college baseball at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and is a perfect fit for the North Carolina-based Dirtbags travel ball organization.

Yet there is just something about playing ball in southwest Florida in early October that makes top 2014 prospect Braxton Davidson almost giddy with excitement. Davidson is here this weekend playing with the Dirtbags for the second straight year at the 168-team PG WWBA Underclass World Championship, and he couldn't be happier.

"I love it down here. I love playing ball down here and I love the weather," Davidson said Friday morning from Field 5 at the jetBlue Player Development Complex. "It can't get any better than this, being in Fort Myers and playing against the best competition in the country. And having the scouts and everyone looking at you, it just amps me up to get ready to play down here."

Davidson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-handed hitting first baseman and outfielder, is the No. 12-ranked national prospect in the class of 2014. Left-hander Cole Hart (2015, Harnett, N.C.) is ranked 75th nationally in his high school class, the only other prospect on head coach Andy Partin's roster that is ranked nationally.

But Partin, who guided the Dirtbags to a share of the 2010 PG WWBA World Championship national title, likes the group he has here this weekend. He brought a team comprised mostly of 2015s (high school sophomores) -- there are four 2014s on the 18-man roster, including Davidson -- and is grooming it to play at the 16u level next summer.

Shortstop Turner Brown (2015, Whiteville, N.C.) has committed to East Carolina, joining Davidson as the only two Dirtbags with Division I commitments.

"This club has to play well to win; this is not a club that can play bad and win," he said. "But I like our club ... and this is our team, man. We're not a club that's going to fly a bunch of dudes in from across the country, and we play as a team every weekend. This is an event that we gear towards and we're excited to be here. Hopefully we can play well and make a run."

The Dirtbags got off to a good start in their tournament-opener Friday morning, topping the BigStix Gamers 16u, 10-3. Davidson had an RBI single, walked and scored twice, and Jacob Washer (2015, King, N.C.) smacked a three-run double.

But the big story was left-hander Bobby Hampton (2015, Pikeville, N.C.), who after giving up three earned runs on three hits in the first inning settled down to finish with a stat line of six innings pitched, with three runs on four hits, 10 strikeouts and one walk.

"This is a tough environment, man," Partin said of the rocky start. "These kids get off a plane yesterday and they wake up and they're playing at 8:30 in the morning; I'm not making excuses for (Hampton) because he settled-in and pitched real well, and that's a good team he beat."

Partin readily admits that the Dirtbags will need Davidson to perform at a high level over the next two days if they hope to make a deep playoff run. He compared Davidson's abilities to those of former Dirtbags Wil Myers and Corey Seager.

Myers played for the 'Bags from 2007-08 and was a 3rd-round pick of the Royals in the 2009 MLB amateur draft. He played in this year's MLB Futures Game representing the Royals' Triple-A affiliate in Omaha. Seager was a Dirtbag from 2009-11 and was a 1st-round selection by the Dodgers in the 2012 draft. He spent the summer at Ogden (Utah) in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and hit over .300.

"(Davidson) does so many things on the field, so well. He's got a really advanced approach," Partin said. "I had Myers and Seager, and those guys were early round  draft picks and they're having a lot of success in pro ball. I had all three of those guys at the same level and really at the same age. (Davidson's) got a real sound approach at the plate and the kid wants it and he works hard.

"He reminds of those guys that have had a lot of success because he just loves it."

After being named to  the top prospect list at last year's WWBA Underclass World Championship, PG Scouting Coordinator Todd Gold noted that Davidson showed "impressive on-base skills" and also "showed an ability to generate good bat speed with an easy fluid stroke."

Upon the conclusion of the East Coast Pro Showcase in June, PG National Director of Scouting David Rawnsley wrote that Davidson has "one of the best bats in the 2014 class, plus hitting mechanics and big power."

Davidson said his strengths as a ballplayer are his approach at the plate -- "I  love hitting; I've always loved hitting," he said -- and feels like he has a pretty good arm that is starting to get stronger from both the outfield and on the mound. He also has a lot of improvement to make.

"He knows he hasn't figured it all out and he wants to continue to learn and get better," Partin said. "But he's great about it; he asks questions but he's also a leader, especially with this group. The guy's a leader and he kind of makes our team go. We need him to have a big week."

One of the top selling points the WWBA Underclass World Championship has to offer is its ability to draw college coaches and pro scouts to the dozen or so venues at which the games are played. This is Davidson's eighth Perfect Game event -- all tournaments with various Dirtbags teams -- and he loves the spotlight.

"I just love showing them what I can do," he said. "I get excited when people get to watch me; I'm a show guy and I like to play in front of people."

If the Dirtbags keep winning down here this weekend, Davidson and his teammates will be given plenty of opportunities to play in front of people who are in positions to make decisions that can have a profound impact on a young prospect's future.

"We've got high expectations because we're the Dirtbags," Partin said. "We take a lot of pride in our program and the kids certainly want to play well. And obviously, you've got a hoard of college coaches down here and these kids want to impress them. We've only got two kids on this team committed, and these guys are trying to make a name for themselves with Perfect Game, as well.

"The kids are really talented and they're easy to coach and they love to play. I think I've got them right where I want them," he added with a grin.

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