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2008 Draft Review: Ike Davis

Ike Davis, the 18th overall selection in the 2008 amateur draft, has been very hit or miss since arriving in the big leagues in 2010, and he certainly qualifies as a disappointment on the basis of his 2012 and 2013 seasons. Despite those struggles, Davis has still been something of a triumph for the Mets' scouting department due to his continued presence on the Mets' roster and his past successes.

Jim McIsaac

With another baseball season in the books, I figured this offseason would be a prime opportunity to go back and review a couple of the Mets’ previous drafts. I meant to start this series last offseason, but I never got around to it, so we’ll do two drafts this year, 2008 and 2009. By now, we have a strong idea how both classes are going to shape up. The purpose of these pieces will be to try to collect some meaningful information about the Mets’ previous draft policies and review the successes and shortcomings of the individual prospects selected. And as a bonus, you’ll also see why no one should ever listen to my draft analysis again. The 2008 draft was the first one I covered, back when I was writing for Mets Geek, so we’ll start there with the Mets’ first selection, Ike Davis. Scouting director Rudy Terassas selected Davis 18th overall out of Arizona State University, where he had been both a first baseman and the team’s closer.

What I said in 2008

Davis is a polished hitter who has some flaws. First, the good. He has a very good approach at the plate, and he’s capable of recognizing pitches as they come, thanks, in part, to great bat speed that lets him wait a little longer on the pitch than your average bear. This year he started using his lower body more, which resulted in him finally tapping into that raw power he’s always had. He can show a smooth left-handed stroke. Also a pitcher, he has a strong arm and figures to be an above average defensive first baseman. He may be able to handle a corner outfield slot, too.

Here’s the bad: he’s struggled with wood bats during previous summers in Alaska and on the Cape, bringing about substantial doubts about his ability to adapt to wood. He also has trouble repeating his swing mechanics, at which points he’ll lengthen his swing to the extent that strikeouts could become problematic. As a result of both these things, his contact rate will bear watching in the minor leagues, particularly as he advances. He’s a big guy, and speed isn’t his forte, so there’s a very real possibility he’ll be stuck at first.

I would have liked had they grabbed somebody else with the 18 and waited until the 22 to grab Davis, but I won’t fault them for it. Davis was clearly the remaining guy they wanted, and they wanted to make sure they got him.

As you can see, I liked the pick, even though I opted to select college southpaw Christian Friedrich in my shadow draft. I had some concerns about Davis’s contact ability, but overall I liked him to become a solid first baseman, someone capable of hitting .270/.350/.450 regularly while being a positive defensively.

The career retrospective

The Mets immediately sent Davis to Brooklyn after the draft, and he disappointed early on. He hit just .256/.326/.326, displaying doubles power while failing to hit a single dinger. I warned people to be patient, arguing that a hitter with Davis’s history of struggles with wood bats might have a longer adjustment period with regard to power production than most. John Sickels named Davis the Mets’ number 11 prospect and gave him a C+ grade.

This proved correct, as Davis rebounded in 2009. Starting the year at St. Lucie, he hit .288/.376/.486 and hit even better when promoted to Binghamton (.309/.386/.565). His power production was a big positive, as he knocked 54 extra-base hits, 20 of them homers. I was still worried about Davis’s contact rate--he struck out more than one-quarter of the time at Binghamton--but it was a very encouraging result from a 22-year-old in his first taste of full-season ball. Sickels bumped Davis up to the number four spot in the organization and gave him a B grade, mentioning him as a potential "solid regular."

Davis had a strong spring in 2010 but failed to make the big league team. However, he kept up his hot hitting at Buffalo and only had to wait two weeks before the Mets realized that Mike Jacobs wasn’t going to cut it at first base. He spent the rest of the season with the club, hitting a very respectable .264/.351/.440 with 19 homers, 33 doubles, and 71 RBI while showing a good glove at first base. He even received a pair of third-place votes for Rookie of the Year in a very strong National League rookie class (Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, Jaime Garcia, Gaby Sanchez, Starlin Castro, et al.). Strikeouts were still less than optimal at a 23% clip, but it was a strong start to his career.

His 2011 didn’t go as smoothly, nor would any season thereafter. He got off to a great start but an ankle injury during a collision with David Wright ended his season on May 10. He got off to a dreadful start in 2012 before turning things on in the second half and performed even worse in the first half of 2013, earning a demotion before returning to the big leagues with an improved approach at the plate. Over the past two seasons, Davis has hit a mere .219/.315/.414 and has struck out in over 25% of his plate appearances. To boot, his defense has not looked as sharp as it did during his rookie season.

Was he a successful pick?

I find this to be a fascinating question. Was Ike Davis worth the draft pick in 2008? I think if you asked most Mets fans they’d answer with a resounding no, something that I don’t think is fair to Davis or the player development staff. Davis did make the big leagues and he has been a useful player at times, so I’m going to use a framework of six criteria to help us decide.

(1) Was the pick defensible at the time?
(2) Did the player perform in the minor leagues?
(3) How did similar players drafted perform?
(4) How did other players who were in play at the same pick perform?
(5) Was the player worth the financial investment the team made?
(6) Did the player meet his major league projection?

We’ve covered parts (1) and (2) already. Davis was a very defensible pick at the time, and he performed quite well in the minor leagues. Things get far more interesting over the final four parts.

When the Mets drafted Davis, there were seven first basemen selected within the first 23 picks. They were Eric Hosmer, Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, David Cooper, Davis, and current Mets property Allan Dykstra. I had them ranked Hosmer (the number two player on my draft board that year), Smoak, Alonso, Wallace, Davis, Cooper, and Dykstra, with Cooper and Dykstra not earning first-round grades from me. You could argue that Davis has been the most successful of all of these players, save perhaps for Hosmer, who was the only high schooler of the bunch and who has been just as enigmatic as Davis. Smoak has been one of baseball’s worst players since reaching the majors, Wallace has been perpetually disappointing for Houston (his third organization), Cooper was released by the Jays last year following a back injury, and Dykstra has yet to reach Triple-A. That leaves just the punchless Alonso, who saw his first full-time action in 2012 and missed half of 2013 due to injury. I’d say Davis has outperformed every truly similar player to him thus far.

But who else could the Mets have drafted? I opted for Friedrich, a polished college lefty who moved quickly through the lower minors before hitting a wall in Triple-A and battling injury issues. No other player selected after Davis in the first round or supplemental round has been remotely effective in the majors thus far, save Andrew Cashner, Lance Lynn, and Wade Miley, though Lonnie Chisenhall, Casey Kelly, and Jake Odorizzi still have shots. Of the six, Lynn was seen as a low-upside reach in the supplemental, and Miley was very inconsistent for scouts preceding the draft. Kelly and Odorizzi were tough signs and probably off the Mets’ radar. Chisenhall had some major personality red flags. The second round doesn’t offer much better: Robbie Ross (size and signability), Tyler Chatwood (signability), and Tanner Scheppers (major injury concerns) being the highlights. Or really the only lights. It was a bad draft class. Cashner, selected immediately after Davis, was a college reliever with a chance to start, and he finally broke into a major league rotation for the Padres in 2013. I would have rather had Davis then but going forward it’s an open question.

The question of money? The Mets gave Davis a $1.575 million bonus in 2008, and he’s since earned roughly $4.4 million to date, making it a total investment of $6 million. He’s provided 5.5 WAR thus far, which has a market value of roughly $23 million, meaning the Mets are ahead by about $17 million. In other words, the money they saved on Ike Davis more or less paid for the 2008 draft class, as well as the 2009, 2010, and a good chunk of the 2011 classes. I’ll repeat for emphasis: Ike Freaking Davis’s production to date has been worth close to three and a half draft classes.

Finally, has Davis met expectations? Earlier I said I expected him to become a .270/.350/.450 hitter. He hasn’t done that, though he’s shown flashes of the ability, so he’s failed to meet his projection.

I’d still call him a successful draft choice, even if it’s tough to be optimistic of his future development.

What lessons can we learn?

Due to the murky nature of Davis’s career, it’s tough to really know what lessons can be learned; after all, it isn’t clear as day whether Davis is a success or failure. But I’ll give it a whirl.

Hitters with high strikeout rates are volatile creatures. Davis always displayed high strikeout rates in the minors, and I mentioned problems with his approach that could have led (and did lead) to contact issues when he was at Arizona State, though his strikeouts there were not a crippling issue.

Be wary of first basemen in the draft. When the bat isn’t working, they have nothing else to fall back on. The fact that the 2008 draft class, which was so first baseman-heavy, has been a disaster speaks to this. Keep this in mind when considering Dom Smith in the future.

Strong walk rates can be a parachute players rely on to get themselves out of slumps. Davis always displayed patience at the plate, possibly perhaps to his detriment at times, but by upping his patience over the past two seasons, Davis has been able to dig himself out of deep holes to a certain extent, giving him some value at the plate. It’s a big reason why Davis’s career WAR isn’t lower despite his massive slumps in 2012 and 2013.

Next up: Reese Havens