At the time he came over from the Astros in a trade last offseason, J.D. Davis seemed like an unnecessary and uninspired move. He had struggled in the majors in limited playing time and ended up being expendable to Houston. Despite enjoying a breakout season with the Mets, it is that connection to Houston that is now attached to Davis like a shadow.
After Carlos Beltran was hired, Davis was supportive of the new manager who he knew from his time with the Astros, and he went so far as to deny any knowledge of the cheating that took place during his time there. As the offseason wore on, however, all plausible deniability evaporated for the 26-year-old. His support of Beltran appeared questionable when it was revealed that Beltran reportedly held a starring role in the devised cheating system, and when a fan put together a website of all trashcan bangs that occurred in the 2017 season, Davis’s name appeared on it.
He had no choice but to finally own up to his role in the scandal, and to his credit he said he was ashamed of it. His current teammates seem to harbor no ill will towards him and new Met Jake Marisnick, but after quickly becoming a fan favorite last season it remains to be seen if the rest of baseball and the fan base will be as forgiving.
As for his play on the field, getting wrapped up in the scandal should have little bearing on his talent as a ballplayer. In 66 games over the course of two seasons with Houston he batted just .194/.260/.321 with a meager .581 OPS. He slugged just five home runs and drove in twelve. He broke out in a big way last season in Queens, as he hit .307/.369/.527 with 22 home runs and 57 RBIs.
Davis was even better at home which, was a nice change of pace since Citi Field has a reputation of an offense killer. He hit .354/.413/.665 with an eye-popping 1.078 OPS at home last year, and sixteen of his home runs came at home, as opposed to just six on the road. He was also arguably one of the best outfielders in the league in the second half of the season. He was among the league leaders in average, OBP, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+ during the second half, which coincided with the Mets’ surge back into the playoff race.
Since Mets fans have been historically burned by acquisitions, there is some concern that “Just Dingers” Davis could turn back into a pumpkin this season, but his underlying numbers point to him being the exception to that maddening rule. According to Statcast, he is in the 90th percentile or better in exit velocity, xwOBA, xSLG, Hard Hit %, and xBA, which all point to the breakout being real.
Unfortunately for Davis, he is a man without a position. Jeff McNeil is penciled in as the everyday third baseman, which would leave left field as Davis’s primary position. His play there last season was underwhelming, to say the least, but he developed a reputation as being extremely studious and a hard worker, so the potential for improvement is there, especially if he gets more exposure there in spring. His play also hinges on the health of Yoenis Cespedes, who seems to be working his way back onto the playing field and still has the potential to be an impact bat in the lineup.
Last season, Davis was one of the pleasant surprises on the team and brought some youthful enthusiasm to the game that should not be going away anytime soon. His star has perhaps dimmed a bit after this offseason, but as a player his promise and potential remain on the rise.