SACRAMENTO — It would be understandable if Jaylin Davis felt forgotten. In a system that prides itself so much on progress, he was a good bet to be the breakout star of 2020 that Mike Yastrzemski turned into. He was the high-upside outfielder who, with more consistent contact, could be above-average at everything, which Steven Duggar is becoming. With prolonged time in the majors, there has been hope he would make the same sort of impression that LaMonte Wade Jr. has made, another lefty-hitting outfielder who can move around and play all over with a bat that warrants it.
Instead, Davis started out the 2020 campaign with the Giants but lasted 12 at-bats, six of them strikeouts. He spent the rest of the shortened season at the alternate site, and his bat-to-ball skills were not markedly better during Cactus League play, before he suffered a partial tear of his patellar tendon that knocked the 26-year-old out of play until a minor league rehab assignment began June 10.
In the meantime, the Giants have transformed into the best team in baseball with emergences seemingly everywhere, but especially in the outfield. If Davis felt lost in the excitement, his phone reminded him the Giants are still watching.
As his time with Triple-A Sacramento began, Gabe Kapler, hitting minds Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind, assistant coach Alyssa Nakken and first-base coach Antoan Richardson reached out to the young outfielder.
“Just making sure that I was good, [asking] if I needed anything, saying happy to see you back,” Davis, who hurt his knee early in camp and then aggravated it on a slide into second base, said last week from Sutter Health Park. “So that was pretty cool.”
As was the start to his time with the River Cats, going 3-for-5 with a home run as a nice statement in his first game back. The power from the righty slugger has been evident, with four dingers in 42 plate appearances to pair with a .982 OPS, but he has struck out 12 times, at least once in eight of nine games, as he searches for timing that would allow him to connect more often.
His arm has been on display, too, as when his cannon from right field threw out a runner at the plate last week. His athleticism, as well, when he drifted back to the left-field wall on a drive from Salt Lake’s Jose Rojas, got up well over the fence and brought back a home run that not even Mike Tauchman could have rescued.
— rivercats (@RiverCats) June 18, 2021
There are plays on the field that Davis can make that few others can, which is a big part of what attracted the Giants to the emerging minor league outfielder on the Twins who was part of the Sam Dyson trade in 2019. That year he hit 35 minor league home runs, and translating that to the majors has been a work in progress.
When he was first promoted to the Giants, he had a bat wiggle that Gary Sheffield would be proud of. That was eliminated in 2020, but Davis said he “couldn’t get going” with a stance that didn’t include movement.
“I felt like I was stuck,” said Davis, whose bat moves before the pitch but not nearly as dramatically. “We kind of said, let’s try to make it a happy medium, and I feel like that’s what I’ve done.”
He is optimistic about his swing, which has resulted in both too many whiffs and exit velocities that only encourage the Giants more, but he feels happiest about his mentality. It has been a roller-coaster time with the Giants, with swing adjustments and call-ups and demotions and injuries and scouting reports.
He is trying to get back to how he felt at the plate in 2019, absorbing the information and the tweaks without bringing them up to bat with him.
“Going up there thinking about too much stuff definitely weighs on you,” Davis said. “You definitely second-guess yourself and don’t let your abilities take over. I feel like I did a lot of that in the past.”
How did that change as he smoked two homers in his first two 2021 minor league games?
“I just went out there and just played,” Davis said.
His Giants future is unclear; he can be activated from the 60-day injured list June 30, when he would need to be added to a 40-man roster that is deep enough that DFA’d Giants (like Matt Wisler) now may be traded, rather than snuck through waivers. The Giants still will tell you at every turn that they believe in Davis, but he is playing alongside Braden Bishop, another talented righty-hitting outfielder, with Heliot Ramos on the way and Austin Slater, Darin Ruf and Mauricio Dubon already in San Francisco.
The Giants, who have a burgeoning reputation with late-developing outfielders, want to see more from Davis.
“I think the emphasis is on not just making sure that he’s not forgotten, but that he’s a part of what we’re doing,” Kapler said this week. “He’s a meaningful member of the organization that has spent a lot of time with our big-league club over the last couple of seasons, and we care about him.”