Jaylin Davis is having a breakout year.
The outfielder, who the Giants acquired from the Twins in the Sam Dyson trade, had (other than a blip in this second half of 2017) had a nice, steady career before 2019. with consistent wOBAs in the .330-.350 range.
Between his two AAA stops this year, his wOBA is .462. But it hasn’t been an easy road to get here. In fact, the year the Twins took him in the draft, he didn’t think anyone would want him.
18 games into his junior season at Appalachian State — where his manager was Billy Jones, father of Ryder Jones — Davis tore his labrum, which ended his season and meant that he sat out his first professional season after being drafted. But looking back on it, he considers it a positive.
“I guess it kinda helped me out a lot,” Davis said on Saturday. “I got the time to rest my body and get in the weight room a little bit. Once I came back [the next] season, my arm felt pretty good.”
The Twins drafted Davis in the 24th round in 2015, and considering that his injury meant he would be out for a while, he was surprised by it. “I honestly didn’t think I was gonna get picked up since I was hurt,” he said. “I was in a sling when the Twins called me.”
Davis had thought he’d go back to college for his senior year, but that phone call changed his plans. He was going to spend a year rehabbing his shoulder, so why not do it with a major league team that thought he was worth bringing in, even in his injured state? “I definitely think that was the best thing for me,” he said. “To just rehab with them instead of going back to school.”
It took Davis more than a year to get on the field, and once he got enough at bats in in rookie ball, the Twins promoted him to their A-ball team in Cedar Rapids. There, in 490 plate appearances over the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, he hit .260/.327/.479, earning him a promotion to the high-A Fort Myers Miracle.
In Fort Myers, though, Davis struggled. He hit just .237/.288/.335 there at the end of 2017, but the good news was that he was still healthy. His issue that year was mental. “Going in, I just put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “Trying to do more than I had to and [it] kinda just [led to a] downward spiral.”
He recovered the next year with a respectable .271/.354/.397 line in Fort Myers for the first half of 2018, which got him promoted to AA Chattanooga, where he hit .275/.341/.425 to finish out the year. He attributes that rebound to mentality too, saying, “It was just not getting down on myself, being able to turn the page. Just mental growth for me.”
The eye popping numbers that made the Giants want him came this year, though. After starting out hitting .274/.379/.458 in Pensacola, the Twins’ new AA affiliate, Davis got promoted to AAA Rochester. There, he really took off, with a gaudy .331/.391/.708 line and 15 homers in just 169 plate appearances.
“I don’t know,” Davis said when asked what was behind his surge. “Once I got [to Rochester], I just felt comfortable right away. I played with those guys before and talked to the coaches. The first couple games it took me a little bit of getting used to. They were just like, relax, do what you’ve been doing all year, and it just took off from there.”
When asked if he made any mechanical adjustments, any of the trendy launch angle-type overhauls, he said no. “Just more relaxed,” he said.
One way to throw off someone’s mental game, though, is to change his surroundings at a moment’s notice, which happened this year on July 31.
“I was on the field taking BP, getting ready for a game. It was like 4:30 [a half-hour past the deadline, Eastern Time] before I heard anything, so didn’t think anything about it,” Davis said. “Our trainer walked out and he was talking to the manager, and then he looks over at me and starts walking towards me, so I’m like, okay, something happened. He’s like, hey man, he said go ahead and take it in. He said, ‘You’ve been traded to the Giants. Just want to let you know.’ He said, ‘We wanted to let you know before it got out. We want you to know so you feel comfortable.’”
“I was kinda shocked, to be honest,” Davis said. “My teammates were joking about it. The whole, walking in the clubhouse and they’re like, ‘You’re still here?’ Then he announced it and everybody came running in to congratulate me.”
And while being traded came as a shock, once he got to Sacramento and got settled in, Davis just kept on hitting. In 37 PAs with the River Cats, he’s hitting .433/.541/.800, and while that’s likely to come down just a little bit, it’s still an impressive immediate performance.
Plus, the change could be very good for his career in the long-term. “The Twins outfield is kinda stacked right now,” Davis noted, so he’s likely to get more of an opportunity to make a difference in San Francisco.
If he does get the call, then he’s not likely to change a whole lot. It’s the calm, relaxed mindset that got Davis this far, and that’s the same mindset that will get him to the major leagues. And how’s he going to get there? Well, he keeps it simple:
“Just keep doing what I’m doing,” Davis said. “Just relax and wait till the time comes”