By Rob Rains
As the Cardinals’ scouts prepared for the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft, they identified several high school players who they ended up selecting that year – Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Tink Hence.
They also liked a high school outfielder from Elk Grove, Calif., named Chase Davis but he went undrafted – until Sunday night.
The Cardinals used their first-round pick in this year’s draft, the 21st overall selection, to finally take Davis, now a junior at the University of Arizona.
“I do remember as a strategy (in 2020) that one of the things we wanted to be ready for was if the industry kind of shied away from the high school base,” said Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager and director of scouting. “He was one of the players we had tagged. That being said, you can’t draft all of them.”
The Cardinals didn’t forget about Davis, however, and followed him as he went to Arizona, where he didn’t play much as a freshman. His career began to take off as a sophomore and exploded as a junior this season, when he hit 21 home runs, tied for the most in the Pac 12 conference.
He cut down on his strikeouts, actually walking more times than he struck out (43 to 40) while hitting .362 with 74 RBIs in 57 games. Part of his success came after making an adjustment to his batting stance.
“He put himself in position where he can see the ball a little better,” Flores said. “He takes aggressive passes at the ball, and any little bit he can gain in recognition is going to set his game off and it looks like that’s what happened this year.”
Some scouts have compared Davis’ swing to that of former All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who was once a teammate of Flores in Colorado. Davis said on a zoom call Sunday night that he actually has developed a relationship with Gonzalez over the last year few years.
Davis also said that he knew Walker and Winn from playing together at several summer showcase events and camps over the years.
While he said it would have been nice to have the Cardinals draft him in 2020, he believes it worked out better for him to spend the last three years playing in college – and join the Cardinals now.
“Long time ago, 2020,” Davis said. “I knew I was going to be a better major-leaguer (draftee) at 21 years old, I knew I wasn’t ready when I was 18. That was a huge factor in why I chose to go to U of A. More importantly, just understanding that the logistics at the time weren’t lining up so I decided to take my talents to Tucson.
“I know that God has a plan and in this case baseball is a sport where you expect and think one thing and it can be the exact opposite in two minutes. I went into this day and this milestone with no expectations, just understanding that I’ve done all I could to get to this moment. I’m going to be in the right place at the right time. I have so much to look forward to, it’s such a blessing to be here.”
Beyond the raw statistics, what jumped out at Flores and others with the Cardinals was the comments they received about Davis the person.
“When you reach out to his network and try to get to know someone as much as possible without being in the dugout with him, almost unanimously they rave about Chase Davis as a person and they remark about his growth and his maturity, his love of the game and his tremendous work ethic,” Flores said. “I am so confident that he will do everything in his power to be the best player possible.
“He’s very engaging, has charisma, loves baseball, faced adversity and has kind of found himself and his keys to get through that. He plays with a joy but also plays with humility. But when you see him play you see a man who is very confident when he is in the batter’s box.”
Davis, who was majoring in Spanish at Arizona, is from the same hometown as the Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson, a town that has produced a group of current major-leaguers that includes Carlson, Nick Madrigal, J.D. Davis and Rowdy Tellez.
Carlson’s father, Jeff, coached against Davis in high school. Their respective schools were rivals, playing in the same conference.
“We played them three times a year, sometimes more in the playoffs,” Carlson said Sunday night. “At the time I thought he really needed to go to college and master his swing and learn and develop, which he did. They did an outstanding job with him.
“Obviously a tremendous athlete, the tools, everything you want in a player. You could see he had the tools to play professional baseball (in high school) but he just needed to work on some things in my opinion.”
The Cardinals did not have a pick in the second round of this year’s draft, having forfeited that pick when they signed free agent catcher Willson Contreras last winter.
Flores said not having that pick did not change the Cardinals’ draft strategy. This was the first year the Cardinals took a college position player in the first round since 2012, when they drafted James Ramsey, Stephen Piscotty and Patrick Wisdom with their first-round and supplemental first-round picks.
The draft will continue with rounds 3 through 10 on Monday and rounds 11 to 20 on Tuesday.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo courtesy of University of Arizona athletics