Maryvale Baseball Park —— On Monday night in the Arizona League, Ike Davis pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie league affiliate.
Yes, this is the same Ike Davis, now 30 years old, who spent up to this point the entirety of his career as a power hitter enjoying early big league success with the New York Mets before fading quickly the last few seasons. To date, Davis holds a career .239/.332/.414/.746 slash line in 2,076 big league at-bats with 81 home runs to his name—32 of which came in an impressive 2012 campaign that he henceforth failed to replicate.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are now officially converting Ike Davis full time to the mound, after he opened 2017 as a hitter slashing just .212/.258/.412/.670 for their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers. And on Monday night, Davis took the mound for his third appearance with the Arizona League Dodgers in his new role, giving up a hit and two walks in two-thirds of an inning with one strikeout to his name.
Ike Davis, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers — Video
As we tend to do in situations like these, Baseball Census has video of every single pitch Ike Davis threw on Monday night. You can watch that here:
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Ike Davis, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers — Game Notes
On Monday night, Ike Davis sat 86-90 mph with his fastball. A pitcher back in college a decade ago, it’s clear he has some natural arm strength, and he couples it with a decent amount of arm-side run that’ll occasionally manifest itself as late downward life. A big, tall lefty, Davis also gets a bit of downward plane on his stuff when at the knees; at least on Monday night, though, his command issues were such that his downward plane was variable.
Davis pairs the fastball with a deceptively good changeup and a slider that is… coming along. Last night, he struggled to throw the slider for a strike and the pitch fell into the trap of two less-than-ideal outcomes: either buried in the dirt, and non-competitive from the start, or loopy with slurve-like break and not enough bite to succeed against better hitters than what the AZL offers. There are good things about his slider, though: Davis has definite downward break on it, however variable, and that’s a sign he’s learning how to manipulate the pitch. He just needs to add touch and consistency to it, which will come with more mound work in side sessions and game innings in his new role.
His command was less than ideal on Monday night, to the point where he even missed a few borderline pitches that could have gone his way had he been more consistently around the plate. But nights like this are going to happen, perhaps frequently, for a veteran hitter trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher. As he moves forward, Davis must prove he can make in-game mechanical, tempo, and arm angle adjustments to ensure he fills up the zone, for the leash on him is pretty short right now.
I will say one big thing for Ike Davis as a pitcher, though; he’s incredibly deliberate. Without plus velocity to go out and blow hitters away, he’s focused on sequencing, and it’s clear there’s an actual approach to how he’s trying to get ahead (perhaps you might expect from a 30-year-old in this context). The problem, then, is he can’t really execute what he wants to do quite yet. That execution ought to show up more consistently as he gets more innings under his belt, of course, but the thought process is already there and, occasionally, so too is the raw stuff from his arsenal.
Ike Davis, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers — Projection
Thirty years old now, having been a closer in his college days, and with exactly 2.2 innings of true pitching experience to his name (Davis got on the mound twice in mop-up duty for the Oakland Athletics in 2015), I wouldn’t hold out much hope that Ike Davis will be anything more than a long reliever or, at best, a situational lefty. He needs more of everything—velocity, late life on his pitches, bite on his slider, execution on his approach—but more than all of that he needs consistency in command, and that will ultimately dictate whether this whole experiment will work. To his credit, Davis’ pitch repertoire really isn’t bad when it’s located down in the strike zone. For me, now, the question becomes how consistently he can live down in the zone, and how quickly he can develop from there.
It’s possible I saw Ike Davis on an off night, of course. The lefty struck out the side in his first AZL appearance on August 6, and then threw a clean inning with a walk and a strikeout on August 9. Monday was, technically, the worst outing of his career. To that end, beyond the most general long relief/situational lefty hypotheses due to his age and the context of his conversion, I don’t think it’s wise to project Ike Davis out too specifically at this point. He deserves all the credit in the world for grinding it out in the Arizona League with a bunch of 19-year-olds this month, and that alone should tell you that he’s committed to the conversion, and to resurrecting his career in whatever way possible.
Beyond that, let’s see where he winds up in another months’ time and whether he can take some momentum into 2018 as a more refined, consistent pitcher. Of one thing, though, I’m certain: it was a hell of an interesting night watching a 2,000-plus at-bat big league veteran pitch to a bunch of teenagers in an empty stadium a million miles away from the big league life he lived as a position player for so many years. If this conversion ever actually ends up working, Monday will have been a pretty unique experience watching one of the first seeds take root late at night in an empty stadium in the anonymous, unforgiving Arizona League.