Sometimes, a change of scenery is all a guy needs to break through and succeed.
And sometimes, the pressure of playing in front of the hometown fans can be too much for someone to get over mentally.
It looks like both of these old adages might apply to Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who is off to an MVP-ish start to the big-league season after having a breakthrough year last year with the Orioles. That, of course, came after the Rangers traded him to Baltimore along with Tommy Hunter in 2011 for relief pitcher Koji Uehara, who is now pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
Davis, a Longview native who grew up a Rangers fan and played for Navarro College in Corsicana, burst on to the scene in Arlington in 2008 when he was called up midway through the season and hit .285 with a .331 on-base percentage and 17 home runs to go with 55 RBIs in 80 games. It was a relatively small sample size, but it was large enough to think the Rangers might have found their mashing first baseman of the future after they famously traded Mark Teixeira for a bounty of a return to the Atlanta Braves.
The next season, Davis hit 21 homers but hit just .238 as he began to battle a strikeout problem with 150 on the season. From that point, Davis began an up-and-down journey between the Rangers and the minors over the next season and a half before being dealt at the deadline in 2011. That year at Triple-A Round Rock, Davis hit .368 with a .405 on-base percentage, 24 homers and 66 RBIs in just 48 games — a pretty remarkable set of numbers. It just didn't translate in Arlington as he continued to swing and miss when he'd get a chance with the big club.
During that time, the Rangers gave precedence at first base to other guys like Justin Smoak, who was eventually dealt to Seattle for Cliff Lee. Then there was Mitch Moreland, who's teetering on what could be his last chance to prove he's the guy at first.
Meanwhile, Davis, who has great defensive skill at first, is raking. After his breakout year last year saw him hit 33 homers and 85 RBIs with a .270 average for Baltimore, he's off to a ridiculous start this year. Through 12 games, he's hitting .366 and leads the league in slugging percentage (.902), OPS (1.362), home runs (6) and RBIs (19).
“I know for a fact it was hard on him, just seeing younger guys get more opportunities than you,” said Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter, who has played with Davis since Double-A ball and came to Baltimore with him in the deal for Uehara, speaking to the Baltimore Sun. “He was excited to come here. I would have been, too. He had his chance. He knew he was going to be an everyday guy, that he was going to get 400 at-bats to see what he could do. He kind of put it on display [in 2012]. He's showed this is what he could do if he got 400 at-bats.”
Twelve games is an incredibly small sample, and means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it appears Davis might have turned the corner and finally lived up to his potential, and the Rangers could regret it.