PHOENIX — Count this among the reasons the Diamondbacks chose to build around first baseman Paul Goldschmidt moving forward: Several times during spring training, Goldschmidt made time to chat with third-base prospect Matt Davidson. Sometimes it was around the batting cage. Once during a game, Goldschmidt talked about the starting pitcher’s tendencies in certain situations.
“We talked a lot about hitting. What he goes through in his routine,” Davidson said. “He’s awesome to watch. He sticks with what he does.
“He took time out of his day to pull me aside. That’s really nice. He tries to help people out.”
It is the way an organization stays strong.
Goldschmidt probably saw something of himself in Davidson, a right-handed hitter who oozes power and who also is not opposed to using the whole field, a mindset that is rarer and rarer among big hitters these days. Also, the two are contemporaries, taken a few rounds apart in the 2009 draft. Davidson was a sandwich pick out of Yucaipa (Calif.) High, and Goldschmidt went in the eighth round as a more experienced hitter out of Texas State.
Whereas industry bible Baseball America once ranked Goldschmidt as the best power-hitting prospect in the D-backs’ minor league system, that designation has now shifted to Davidson, who turned 22 the final week of spring training.
That ranking did not require a great leap of faith. Davidson has 16, 20 and 23 home runs in each of his first three full seasons in the minor leagues, and he is off to another strong start at Class AAA Reno this season, where he had three home runs and nine RBIs in his first 12 games.
Like Goldschmidt, who lined a home run to right field in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Davidson hit one of his three Reno homers to straight-away right field. The other two were to left.
Speaking with Goldschmidt this spring only reinforced the advice Davidson was given last season at Class AA Mobile, where Jay Bell was his hitting coach and Turner Ward was his manager. Bell has since become the hitting coach for the Pirates, and Ward is the hitting assistant to Don Baylor with the D-backs.
“I didn’t have a defined approach until last year,” Davidson said. “It’s realizing who I am and being more consistent with that. Having a single thought. When you struggle, you think of different things. If you make outs, as a human, you want to change things. It’s hard not to change. But if you stay with what you do, you will get out of it sooner.”
That means staying with your strengths at the plate rather changing in an attempt to exploit an opposing pitcher’s weakness.
“Definitely, you go over scouting reports. But the one thing I learned, if you go off what a pitcher struggles with, you are not necessarily using your strength. You have to stay with what kind of hitter you are and understand that he has to pitch to you. You have to know what he throws, but you also have to stay with your approach,” Davidson said.
Davidson hit .277/.348/.465 with 39 doubles and 20 homers at Class A Visalia in 2011 and followed that by going .261/.367/.469 with 28 doubles and 23 homers at Mobile last season. He had a career-high 28 errors in 2012, and he continues to do early work at third base, saying, “I’m getting a lot more comfortable over there.”
He could be considered the D-backs’ third baseman of the future, inasmuch as outfielder Jason Kubel could become a free agent after this season and newcomer Martin Prado, the third baseman now, has played more games in his career in the outfield than anywhere else. But production supersedes labels, and neither Davidson nor the D-backs are looking any further than tomorrow.
Davidson received a slight scare in the Arizona Fall League last October. After being named to the Southern League midseason and postseason All-Star teams, he suffered a concussion when he was struck in the head by a bad-hop grounder early in the Fall League season.
The ball was hit so hard that it ricocheted to second base, but Davidson remained in that game and played a few more before the concussion symptoms showed. He missed almost three weeks, including a scheduled appearance in the Rising Stars game, before coming back. There have been no issues through spring training and the first few weeks of the regular season.
“I never even thought about it,” Davidson said. “When I got back in the Fall League, I was good to go. That stuff happens. I went into the offseason ready to go, because I kind of had my break in the Fall League.”