TEMPE, Ariz. — Some of Matt Davidson’s enthusiasm can without question be attributed to rookie exuberance. But the White Sox third baseman clearly has gained confidence this spring when it comes to his defense.
Through tireless work with third-base coach Joe McEwing and manager Robin Ventura, mostly minor adjustments the White Sox say, Davidson thinks he has a solid grasp on a potential question mark. Acquired in December for closer Addison Reed, scouts believe Davidson has major league power, but they wonder about his footwork and range.
Davidson has had as few as five chances this spring. But one of those plays, last week when he cleanly fielded a grounder four or five steps to his left at Camelback Ranch, stands out in his mind.
“It’s almost like I backed up and went too far,” Davidson said. “Usually I’m probably getting that and spinning and throwing. That was probably the best I have ever felt in a game on a ground ball. I almost ran past it, and I didn’t try hard. I just had good timing.”
The power in Davidson’s bat isn’t questioned.
It has helped vault him to top-100 prospect ratings by Baseball America each of the past two years. But BA also notes in its “Prospect Handbook” that Davidson needs to improve his lateral movement and quickness in the field. Those issues have scouts unsure whether or not Davidson can stick at third.
The White Sox don’t share those views.
Nearly two months ago, after they only briefly worked together a mini-camp, Ventura said scouts had similar questions about his game and he didn’t have any concerns about Davidson. He likes Davidson’s work ethic and believes he has good hands and a strong arm.
“He looks pretty solid over there,” Ventura said.
One of the primary areas Davidson has worked to solidify since January has been his pre-pitch routine. With improved timing, the White Sox believe Davidson won’t have trouble corralling the grounders he needs to.
“It wasn’t anything really, really drastic,” McEwing said. “It was just squaring him up to the hitter in his pre-pitch and the timing of his pre-pitch, getting consistent with it. That’s where he was getting off the ball better and getting better jumps was when his timing of pre-pitch was consistent with ball when it was in the hitting zone.”
Along with talking about it, McEwing has filmed Davidson several times to show him. The goal is to maintain that focus for all 140-150 pitches per game, McEwing said.
“A lot goes into it, not just physically, but mentally,” McEwing said. “He’s a very athletic kid and somebody who can adjust and makes adjustments very well and very quick, and he has done that so far.”
Rick Hahn is just as pleased with what he has seen in the short-term from Davidson. But Hahn has routinely pointed out the trade wasn’t made to satisfy short-term goals; the White Sox hope Davidson can become their first everyday third baseman since Joe Crede.
With Jeff Keppinger’s contract and Conor Gillaspie out of options, that might not happen on Opening Day, but Hahn suspects it wouldn’t take long, either.
“His development isn’t complete yet,” Hahn said. “We do feel once he gets to Chicago he’s going to be here for a long time and help us for a long time, and we’re not too hung up on precisely when that starts. ... It’s more important getting it right than starting it sooner than later.”
The development also includes offense, though observers have fewer doubts there.
Davidson — who went 2-for-3 in Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Los Angeles Angels — only has a .227 average this spring. But he showed he’s capable of producing during a late-season promotion in 2013 with a .237/.333./.434 slash line, three home runs and 12 RBIs in 87 plate appearances for Arizona.
He also realizes he has only had 22 at-bats this spring and has hits in three of the last four trips, including a deep homer earlier this week.
He has the confidence his offense will come around. Now more than ever his assurance is accompanied by a similar belief in his defense.
“I have never felt this good ever defensively,” Davidson said. “I didn’t change anything in the weight room or any training or lose weight, it’s just the fact that I’ve better timing so I get a better jump on the ball.”