Veteran Jonathan Davis has A.J. Hinch calling him ‘a perfect complement’ in outfield mix

Detroit Free Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jonathan Davis seems like a long shot to make the Detroit Tigers‘ Opening Day roster.

The 30-year-old, a five-year MLB veteran, needs to meet or exceed expectations from the organization with his all-around performance on offense and defense. He would greatly benefit from Matt Vierling, a fellow right-handed hitting outfielder, playing more infield than outfield. A combination of both scenarios, while unlikely, will land Davis on the big-league roster.

“He fits our team if the performance matches the needs,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “His track record in the minors has been good. His opportunity in the big leagues has been more random, so we’ll see where it takes him in the spring. But he’s going to get a good look.”

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Understanding Davis as a player begins with his playing time.

He has been shuttled between the minors and majors over the past five seasons, and he hasn’t logged more than 103 big-league plate appearances in a single season. That high-water mark came in 2021 with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees.

That year, he hit .126 in 64 games.

Davis has played 171 games with four home runs in his MLB career.

“It’s tough,” he said. “The thing I had to learn is that I can’t make excuses. I have to prepare myself as well as I can. Over the years, my preparation for those at-bats has gotten better for the times I get in there. For me, I was so hard on myself. Every time I stepped in the box, I wanted to get a hit, and that can play against you because there are limited at-bats.”

In 2022, Davis hit .224 with 14 walks and 26 strikeouts over 37 games for the Milwaukee Brewers. He also hit .294 with 28 walks and 44 strikeouts in 48 games for Triple-A Nashville. The Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract in at the end of January, three weeks before spring training.

He knows the strike zone as a hitter, exemplified by his 15.4% walk rate in the big leagues last season, but rarely hits for power. He has stolen 18 bases in 21 attempts in his career, as well, but struggles to hit for contact.

For the Brewers, Davis played just 19 complete games. He would study the scouting reports, focusing primarily on the opposing relief pitchers, to stay prepared for his limited opportunities.

“It’s being ready when your name is called and going about your business every day on a professional level, just keeping your body ready and keeping your mind ready,” Davis said. “You never know, especially as the player that I am, and the role that I usually play, I have to be ready to go in at any time.”

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What gets Davis on the field is his outfield defense in center, considered an elite attribute. Being a right-handed hitter, especially without defensive versatility, is the key to his chances with the Tigers.

The Tigers have five lefty-hitting outfielders in spring training: Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, Kerry Carpenter, Akil Baddoo and Parker Meadows. Davis and Vierling are the only righties Four or five of them will make the Opening Day roster.

“He’s right in the middle of it,” Hinch said. “His at-bat quality in the minors has been very good. He hasn’t gotten the opportunity in the big leagues. We want to make sure he gets a look at a number of different spots. With all the left-handed outfielders we have, he’s a perfect complement if he can continue to put up really good at-bats.”

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A few weeks ago, Davis ran into Baddoo during his first day of spring training. He remembers playing center in last year’s spring training when Baddoo launched a no-doubt home run in the first inning against Blue Jays left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu at TD Ballpark in Dunedin.

“I was like, ‘Who is this dude?'” Davis said.

It’s a healthy competition in this year’s camp.

Davis could be one of the outfielders added to the Tigers’ Opening Day roster, but that will come down to his performance — something he can control — and roster decisions from the front office and coaching staff — something he can’t.

“You get the best out of everybody,” Davis said. “I told Akil, ‘I don’t know where your mindset is at, but I want you to be the best player you can be.’ I’m going to be pushing him throughout the year. I know the talent that dude has. He can really do some great things. Same with Riley and the rest of the group. If I push those guys, I’m also pushing myself, and we’ll be a good group.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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