Where J.D. Davis fits in Giants' corner infield plan after productive debut
Where does Davis fit in after productive Giants debut? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants made it clear from the start of camp that they're moving forward with a new plan on the corners, with LaMonte Wade Jr. set to start at first base and David Villar at third. In explaining the preferences, Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler were backed by pretty compelling pieces of evidence.
For Wade, it's the entire 2021 season. He was one of the breakout stars of that 107-win team, and Wade and the Giants are hopeful that a knee injury was to blame for a disappointing followup season. For Villar, it's a smaller sample size at the big league level, but a meaningful one. He hit eight homers over his final 26 games as a rookie, finishing with 36 for the calendar year.
It's also easy to find reasons why the Giants internally will root hard for both new corner infielders to become longer-term fixes. Wade quickly joined Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson and others on the list of minor trades that turned into major successes for Zaidi and the front office. Villar was technically drafted by the previous regime, but he was developed by the current one and is, the Giants hope, the start of a wave of homegrown position player talent to hit Oracle Park.
But there's another infielder who fits the criteria, too.
J.D. Davis also has a resume that says he's ready for a meaty role, having posted a .857 OPS with eight homers after coming over at the start of August last season. Like the other two, he is potentially a huge success story for the front office and staff. Trading Darin Ruf to the New York Mets for Davis alone would have been a win, but the Giants also got three young pitchers, with the deal looking like it will be a heist.
Davis becoming an entrenched member of the lineup could be every bit as meaningful. But with new starters at the corners and Joc Pederson set to be the primary designated hitter, where does he fit in? That's an easy one for Kapler.
"He fits in perfectly," he said earlier this spring.
Davis won't go into the year as the set starter at any position, but when the Giants look up after 162 games, there's a strong chance he's right near the top of the list in plate appearances. He is similar in a lot of ways to Wilmer Flores, and Kapler plans to use the two just about every day.
Davis and Flores give the Giants one of the league's best combinations off the bench late in games, but both will see time at the corners and at DH. With camp wrapping up this week, Davis is currently third on the roster in spring at-bats, and he has continued to show he'll be a big boost to the lineup, going 11-for-33 with a homer and three doubles.
"J.D.'s fit in the clubhouse is, like, almost perfect, but you wish you had one more position so you could pencil J.D. into the lineup and just forget about it," Kapler said. "He's a good hitter against righties and lefties, has some of the best exit velocities you'll see in the game, and I think he makes really good swing decisions. The only thing that I think is stopping him from being a superstar hitter is there's some swing-and-miss in the zone.
"It's not overwhelming, but it's kind of enough to make him mortal. That's one area of improvement for J.D., but I feel good about him around the bag on both sides, and I think he's a good fit for our team."
Davis' career splits against lefties and righties are nearly identical, which makes him a bit of an outlier on a roster that embraces platoons. It's a roster that also currently lacks balance.
With Mitch Haniger (oblique) and Austin Slater (hamstring) sidelined and possibly out for Opening Day, the Giants are in need of right-handed-hitting outfielders while at the same time having three right-handed-hitting corner infielders in Davis, Flores and Villar. Davis has played some left field in the past, but the staff decided early on that there wasn't much upside in getting him reps on the grass this spring when they're so focused on helping him improve defensively at the corners.
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Perhaps that will change if the injuries linger, or perhaps Wade and Pederson will slide back to the outfield, opening first base and DH at-bats for Davis and Flores. No matter how it happens, the Giants expect Davis to be heavily involved, and he does, too.
Now further removed from hand surgery and fully healthy, he said he's having his most normal spring in years. A year ago, even as he worked to build up his strength, Davis ranked behind only Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez in hard-hit percentage. That's the kind of bat you use somewhere every day, even if the path to playing time will be more circuitous than it is for others.
Asked during Sunday's broadcast about his role, Davis pointed out that the roster already is dealing with injuries and in need of guys who can move around. He said he's comfortable with where he fits in.
"There isn't a specific role that Farhan or Kapler has sat down and discussed with me but I'm assuming my role is going to be middle of the order, start against lefties, pinch-hit against lefties, occasional righty starts, stay on the dirt at first and third. That's what I'm thinking," he said. "I think we're in a good spot with a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. It's a little bit of that old school out of the way and the new school coming in, where you've just (had in the past) guys that have been anchored in one position. Just to have more (complete players) that can play multiple positions, it's a blessing during those times of trial where guys are injured or banged up."
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