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10 Late Bloomers Who Could Be MLB's Next Chris Davis

Rick WeinerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2016

10 Late Bloomers Who Could Be MLB's Next Chris Davis

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    If you're looking for a song lyric to describe the career of Baltimore's Chris Davis, "What a long, strange trip it's been" from the Grateful Dead's classic, "Truckin'," would fit the bill.

    For it wasn't until Davis was 26 years old, playing for his second franchise and entering his fifth major league season, that Baltimore manager Buck Showalter gave him a chance to play on a daily basis. A year later, Davis has become one of the best players in baseball and a legitimate MVP candidate.

    There are countless reasons why some players take time to finally reach their potential, but when they do, it's usually in a big way with big numbers and memorable moments along the way.

    While Davis is certainly the exception rather than the norm, struggles early in a player's career do not necessarily doom him to mediocrity.

    In no way am I saying the players on this list will reach the heights of success that Davis has—that would be an insane statement to make. But each of these players is young enough and talented enough to turn things around and become an All-Star-caliber player at the major league level.

    Just like Davis did.

    To qualify for this list, players must be at least 25 years old with the 2013 season being at least their third in the major leagues.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at 10 players who have a chance for sustained major league success in the not-so-distant future—if they haven't shown signs of life already.

      

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and current through games of August 6.

Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs

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    Age: 27

    MLB Experience: Fourth season

      

    After Arrieta posted a 5.46 ERA in 69 games—63 starts—over his first four major league seasons, Baltimore ran out of patience with its former fifth-round draft pick and traded him to the rebuilding Chicago Cubs as part of a four-player deal that landed Scott Feldman with the Orioles at the beginning of July.

    The chance to get a pitcher with Arrieta's undeniable talent was something the Cubs weren't about to pass up, as general manager Jed Hoyer explained to reporters after the trade was announced, per ESPN.com:

    When you look at Arrieta, he's a guy who struggled recently in the big leagues but we see a lot of potential in him. We've had some luck with guys like Travis Wood coming off a down year, Feldman was coming off [a down year with the Rangers].

    We think Arrieta, getting him out of the American League East and getting him into our environment, we're hopeful he can turn the corner. This is a guy who was an Opening Day starter for the Orioles in 2012 and we hope to get him back to that level of performance.

    Since the trade, Arrieta has made only one appearance for the Cubs, tossing six innings of two-hit, one-run ball against Milwaukee in the second game of a doubleheader on July 30, walking three and striking out two.

    He's made six starts for Triple-A Iowa, pitching a 3.29 ERA and 1.43 WHIP with 13 walks and 36 strikeouts over 27.1 innings of work, and Arrieta is a likely addition to the Cubs rotation when rosters expand in September.

    There's no denying he is talented enough to be a quality major league starter, and with lower expectations in Chicago than he faced in Baltimore, you have to like his chances of finding success in his new home.

    Sometimes, a change of scenery is all a player needs to finally get things rolling.

Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets

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    Age: 26

    MLB Experience: Fourth season

      

    Through the first 186 games of Ike Davis' major league career, it sure looked like he was going to become one of baseball's great young sluggers, as he hit a combined .271 with 26 home runs, 96 RBI and an .817 OPS.

    Then he suffered a freak ankle injury early in 2011 and simply hasn't been the same since. While the power has remained, with Davis hitting 38 home runs over his next 237 games, the rest of his game has fallen apart, as Davis has seen his batting average dip to .216 and his OPS drop to .717.

    The Mets hoped that a stint with Triple-A Las Vegas earlier this season would get Davis back on track, and he performed well, hitting .293 with seven home runs, 13 RBI and an OPS of 1.091 in 23 games.

    While Davis has been better since his return, hitting .282 with an .868 OPS in 26 games since July 5, the run production has disappeared, with only one home run and five RBI to show for his efforts.

    It may take a change of scenery for Davis to truly get back on track, but the numbers he put up early in his career would lead you to believe the 26-year-old is capable of far more than he's shown over the past season-and-a-half. 

Desmond Jennings, CF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Age: 26

    MLB Experience: Fourth season

     

    Desmond Jennings has done a decent job of replacing Carl Crawford in Tampa Bay's lineup since the former All-Star left via free agency after the 2010 season, but he's failed to live up to the expectations that come along with being ranked one of the 25 best prospects in baseball, per Baseball America.

    Jennings' game is built around making solid contact and getting on base, where he can use his biggest asset: his speed. While he's flashed that speed, swiping 68 bases in 85 attempts since the start of the 2011 season, he's struggled to hit for average or get on base with any consistency.

    According to FanGraphs, 36 center fielders have qualified for the leaderboard since 2011. Out of that group, Jennings ranks 20th with a 79 percent contact rate, 21st with a .327 on-base percentage and 28th with a .253 batting average.

    That's not good.

    While we can all agree minor league stats don't mean much in the grand scheme of things, Jennings does own a lifetime .294/.381/.442 slash line over seven minor league seasons, so he's shown the ability to hit for average and get on base consistently before.

    Jennings is young enough and talented enough to get his major league numbers closer to what he did down on the farm, and with Joe Maddon running the show in Tampa Bay, you have to like his chances of turning things around.

Cameron Maybin, CF, San Diego Padres

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    Age: 26

    MLB Experience: Seventh season

     

    Few players in baseball have the God-given athletic ability Cameron Maybin has, yet the 26-year-old has managed to play in over 100 games only twice in his seven-year major league career, partly due to injuries but mainly due to his lack of consistent production.

    Limited to only 14 games this season due to a partially torn PCL in his left knee, Maybin is on a rehab assignment and working his way back to San Diego, the third team he's played for since breaking into the big leagues with Detroit in 2007.

    When he has been healthy, Maybin has been largely underwhelming at the plate, with his best season coming in 2011 when he hit .264 with nine home runs, 40 RBI, 40 stolen bases and 82 runs scored.

    He's never going to be a big-time slugger, but Maybin has the ability to hit 10 to 15 home runs while hitting for average, getting on base consistently and causing havoc on the basepaths with his speed.

    Only 26, Maybin is just entering what should be the prime of his career. If he's able to stay healthy, his talent alone dictates a breakout campaign lies ahead in the not-so-distant future for a player who was once considered one of the 10 best prospects in all of baseball, per Baseball America.

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Texas Rangers

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    Age: 27

    MLB Experience: Fourth season

     

    There are plenty of similarities between current Texas first baseman Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis, whom the team jettisoned in a 2011 trade with Baltimore after growing frustrated with the slugger's lack of consistent production.

    You can be sure the team won't make the same mistake with Moreland, who was well on his way to having the best season of his career before going down with a strained hamstring on June 5, hitting .288 with 12 home runs, 29 RBI and an .899 OPS.

    Since returning from the disabled list, Moreland has searched for his early-season mojo, having mustered only four home runs, 14 RBI and a rather embarrassing .177 batting average since June 21—and only nine hits in 60 at-bats since the All-Star break.

    To his credit, Moreland isn't letting his funk get him down, as he told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan:

    It's been like any other time I've gone through a slump. I'm just going up there and battling and trying to get a good pitch to hit. It could change in one pitch. You just keep going up there, keep your head down and battle through it. Everybody wants to have good results. But if you don't, you keep your head down and keep working.

    He's begun to pick things up over the past week, hitting .300 (6-for-20) since July 31, and a strong finish this year could set him up for a breakout season in 2014.

Logan Morrison, 1B, Miami Marlins

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    Age: 25

    MLB Experience: Fourth season

     

    When Logan Morrison set a personal goal of 30 home runs and 100 RBI heading into last season, nobody blinked an eye, as those were seemingly reachable goals for a supremely talented 24-year-old hitting in the middle of what was a stacked Miami lineup.

    Morrison, who had battled partially torn patella tendon in 2011 once again dealt with knee issues in 2012 before finally shutting things down and going under the knife again after only 93 games, finishing the season with a .230/.308/.399 slash line, 11 home runs and 36 RBI.

    That surgery kept him sidelined until early June this year, and since he returned to action, Morrison has shown some of the skills that made him such a highly regarded prospect, hitting .285 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 40 games.

    A healthy Morrison is a productive Morrison, and with his knee injuries seemingly behind him, being able to get into a groove for the rest of the season and go through a normal offseason for the first time in years could result in a Chris Davis-like breakout for Morrison in 2014.

Daniel Nava, RF, Boston Red Sox

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    Age: 30

    MLB Experience: Third season

     

    Once a player celebrates his 30th birthday, it's usually fair to say he is what he is—the chances for marked improvement over his previous levels of production are highly unlikely.

    That's not the case with Daniel Nava, who didn't break into the major leagues until he was 27 and spent parts of his first two seasons as nothing more than a part-time player.

    After earning a starting spot with Boston this season, Nava has thrived, hitting .282 with 10 home runs, 53 RBI and a .791 OPS.

    Is Nava all of a sudden going to become Boston's next great slugger, hitting moon shots over the Green Monster 30 times a season? Probably not.

    But his production this season and manager John Farrell's confidence in his abilities prove that Nava is capable of being a solid contributor at the major league level, and that confidence—and experience—can only help him and the team going forward.

    It's not a stretch to think that in 2014, a 20-homer, 100-RBI season is possible.

Chris Parmelee, 1B/OF, Minnesota Twins

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    Age: 25

    MLB Experience: Third season

     

    Things haven't gone according to plan for Chris Parmelee this season.

    Not only did he get off to a terrible start, with a .223/.303/.372 slash line, eight home runs and 20 RBI through the first 83 games of the season, but he also found himself demoted to Triple-A Rochester in the middle of July.

    The move "shocked" Parmelee, who told Phil Miller of the Star Tribune that his main goal was to get back to the major leagues as quickly as possible:

    I guess [they thought] I haven’t been comfortable at the plate. They want me to go down. I personally feel comfortable at the plate. I've been missing some balls I should be hitting. I can go down there, get my work done, get some at-bats in [and] get back up as soon as possible. That’s my main goal.

    Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't agree with Parmelee's assessment that he was comfortable at the plate: "He (Parmelee) just needs to go swing. Right now, he’s talking himself into things, running over and dissecting every swing, every pitch. ... You can’t play that way. He needs to go sit down and relax."

    So far, so good, as Parmelee has begun to find his groove in the minors. In 20 games, he's posted a .301/.409/.466 slash line, two home runs and nine RBI.

    With longtime first baseman Justin Morneau likely to leave after the season as a free agent, it stands to reason that Parmelee will be given every opportunity to win the starting job in spring training next year.

    If he can continue to build his confidence in the minors and carry it—and the adjustments he's making—into 2014, there's no reason to think Parmelee can't put up solid numbers for Minnesota in 2014 and beyond.

Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Age: 26

    MLB Experience: Fifth season

      

    Not having a great relationship with your manager is a surefire way to underachieve and find yourself in a no-win situation.

    That's exactly what happened with Colby Rasmus during his time in St. Louis, as both he and his father butted heads with Tony LaRussa. 

    While he wasn't awful with the Cardinals, hitting .263 with a .786 OPS, 39 home runs and 118 RBI over his first two major league seasons, his strained relationship with LaRussa and somewhat disappointing performance led to the 24-year-old being included in an eight-player trade with Toronto as the 2011 trade deadline approached.

    Things didn't improve once he arrived in Toronto, as Rasmus hit only .213 with 26 home runs and 88 RBI over his first 186 games in a Blue Jays uniform. It sure looked like Rasmus was well-deserving of the "bust" label that had been affixed to the back of his jersey.

    But this past winter, Toronto changed managers, replacing John Farrell with John Gibbons, and the new skipper clicked almost instantly with his talented center fielder. “I just liked the guy from day one," Gibbons told John Lott of the National Post back in July.

    Rasmus points to that relationship as a major reason for his success this season:

    Gibby’s been awesome for me this year, just trying to get me to enjoy the game and not put so much [pressure] on myself to do good.

    I worked so hard to get here and so hard to stay here, and sometimes you just have to let it be fun. I can’t just make it a constant grind — ‘I gotta hit more homers, I gotta hit for better average, I gotta do this, I gotta do that.’ I just try to get myself into a good positive frame of mind and get ready to play. To me it makes the game so much more fun and it makes it easier to play.

    With Gibbons running the show, Rasmus is finally comfortable and finds himself on pace to have the best season of his five-year career.

    Sure, he strikes out too much (30 percent of the time) and has what some would call an unsustainable .367 BABIP, but there's a noticeable difference in his confidence level and the way he looks at the plate this season from years past.

    Now when I have a bad day, instead of going and crushing myself in the weight room or going and taking 200 hacks in the cage, I just try to say, ‘No, I don’t need to do that because I work hard enough as it is. I know that I’m good enough and my talent will take over if I just let myself rest and give my body the rest that it needs.

    Sometimes, confidence and knowing someone has your back, no matter how you perform on a given day, is all a player needs to blossom.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners

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    Age: 26

    MLB Experience: Fourth season

      

    Stop me if you've heard this one before: A physically imposing (6'4", 220 lbs) left-handed-hitting first baseman struggles early in his career with the Texas Rangers and finds himself traded well before he hits the prime of his career.

    Like Chris Davis, Justin Smoak is another former Texas prospect whom the team jettisoned prematurely, though to be fair, most of us would have traded Smoak away for the chance to get Cliff Lee, which is what the Rangers did.

    Smoak struggled badly over the first month of the season, hitting only .237 with one home run, five RBI and a .643 OPS. But we've seen signs of life from the hulking first baseman since May 1, with Smoak hitting .292 with 10 home runs, 21 RBI and an .898 OPS.

    Continued success down the stretch in 2013 and an improved lineup ahead of him could lead to the breakout campaign from Smoak in 2014 that we've all been waiting to see, something along the lines of a .290 batting average, 25 home runs and 100 RBI.

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