Are prospects Michael Stefanic and Brendon Davis ready to help the LA Angels?
Moving on to the new guy, Brendon Davis sure made an impact in his first minor league season since joining the LA Angels.
Once an unknown prospect, Brendon Davis has potential to be a more than capable shortstop for the Angels.
Following five subpar seasons in the Dodgers’ and Rangers’ farm systems, Brendon Davis finally broke out at the age of 23 with the LA Angels last year.
Setting career bests in pretty much every offensive category across three levels in the minors (including his first stint at Triple-A), the Halos’ 2020 rule 5 draft pick earned himself a spot on the team's 40-man roster back in November. This type of courtesy wasn’t even extended to Stefanic, showing that the front office really believes in this kid, enough that they didn’t want to risk losing him in minor league free agency.
After hitting .290/.361/.561 (.923 OPS) with 30 home runs, 29 doubles and 83 RBIs across 124 games last year, it’s easy to see why the Angels are so keen on keeping Davis around. Like Stefanic, he used the 2020 season to refine his swing and discover some new power at the plate, hence how he almost doubled his career home run total in just one season.
In Triple-A in particular, Davis performed incredibly well last year, albeit in just 31 games. Slashing .333/.409/.641 (1.050 OPS), he looked absolutely unstoppable at the plate. He even managed to cut down on his high strikeout rate, going from a 26.4% in Single-A and Double-A to 21.1%.
The only real concern with Davis now is whether or not he’s just a one-season wonder and if he’ll regress back to his pre-2021 state when his best season (2017) saw him produce a .720 OPS with only 11 home runs and a unsightly 30% strikeout rate.
Admittedly, the ZiPS projections aren’t too kind to Davis at the moment, giving him a .228/.287/.405 (.692 OPS, 86 OPS+) slash line, along with 145 strikeouts in 521 PAs (27.8%). It does, however, give him 20 home runs, 20 doubles and 58 RBIs, meaning if he can continue to cut down on his strikeouts he should be in a good position to thrive in the majors.
Coincidently, due to his better SLG%, Davis actually has the same projected OPS as Fletcher.
If you recall, Stefanic had a better OPS than Fletcher, meaning that from an offensive standpoint it might actually make more sense for him and Davis to start at second and short sooner rather than later, while Fletcher is relegated to a utility/defensive substitution role.
Dan Szymborski, the creator of ZiPS, believes this too, saying "if he has a .600 OPS next May... I’d rather demote Fletch back to a utility role."
Further helping Davis' starting status is his growing defensive talent at shortstop.
Though he’s logged over 4700 innings across five positions, his 1910 total innings at shortstop are his most at any single position.
Davis has notably played just under 1500 innings at third base as well (where ZiPS has him playing), but to be brutally honest, he’s looked absolutely horrible there and is seemingly getting worse each year, producing a career .938 Fld%, 2.46 RF/9 and inexplicably having the same number of errors as double plays turned with 27 each.
On the other hand, after a rough first few seasons at shortstop, Davis has really turned things around over his last couple of years. While his career numbers aren’t too good, his 2021 numbers look excellent, including a .973 Fld%, 3.96 RF/9, 3.84 RF/G, and only four errors in 37 games (323 total innings).
Comparing only his Triple-A stats to the other Triple-A West shortstops, what Davis lacks in volume (only 20 games played), he more than makes up for in performance. Out of every shortstop with at least 20 games played, Davis ranks fifth in Fld% (.978) and second in RF/G (4.35).
When stacked up against major leaguers with similar stats, Davis’ total 2021 output is most comparable to Andres Gimenez (5 DRS, 1.7 UZR) and Jake Cronenworth (-1 DRS, 1.1 UZR).
- Davis: 323 innings, 146 chances, 47 putouts, 95 assists, 4 errors, .973 Fld%, 3.96 RF/9
- Gimenez: 322.1 innings, 171 chances, 52 putouts, 113 assists, 6 errors, .965 Fld%, 4.61 RF/9
- Cronenworth: 326.2 innings, 130 chances, 46 putouts, 81 assists, 3 errors, .977 Fld%, 3.50 RF/9
Note that league averages in 2021 for shortstops were a .974 Fld% and 3.81 RF/9.
Slotting in nicely between the two, these numbers, on the surface, seem to suggest that Davis played like a slightly above average shortstop last year, and is only getting better. Considering what the Angels had to deal with in 2021, slightly above average looks godlike in comparison.
With all of that said, Davis only has 0.5 zWAR in the projections. This would likely be higher if he wasn’t listed as a third baseman, but is partially due to ZiPS not fully believing in his ability to cut down on strikeouts and make consistent contact.
However, if he can prove in either spring training or Triple-A this year that he can fix these problems, Davis should be with the major league team in no time. Whether that's as a bench player or as part of a new middle infield duo with Stefanic will depend on how the remainder of the offseason unfolds.