The Milwaukee Brewers suffered through a season they’d like to forget in many ways. The club finished 14 games under .500 and trudged through the media firestorm that was the Ryan Braun suspension. Furthermore, Yovani Gallardo took a significant step backward, Corey Hart missed the entire season, Aramis Ramirez battled through a knee injury and Rickie Weeks was borderline unplayable prior to his season-ending injury.
For fantasy owners, however, the Brewers season had several bright spots. Jean Segura was the best shortstop in baseball, Carlos Gomez enjoyed a breakout year and Scooter Gennett showed flashes late in the season. Often overlooked, though, is the fact that Khris Davis established himself as a sleeper candidate, and even displayed some skills that could make him an impact outfielder if they carry over into 2014.
He launched 11 home runs in only 153 plate appearances, and he finished the season with an impressive .406 wOBA. If you’re looking for a single number, his lofty .316 ISO illustrates the impressive power display in August and September. It’s not really fair to do this because of the small sample size, but his .316 ISO ranked second in Major League Baseball (min. 100 PA) behind only his near-namesake Chris Davis.
Two questions are left hanging from his impressive debut: (1) how will the Brewers make room for his bat with Ryan Braun returning from suspension this upcoming season, and (2) can such an unheralded prospect legitimately be this good and sustain such a performance for an entire season?
The first question is a bit unsettled at the moment, but the organization appears committed to finding consistent at-bats for Khris Davis. Earlier this offseason, GM Doug Melvin admitted the club is exploring a move for Ryan Braun to right field to clear space for Davis in left. That would, of course, suggest Norichika Aoki no longer has a home in the Brewers’ outfield. That could lead to a time-share in left field for Davis and Aoki. The more likely scenario, however, would be trading Aoki this winter and featuring an outfield of Davis-Gomez-Braun with Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl as the reserve outfielders on the bench.
As of the time of this article, all signs point toward Khris Davis getting consistent playing time in the 2014 season, which represents a significant step forward in his fantasy outlook.
In terms of his potential production, numerous question marks exist. His power has never been in question. He compiled 22 home runs in the Class-A Midwest League, which is a very difficult offensive environment, in 2010. Even last year in the big leagues, his home runs were no cheapies, and he even displayed legitimate power to center and right fields. The question is whether he’ll be able to make enough contact to consistently tap into his plus power.
His 22.2% strikeout rate doesn’t immediately raise red flags. However, he did have a 13.1% swinging-strike rate last year, and he possesses a relatively long swing that could be exploited at the big-league level. Some scouts have also wondered if he’ll be able to handle right-handed pitching enough to be anything more than a platoon option. Those concerns — along with his defensive limitations — are why Baseball America failed to rank him in the Brewers’ top-10 prospects and why our own Marc Hulet didn’t even mention him in the Brewers’ top-15 prospects a year ago.
A year later, though, some scouts appear to be coming around on Davis. One scout told me that he’s excited to see what the 25-year-old can do with regular at-bats and thinks he can be a legit 20+ HR guy, while Ben Badler of Baseball America said Davis is one of his breakout candidates for the 2014 season.
And while I understand the concerns about Davis’ abilities against right-handed pitchers due to his approach, his career numbers don’t support those conclusions. In the below chart, we see his slash line against righties, then his slash line against lefties.
Granted, his performance against right-handed pitching at the major-league level was aided by BABIP, but he’s been remarkably consistent throughout his professional career against righties. At the very least, he’s shown the ability to hit for power against righties, which could make up for a lower batting average, if that’s something that comes to fruition.
I’m not ready to crown Khris Davis the next up-and-coming young stud in the National League. I have legitimate concerns with his swinging-strike rate and his overall aggressive approach, especially with two strikes, but I see no reason to question his power and see no reason to suggest the Brewers should automatically place him in a platoon role. If the Milwaukee Brewers move pieces around to clear room for Davis in left field (or wherever), he should receive consistent at-bats and an opportunity to prove he can stick at the major-league level.
Thus, he’s not a legitimate sleeper candidate until he has a path to playing time in Milwaukee, but assuming that works itself out this winter, he could offer 20+ home run power for cheap on draft day. He could even swipe double-digit bases if manager Ron Roenicke continues to be aggressive on the base paths, though that’s not really Davis’ strong suit. With Braun, Ramirez and maybe even Hart coming back for the 2014 season, the Brewers’ offense should be improved. That could give Davis the opportunity to post solid run and RBI totals with regular playing time, though he’ll likely bat further down in the Brewers’ order.
For fantasy owners, Khris Davis is a pure upside play with a high chance of flaming out. If that’s your cup ‘o tea in the later rounds or if you don’t mind committing a dollar or two late in an auction, he’s an intriguing option and could be one of the unsung breakout guys of the 2014 season.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).