Brad Davis (03) Caught by early catching bug

Florida prospect hopes lifelong love will trump size issues

By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com

Brad Davis missed two months of the 2005 season with a broken wrist. He hit .225 with five homers and 25 RBIs for Class A Greensboro. (Lynn Hey/AP)

JUPITER, Fla. — Brad Davis was only 5 or 6 years old — he can’t remember which — growing up on the southern California coast, when his parents took him to the local Toys ‘R Us to pick out a birthday present. What Davis chose surprised his parents, but they still bought it for him, setting the stage for what has become a lifelong obsession.

It wasn’t a Hot Wheels car or a Power Ranger or a G.I. Joe that Davis snagged that day in the toy store. Rather, he grabbed a catcher’s mask, surely not knowing as a child that he would someday be sitting in the clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium, adjusting the catching equipment he hopes will someday provide his ticket to the Major Leagues.

“My parents tell that story all the time,” said Davis, 23, whom the Marlins selected out of Long Beach State in the fifth round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. “They told me I could get one thing, just one thing and I got a catcher’s mask. I guess catching was just in my blood.”

Having catching in one’s blood is a good trait to have, especially since Davis is part of an organization that isn’t exactly rife with catching prospects. Miguel Olivo and Josh Willingham are battling for the top spot behind the plate with the parent club this spring. But a strong showing over the next few weeks could put Davis in a favorable position for the future, especially if he can impress Florida’s new manager, former catcher Joe Girardi.

Davis, who is coming off a season in which a broken left wrist limited him to 64 games with Greensboro of the South Atlantic League, has no delusions of grandeur about making the Marlins’ team out of camp. He’s hopeful, though, that he can skip over Class A Jupiter of the Florida State League and start the year in the Double-A Southern League.

One factor that may be working against him, though, is an old issue that continues to crop up. Carrying just 180 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame, Davis’ size and stamina are always mentioned, leading to doubts that he can withstand the pounding of an entire season behind the plate. He’s hoping that Girardi, who is 5-11 and whose weight hovered around 200 pounds during a 15-year playing career, can see past the size issue.

“It’s always been an issue, but with him being a catcher, there are things that he’ll be able to see that others might not be able to see,” Davis said. “My size hasn’t posed a problem for me so far. But in the eyes of the scouts and coaches, with my weight, I might not make it through a full season. I’ve been playing year round for 12 years, though, and my body is in good shape to keep playing year round.”

Jim Fleming, Florida’s vice president of player development and scouting, said on Monday that Davis’ fears are unfounded, that his size hasn’t even been discussed internally.

“[Mike] Lieberthal looked just like him when he was drafted,” Fleming said. “Guys like Davis take a while because the frame doesn’t instantly take weight. Size isn’t a concern, though. He has to find not necessarily size but strength in his legs.”

For many of the pitchers with whom he’s worked, Davis’ size doesn’t seem to matter, either. He caught Jered Weaver (first round, Angels, 2004), Abe Alvarez (second round, Boston, 2003) and Jason Vargas (second round, Marlins, 2004) while at Long Beach State, helping the Dirtbags staff post a 3.11 ERA, which was fourth best in the nation. He’s also caught Taylor Tankersley (first round, Marlins, 2004) since being drafted and was behind the plate for Cesar Ramos (first round, Padres, 2005) when he was at LBS.

“He’s a great guy to throw to,” Vargas said. “I’ve thrown to him a couple of years now between college and the Minors, and he’s a great guy behind the plate. I trust throwing to him. His size hasn’t been an issue for me. He just might not have grown into his body yet. He’s still young, like all of us here. But he’s learned how to call and catch from a great pitching coach [Troy Buckley at LBS]. And for me, personally, he calls a good game.”

Davis, who followed the Padres and Benito Santiago as a youngster, knows there are still areas of his game that need improving. He said he’d like to work specifically on his throwing but is quick to point out that all aspects of his development can use some improvement. Davis had nine errors and 15 passed balls in 59 games behind the plate in 2005. If you project that over a whole season, he would have likely led Sally League catchers in both categories.

There’s no rush, though. He’s got catching in his blood. And with that kind of makeup, it shouldn’t take long to make the kind of adjustments that will earn him a spot in Miami.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.