By Jim Callis
November 24, 2004
Interim Nationals general manager Jim Bowden isn’t waiting until after Thanksgiving to start his holiday shopping. He made his fourth deal in eight days on Wednesday, picking up former first-round pick J.J. Davis from the Pirates for minor league outfielder Antonio Sucre. The Davis move comes on the heels of the free-agent signings of Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman, plus a trade for Jose Guillen.
Davis, 26, was the eighth overall pick in 1997 out of a California high school but never could crack the Pittsburgh lineup. He totaled 80 big league at-bats over the last three seasons, hitting .162/.236/.212 with one homer and seven RBIs. The Pirates outrighted him five days before the trade when they finalized their 40-man roster protections for the Rule 5 draft. Davis missed almost all of 2004 with injuries to his right pinky and right hip flexor. He got just 84 at-bats in the minors, where he has posted career totals of .262/.329/.483 with 112 homers and 391 RBIs in 668 games. Davis has obvious tools, starting with plus power, speed and arm strength. But he’s an undisciplined hacker who struggles against breaking balls, and he can look awkward in right field. Davis is having a strong winter in the Mexican Pacific League—he’s hitting .270/.343/.629 with nine homers and 16 RBIs in 23 games—and will compete for a reserve role in Washington next year. The Nationals are familiar with him, as manager Frank Robinson skippered him on Team USA in the fall of 2003 (before Davis bowed out with a right hamstring injury) and scouting director Dana Brown was a Pirates area scout when they drafted him.
Sucre, 21, signed out of Venezuela in 2000. His development has been extremely methodical. He didn’t escape Rookie ball until 2004, when he hit .240/.327/.353 with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 103 games at low Class A Savannah. Like Davis, Sucre is a gifted athlete with five-tool potential but is very raw and undisciplined at the plate. Whether or not he can make the necessary adjustments remains to be seen.