Davis Grows Into Expectations
Sun Devils expect big things from big leaguer's son
In his first college baseball game, Ike Davis learned that Arizona State was expecting a lot of him, more than a program of that stature expects of most freshmen.
Of course Davis came to school with more accolades than most freshmen. He starred for USA Baseball's youth national team in 2003, then was MVP of the Aflac Classic the next summer and led Chaparral High to back-to-back Arizona state 5-A championships in 2004-2005.
All he needed to do to confirm those expectations was check his first Arizona State lineup card. Batting fourth, Ike Davis. Pitching on Opening Day 2006: Ike Davis.
Arizona State's Ike Davis
This is how things are supposed to go for the son of ex-big leaguers, right? First at-bat, base hit to left field—an opposite-field RBI single—and Davis threw four shutout innings to get things started, too. Like father—Ike's dad Ron pitched parts of 11 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Yankees and Twins—like son, right?
Then just like that, the script flipped. Cal State Northridge scored eight runs in the fifth inning—four charged to Davis—and hung a 'L' on him in his college debut.
Like that first game, Davis has had highs and lows in his college career. He's struggled, particularly in summer play with wood bats, and played through pain, with a bone spur in his left wrist that required surgery last summer. He's thrived at times as well, helping lead the Sun Devils to Omaha last year with five RBIs in the regional, then hitting a solo homer to beat UC Irvine in the College World Series opener.
He won't be asked to play quite so consequential a role in his junior year as he was as a rookie; he's not the supporting cast, but he's not the star of the show either. Mostly, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior is ready to do whatever it takes to get back to Omaha.
"My dad was an all-star, he pitched in the World Series—but he never got to play in Omaha," Davis says. "I've got that over him.
"We just weren't hot with the bats when we got there last year; we just didn't get it done. So now I just want to get back, because that's what you play college baseball for."
Falling Far From The Tree
Scouts and Sun Devils coach Pat Murphy both want to see Davis get hot with the bat this season. Scouts want to see him turn potential into production; Murphy wants Davis to thrive in a more-defined role.
"We threw him into the fire because we knew he could handle it," Murphy says. "He had a very underrated freshman year. He chewed up a lot of innings for us in a year where we needed pitching, and he had a ton of RBIs (65, ranked 50th nationally).
"He's done everything we've asked—first base, pitched, right field—and he keeps getting better. I think Ike's ready for a breakout year."
Davis did as much as he could as a freshman, batting .329/.387/.542 with nine homers while making a team-high 12 starts and pitching 47 innings. He focused on hitting last year, batting .349/.407/.546 with eight homers while cutting his strikeout rate and tying for the Pacific-10 Conference lead with 23 doubles. Davis intends to pitch more this year than last, when he gave up one run in 62⁄3 innings over seven appearances. He has easy, solid-average velocity, regularly hitting 91 mph from the left side, as well as a slider.
But make no mistake—he fell far from his dad's pitching tree.
"I just never considered myself a pitcher," he says. "I hit every day. Every day, I'm trying to work on something, something to improve—not jumping forward, using my hands instead. I'm really working on trusting my hands."
He's had to learn to catch up to velocity his whole life. His dad was a power reliever in his day and always threw Ike a lot of batting practice before college. Ron Davis did some coaching of his own, gave private lessons, and needed to stay limber.
"I can still throw in the low 80s," the 52-year-old says. "I can still run it up there, and I can spin a breaking ball better than your average BP pitcher. I can still cut it, sink it, take something off, so I think it helped him."
All that preparation was supposed to lead Davis to pro ball out of high school, but he didn't have as strong of a senior season as he'd hoped. With his Arizona State commitment, he fell to the 19th round in 2005 and didn't sign with Tampa Bay. Now he's draft-eligible again, and scouts still have questions.
He's hit just 17 home runs for the Sun Devils, a modest amount for a hitter with first-round aspirations and a potential right-field profile. His modest speed and athleticism might make him more of a first baseman as a pro, and after playing primarily right last spring, he's ticketed for first base in 2008. In other words, he's going to play a position where power is at an even greater premium.
Scouts, Murphy, Davis and his dad agree that Ike's at his best when he's using the whole field. He has plenty of bat speed to wait on pitches and drive them the other way, and he's quick enough to catch up to good fastballs (thanks, Dad).
Now he just needs to do it, with enough consistency to keep scouts from being tempted by his fastball and loose left arm. Murphy says the best part is that Davis isn't thinking draft; he's thinking team. And by thinking Sun Devils first, the best of Ike Davis will emerge.
"He's done what we've needed him to do for the team for two years," Murphy says. "We needed him to pitch, and last year we needed him in the outfield. He's won the trust of his teammates and become a great teammate by doing those things. He's a little bit like (ASU alum and current Athletics big leaguer) Travis Buck, figuring it out a little bit more every year.
"He's the best prospect on the team, when it's all said and done—he's got ability and now he's got the attitude to match. I think he's going to be our MVP."