The Cubs believe Brennen Davis can hit for average and power and play center field in the big leagues. It’s going to take time for the 21-year-old to reach Wrigley Field, but perhaps not as long as initially projected.
Cubs assistant major league hitting coach Chris Valaika has the unique perspective of someone who grew up in a baseball family and played in the big leagues fairly recently. He also has deep insights into the organization’s reports on Davis.
Valaika’s ascension as a coach overlapped with Davis’ rise as a prospect. Valaika was promoted to the Cubs’ minor league hitting coordinator role in 2019, which was Davis’ second year in pro ball after Chicago drafted him in the second round in 2018 from Basha High in Gilbert, Ariz.
“He’s starting to figure out who he is,” Valaika said of Davis. “He knows he can hit the ball the other way. He’s starting to open up the pull side. All that comes from playing instead of us just telling him.
“There wasn’t a ton of, ‘This is X, Y and Z that we need to do with him.’ The tools were through the roof, so let’s see what this kid can do.”
Davis is listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and learning as he goes at Double-A Tennessee. At a time when the Cubs had so many prospects on the injured list, Davis was performing and accumulating experience that couldn’t be replicated last year without a minor league season.
Valaika, who also worked closely with Davis last year at the alternate training site, expects that time in South Bend to accelerate Davis’ ability to prepare, make adjustments in the batter’s box and handle the mental side of the game.
“For somebody who hasn’t had a ton of at-bats under his belt, shrinking those windows and being able to close holes that these veteran pitchers can continue to expose, it’s really going to help his development,” Valaika said.
“When he starts seeing an issue or something’s going on, it’s playing that cat-and-mouse game and closing those holes sooner.”
— In hindsight, the Cubs probably got a little carried away by floating the idea that 2020 second-round lefthander Burl Carraway could make his big league debut in the same year he was drafted. It was an unprecedented season in 2020, and Carraway looked like a fast-track reliever who could force the issue with his upper-90s fastball and powerful curveball.
At the same time, Carraway had pitched just 51.1 innings combined during his three seasons at Dallas Baptist. The learning curve was ongoing at High-A South Bend. Of the first 70 hitters he faced at High-A, Carraway struck out 24, walked 24 and allowed just five hits.
— Righthander Max Bain was beginning to show why the Cubs’ player development staff was so intrigued by his potential. Bain played at Division II Northwood University in Michigan for four seasons and signed as a nondrafted free agent in January 2020. He turns 24 in September.
The Cubs see an intriguing mix of physicality (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), explosive stuff and an ability to take instruction and apply what he’s learned on the mound. Bain threw six no-hit innings against Fort Wayne on June 23, the type of performance that will continue to open eyes.