Taylor Davis Got To Make That Call
Taylor Davis (left), pictured in a spring training game with pitcher Felix Pena, got national attention for a viral video, then got the thrill of a lifetime with his first major league callup. The 2011 nondrafted free agent out of Morehead State hit .297 in his third season at Triple-A Iowa to earn the promotion. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
One time, a team did actually draft Taylor Davis.
He graduated from Jupiter (Fla.) High, about four miles down the road from Roger Dean Stadium, and the Marlins—who hold spring training camp at Roger Dean—drafted him in the 49th round. He was the fourth of four Jupiter High players picked; the other three were sons of big leaguers, Jack Armstrong Jr. and the Thompson twins, Logan and Tyler (sons of Robbie).
"I spoke to more scouts than I did college coaches,” Davis recalls.
Through a family connection, Davis wound up getting a scholarship offer from Morehead State, whose home ballpark ranks among college baseball’s most offensive ballparks. Davis took advantage, hitting .360 in three seasons there, including .414/.510/.736 with 14 homers as a junior. But he wasn’t drafted that year and headed to the Cape Cod League instead.
There, Davis hit .375/.452/.500 in 21 games on a team that featured other future big leaguers such as Andrew Toles, Drew Steckenrider and Joe Biagini. That attracted the attention of then-Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, who has had some success with nondrafted free agent catchers out of the Cape Cod League. In 1999, Wilken signed Kevin Cash as an NDFA after seeing him catch in an emergency role in the Cape, and Cash went on to an eight-year big league playing career and is now the Rays’ manager.
Wilken and Davis have kept in touch since the two, as well as Davis’ father Matt, had breakfast in the Cape the morning after a game.
”Every game had been rained out except Brewster at (Yarmouth-Dennis),” recalled Davis, a self-described baseball nerd who frankly talks like a guy who works at Baseball America. "They get the big school guys, and they had just gotten (Stephen) Piscotty, (Mike) Zunino, (James) Ramsey, (Chris) Taylor, all the College World Series guys showed up.”
Scouts who came to see the "big school guys” saw Davis homer and catch a shutout, and he’s convinced that game put him on the map for scouts. Wilken asked to meet, then he and Matt Davis (who counts ex-big leaguer Billy Doran as an old friend) traded baseball stories over breakfast before Wilken got to business and signed Davis for a $50,000 bonus.
"The area scout comes out in you when you’re in a venue like that,” said Wilken, who now works for the Diamondbacks. "He was leading the Cape in hitting, his catch-and-throw skills were solid . . . he played the game with a certain flair.”
That flair was evident in the viral video that made Davis famous before his big league call. The Iowa Cubs video team and Davis had engaged in a stare-down contest all season, and the I-Cubs put a fantastic highlight reel of the best stares together in a two-minute video, set to Frankie Valley and the 4 Seasons’ "Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”
"It was such a great montage, they did a great job with it,” Davis said. "It was supposed to be a nice tribute to their video team, but the day it went up, suddenly it’s on ESPN, and Deadspin, and everywhere. I’ll never forget when our media relations assistant texted me when we were in Memphis to ask, ’Could you be on SportsCenter today?’ Of course I can be on SportsCenter!”
It was about as good a week as it could be for Davis, who finally got everyday playing time, which he cited as the key to his strong .297/.357/.429 season. This is just the second season he’s played more than 100 games, and he became the everyday catcher in the second half at Iowa once Victor Caratini was promoted to Chicago.
He played 104 games in 2015 but was still left off the 40-man roster and passed through two Rule 5 drafts without being selected. This year, the Cubs promoted him and even gave him some advance notice, so he was able to get his wife Amberleigh (whom he met at Morehead State) to join him on Iowa’s final road trip and the flight to Pittsburgh, where, finally, he joined the big league Cubs.
"I’ve always played this game for chance that I could tell my kids and grandkids, for phone call to my mom and dad, that I was in the major leagues,” he said. "That’s why I was playing.
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"I got to make that phone call.”