* C Lars Davis is enjoying his year with the Philadelphia Phillies' organization after spending each of his first seven seasons in the Colorado Rockies system. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
Buffalo, NY – It's been a busy year for Lars Davis.
After seven seasons in the Colorado Rockies organization, the 28-year-old catcher explored free agency and left the only professional baseball home he knew last winter. He landed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but was released less than a month into the regular season. From there, he joined the Philadelphia Phillies' organization.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have too many options over the off-season,” Davis said. “I was fortunate enough to sign with Arizona for spring training and then start the season with them. Then I’m glad the Phillies picked me up at the end of April. It’s been a fun season since.”
There was a period of time when the lack of control over his immediate future was on the veteran's mind. Briefly without a place to call his baseball home – both in the winter and at the end of April – he thought about playing in an independent league, but always knew he just wanted to stay in the game.
“It was a little stressful,” Davis said. “It’s always stressful not knowing. But I kept my hopes up and I was fortunate enough to get signed…then it was about a week [between the Diamondbacks and Phillies]. I was released close to the end of April and I signed with the Phillies on April 27.”
During his week away from the game in the midst of the season, the backstop returned to his home down south in the sunshine state. Because his wife Katie is the athletic trainer for the University of Florida Gators softball team – this year’s national champions – Davis had the opportunity to stay ready and utilize the facilities there.
“I thought about playing independent ball and what options were there and just tried to stay in shape,” Davis said of his downtime. “I live in Gainesville, Florida and my wife works for the university so I worked out with the baseball team a little bit there and tried to stay in shape in case somebody called.”
When the Phillies did make that call, Davis was packed and ready to go immediately. He joined a double-A Reading Fightin’ Phils roster before moving up to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Both transitions were eased by a few familiar names and several players he’d played against throughout his career.
“There are always free agents being signed and always guys you know from every organization from playing against them, playing with them,” Davis said. “I was there [in Reading] for a couple of [Adam Loewen’s] starts. That was actually the first time I’d met him. I knew of him, obviously, but that was the first time I’d met him face to face. I played against him when he was in Hawaii converting to a position player, going back a ways.
“And I knew of Phillippe [Aumont]. Tyson [Gillies] was here – I came up a couple days to catch bullpens and Tyson was here [with the IronPigs] then and I played against him when he was with Seattle in High Desert in 2009…Jay [Johnson] was with Reading as well. He had a bit of a rough year, but he’s a great player and I hope the best for him.”
Of the notable Canadian player mentions, Loewen is the only one who remains in the same spot. Gillies and Johnson have since been released by the organization and Aumont is currently with the big-league club in his second stint this season.
At both levels Davis has experienced with Philadelphia this year, he’s taken on a backup role for the clubs. The adjustment to coming off the bench and staying ready without knowing when he might make it into the lineup is no easy feat, but he’s making the most of his opportunities and enjoying the time he does get on the diamond.
“It’s always difficult,” he said. “The hitting is a little more difficult than the catching part of it because you’re still catching bullpens and catching down in the bullpen during the game, but live hitting is definitely the most difficult. You have to take some mental reps, watch video; stand in on some bullpens if you have the opportunity, to keep the timing up.”
The role Davis has taken on is also making it hard for him to be the player he wants to be off the field. In response to a scouting report ranking his leadership abilities as ‘low’, the Canadian catcher said his situation has made it tougher.
“You always want to be ranked higher on that,” Davis said. “Being a leader can be sometimes a learning process. As a catcher, you should be a leader on the team, and it can be very hard if you’re not playing much or if you don’t know your staff as well, so especially this year I find it a little bit harder to be in that kind of leadership position...not really knowing your staff and only being a part-time player, it’s always harder to be a leader.”
In the same report, his intelligence and loyalty were ranked ‘very high’. Davis appeared to agree with the evaluation, but wasn’t sure how anyone might come to those conclusions, watching his game from the outside.
“I do like to think of myself as an intelligent person,” said the former molecular and cellular biology major at the University of Illinois. “And I’m not sure how they rank loyalty. I’m not saying that I’m a disloyal person, but I’m not sure how you would rank that in terms of being a baseball player. I’m flattered to have a couple as high or very high on the list.”
Among the scout rankings, Davis’ greed level was listed as ‘low’, to which he said, “I’m happy to be out here playing. That’s definitely just the big thing.”
To round out the list, the Grand Prairie, Alberta-born backstop was rated ‘normal’ in his desire to win and his work ethic.
“I’d much rather win than go 4-for-4 in a loss,” Davis said. “I’d much rather catch a win. In terms of work ethic, you get out what you put in. I’m always working hard, always trying to get better and nobody wants to be stuck at this level. Everybody wants to make it up [to the big leagues]. I still believe I am working hard towards that and doing that, but everybody can probably always work a little harder.”
The part of his game where Davis believes his hard work shows through the most is his prowess behind the plate, an attribute he thinks has kept him employed for all of his eight minor league seasons and counting.
“I like to think of myself as a good receiving catcher,” Davis said. “Being able to step in and fill a bench role has been a bit of a transition. I started, coming up a lot through the minor leagues, and being able to be called up for a morning game or a tough game where [the manager] says, ‘You’ve got to go catch nine innings now,’ and being able to catch a good game doing that is what I [take pride in].”
Though he has enjoyed his time with each of his respective clubs, this season has been slightly less than ideal for Davis in terms of playing time and fulfilling a larger role. Never having thoughts about hanging up his cleats previously, this winter could potentially bring about an entirely new conversation than ever before.
“I didn’t think about it last off-season,” Davis said of retirement. “I was definitely going to play this year, whether it be independent ball or [affiliated] baseball. But this season I’ve bounced around, being released, and being a backup everywhere, we’ll have to see what kind of opportunities are out there next year.”
The hope is that so many new opportunities await Davis when his current one runs out that he can take his pick for next year, but for now he’ll take each day as it comes and think things over when the season comes to an end.
“I always want to finish the season out,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always told myself, I’ve told my family, I’ll always finish a season out no matter how tough it is and then re-evaluate in the off-season. Obviously this is a game and sometimes it just doesn’t work out in the end. But at the end of the season we’ll take a step back, re-evaluate and see what the opportunities are.”
It helps Davis to see opportunities given to other players who have been around even longer and have taken on identical roles and faced similar obstacles, like Chris Robinson, who got his shot at the big leagues last year after nine seasons in the minors.
Davis was the second-highest position player ever drafted for the Fighting Illini when he was taken in the third round in 2007. Just two years earlier, Robinson set the benchmark. When the younger catcher came on his recruiting trip to Champaign, Illinois, Robinson was his host player. Upon Davis’ draft selection, he was put in touch with the Dorchester, Ont. native to learn the ropes. Last year, the two met again when their teams matched up in triple-A.
Seeing Robinson’s call up to the San Diego Padres at the end of last year was exciting for Davis, who hopes to continue following in his footsteps right up to the highest level.
“Absolutely it helps,” Davis said of seeing Robinson make it to the big leagues. “Everybody wants that call and everybody wants that call tomorrow. Everybody wants to be there, and I was very happy to see that Robbie got the call up last year, after close to 10 full seasons in the minors and bouncing around from organization to organization.
“So there always is that hope and that drive of being able to have the opportunity to play up there. [It] definitely keeps us all going.”
-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis