Zach Davies’ strong season will take him to Futures Game on Sunday

It’s probably about time, maybe well past time, that analysts start focusing more on what Orioles pitching prospect Zach Davies can do rather than what he cannot.

Yes, he is a slender-built right-hander at 6-foot and 150 lbs., and no, he does not throw a mid-90s fastball. Yet he has made consistent progress since the day the Orioles drafted him, and that progress will lead him to the All-Star Futures Game this Sunday in Cincinnati.

At least the analysts have noticed Davies’ steady progress. He was ranked as the club’s No. 31 prospect by Baseball America after the 2011 season and then moved to No. 20 after 2012, No. 11 after 2013 and No. 6 at the end of the 2014 season.

Zach Davies Tides pitching.jpgBecause he did not yet need to be added to the 40-man roster after last season like some of his current Triple-A Norfolk teammates, he has not yet made the big leagues. But his day is coming.

And he’s still just 22. Then-Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan selected Davies in the 26th round in 2011 out of Mesquite High School in Gilbert, Ariz. He got an overslot bonus of $575,000 to bypass an Arizona State commitment.

Each year as Davies has moved up, his ERA has gone down. It was 3.86 at Single-A Delmarva, 3.69 with Single-A Frederick, 3.35 at Double-A Bowie last year and better yet this season with Norfolk.

In 16 Tides games, Davies is 3-5 with a 2.70 ERA and .233 average against. He has an ERA of 1.57 his past four starts and 2.34 since June 1. In 83 1/3 innings, he has walked 31, fanned 71 and allowed just two home runs.

“This year is another building block for me,” Davies said during a phone interview Wednesday. “Making sure I am where I need to be physically and mentally and I still have to work on the little things too. For me, just making sure my location is there. I’ve walked a few too many and have to cut back on that and work on getting some guys out earlier in the count.

“Talent-wise, it is about the same as Double-A. But Triple-A, from what I have noticed, guys have a little more knowledge about what their job is and they know what they need to do to get to or get back to the big leagues.”

Davies throws a sinking fastball from 86 to 91 mph, sometimes touching a bit more velocity, an excellent changeup and a curveball that is solid. He has a 1.77 ground-to-air out ratio and ranks fifth in the International League in ERA.

In a sport that is obsessed with the radar gun readings, Davies has accepted the fact that he is not going to impress too many there.

“I try to add a little bit of velo each year, but I’m not going to force it. I know I can get guys out with the way that I pitch now,” he said. “I won’t say it’s a failure if I don’t add to that. Have to go with what worked for me in the past. I worked this winter to try and get a little stronger and bigger. Still hasn’t completely come yet for me.”

After last season, Davies pitched in the Arizona Fall League. Amidst more touted and highly-ranked players, he went 3-0 with a 1.75 ERA in seven starts and fanned 23 in 25 2/3 innings.

Davies has not been a secret to the Orioles brass. In fact, when the O’s played an exhibition before last season at Triple-A Norfolk, manager Buck Showalter had Davies face the Orioles. He knew the kid would throw strikes and keep his poise against big leaguers and he wanted to see what he could do.

Davies struck out J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis in the first inning with his plus changeup. He throws the pitch that some scouts grade as his best at 78 to 81 mph.

“That is perfect (velocity) for me. That is about 10 miles per hour off my fastball and that is exactly where I want it to be,” Davies said.

In analyzing his 2015 season, Davies feels he needs to do a better job pitching deep into games. He had back-to-back starts to end June where he went 4 2/3 and five innings without allowing a run. But he threw 102 pitches in the first outing and 92 in the second. But then on Monday he went eight innings on 99 pitches, allowing four hits and two runs versus Durham.

“This last start was for me a good stepping stone,” Davies said. “The last few were shorter than I wanted, although the results were there. I want to get consistently deep into the game, and that was a huge step for me.”

Pitching this Sunday in the Futures Game will be another big step as well. He will represent the Orioles on Team USA and be among the best prospects in the sport.

Orioles in recent Futures Games:
2008 - Jake Arrieta (U.S.)
2009 - Brian Matusz (U.S.), Chris Tillman (U.S.)
2010 - Zach Britton (U.S.)
2011 - Manny Machado (U.S.), Jonathan Schoop (World)
2012 - Manny Machado (U.S.), Dylan Bundy (U.S.)
2013 - Eduardo Rodriguez (World), Henry Urrutia (World), Christian Walker (U.S.)
2014 - Hunter Harvey (U.S.), Dariel Alvarez (World)

Photo courtesy of Les Treagus

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